The “Hot Sauce” Dilemma: A consultant’s cautionary tale of requirements gathering

Let’s set the scene – It’s 11:53 AM. Lunch has been coordinated (Chipotle… Yes!). The team is crouched over their computers, their stomachs grumbling for chips and gauc in the windowless client conference room. Everyone furiously answers emails, reviews business requirements documents, and creates this week’s status reports. I volunteer to pick-up the order – you can’t beat the fresh air and the ability to choose the radio station on a Monday afternoon.

“Don’t forget the hot sauce!” I hear as I head out the door, keys and purse in hand.

Upon arriving to Chipotle, I pick-up the order at the register and head over to the station to grab utensils, napkins, and of course, the hot sauce. The dilemma starts here. If you know anything about Chipotle, you know they carry three types of hot sauces: (1) Regular, (2) Chipotle, and (3) Green Pepper. My heart begins to race. Which type did they want? Reasoning with the fact that they currently have Regular hot sauce in the room, I toss the hot sauce into my overstuffed bag of burritos and bowls.

Fifteen minutes later, I arrive proudly to the office — food in arms, hot sauce in bag. I pull out the hot sauce and place it in the middle of the conference table, only to be welcomed with groans and dissent.

“Regular?! That’s the worst. We didn’t ask for Regular.”

On the surface, this story may seem like a tale of picky, high-maintenance consultants; however, the lessons learned and ramifications of this situation are applicable to nearly any project. It truly is a cautionary tale that consultants face in the requirements gathering phase of any engagement.

  • Unclear requirements: At the start of every project, the actual requirements for what solution to create or build are unknown. In order to be successful, the team must identify the client needs and prioritize those needs accordingly. Similar to my team requesting “hot sauce,” there are endless potential resolutions for a “CRM solution.” Platforms must be chosen, configuration updates made, customizations built out – the possibilities are truly endless. Therefore, it is important to be able to effectively communicate with clients to examine the specific details for requirements for a given project solution or deliverable.
  • Lack of thorough Q&A: Instead of pausing at the door to request “What type of hot sauce?,” I marched on with my lunch mission. Similarly, project deadlines and constraints can unfortunately push team members to tramp forward, instead of taking a moment to ask the necessary (and often difficult) questions. Afraid of project derailment, consultants run the risk of delivering an incorrect solution by not determining the true requirements in working sessions, requirements gathering meetings or follow-up emails.
  • Unexpected situations: Underestimating the requirements related to “hot sauce,” I was suddenly faced with three choices, instead of the simple answer I anticipated. Often times, during the requirements gathering phase, design and process details quickly become more complex. Simple proposed resolutions can turn into wildly inefficient and problematic ones. It is important for consultants to include contingency in project plans to ensure project success, through ambiguous and disruptive times.

Though the story may seem trivial, the takeaways are not. It is a simple reminder of the extreme significance of the requirements gathering phase of any project. It is important that we take the time to ask the right questions of the right stakeholders to ensure understanding and set up a project for ultimate success – whether that is a positive implementation experience or obtaining the correct hot sauce!

1 Comment

  • lisbeth February 13, 2014 12:48 am

    Transparency is a must in scrum rules as it allows important aspects of the process to be visible to all the members who are responsible for the result. Since every team member should understand it is always advisable to use a common “terminology” so that reviews can be shared by all.

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