Understanding Requirements in a Strategic Assessment


There’s an old quote attributed to Henry Ford that goes “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” To meet this requirement, he subsequently went on to build the Model T rather than breed faster horses, and the rest is history.

We don’t know for certain whether he ever said this, let alone whether he actually asked anyone what they wanted, but this quote is frequently used to justify why asking stakeholders what they want is not necessarily the right thing to do or why we shouldn’t take their feedback at face value.

Who better to ask than our business users? We need to understand the needs of the environment before we can improve it—especially given the complexity of asset management. Those of us working to improve an operating environment in this industry must understand it and then ask strategic questions to help design and deploy a better solution.

If we ask someone outright what they need to solve a problem or improve efficiency, then they will tend to give us their perceived solution to the problem. Using Mr Ford’s quote as an example, having a faster horse is certainly one possible way of getting from A to B more quickly. But the actual requirement is to get from A to B more quickly, and whether a horse is used or not is not the important part.

Stakeholders will often conflate the requirement with their perceived solution, which can muddy the waters of a strategic assessment. Of course, a stakeholder may come up with the best solution to meet their requirements, but there’s a good chance that they may not be aware of what other potential solutions are out there that would be quicker, cheaper, more effective, or better integrated with the organization’s holistic requirements.

When embarking on a strategic assessment, I’ve found three business user questions to be most effective in distilling true requirements:

  1. What are your daily objectives?
  2. What is going well in terms of process and technology?
  3. What is going poorly in terms of process and technology?

By limiting your inquiry to a focused current state, you can gain a big-picture view of the organization before exploring potential solutions. Keeping an open mind helps me understand an interconnected web of requirements without introducing the complexity of solutions that various teams have identified on their own. In my experience—and as Mr. Ford might attest—the best solutions are often the ones no one has thought of yet.