Miscommunication is one of the most common problems that hinders the progress of an organization, and resolving with that issue at its root is a good idea if you have plans to expand significantly. It will only get worse in the future if these issues are allowed to fester, and one of the areas that requires a truly masterful level of communication is client meetings.
When you’re face to face with a client – regardless if they’re a new one or if you’ve already worked with them before – you must make it a point to actively listen and understand what they’re looking to get out of this project in terms of value. This is the key first step to ensuring that you’re on the right track to understanding the requirements of those clients better, and it will save you a lot of trouble in having to explain the motivation behind certain features to your developers.
That’s a common problem that some less experienced leaders face when they still don’t have a lot of experience in talking to clients and understanding their needs. The inexperienced leader will hear a set of requirements and translate them to a list almost literally, without putting any real thought behind the true meaning of each of those requirements.
What Is the Client Trying to Achieve?
Ask the client what their vision is. What is their intended use case for this particular feature? Why do they need the product to be designed this way? What are they expecting to improve in their own company’s situation by contracting you for this work?
The key here is to ask a lot of questions that dig down to the core reason for the project’s existence. Unfortunately, this is something most clients are notoriously bad at expressing, leaving things in the hands of the – hopefully – experienced leader.
This will save you from producing huge amounts of waste when it turns out that your team has to redo a certain part of the project because you understood the requirements incorrectly. What’s worse, depending on how fundamental a specific requirement is, a failure like that could require you to start over nearly from scratch. This is certainly not an ideal situation when deadlines are involved, even less so when you throw the hit to your company’s reputation into the mix.
How Many Meetings Are Ideal?
Another important detail to consider is that you might benefit from scheduling more than one meeting to go over the full list of requirements, instead of trying to get them all sorted out in one go. This does not go against the idea of developing a better initial understanding of the client’s requirements – rather, it splits that “initial” phase into more manageable chunks that will allow you to better process what you discussed in the last meeting, and integrate it into the next one.
Sometimes establishing the precise requirements you’ll be working with can be a long and stressful process for both sides, especially if it’s a larger project that will span across multiple areas of expertise. But it can also save your organization huge amounts of time in the future when you don’t have to rework various parts of the project due to poor initial understanding of what it would involve.
If you’re struggling with this now, the good news is that this is a skill like any other, and it can be improved with enough practice. Of course, you shouldn’t use actual client projects as your “training dummies,” but there are plenty of resources out there that can help you gain a deeper understanding of how to extract the truly valuable information from client meetings.
It might sometimes be beneficial to bring more people on board in each meeting, too. They don’t even have to necessarily be directly attached to the project, but if you feel like they can contribute valuable knowledge to the discussions with your client, then by all means invite them as well. Of course, don’t make things too crowded, and ensure that there is still enough “breathing room” in the meeting, and that everyone can get their voice heard if they have something important to add to the conversation.