Wednesday, August 15, 2018

6 Things To Think About While Discussing Requirements With A Decisionmaker (Part 4)

"Hic sunt dracones!"
How can I use the limited amount of time my decisionmakers have to discuss their intelligence requirements to get the maximum return on that investment?  Earlier this summer, I began a series on this precise theme.

I have already written about how to prepare for an intelligence requirements meeting and about how to deal with a virtual intelligence requirements environment.  Last week, I did the first three things to think about when having a requirements meeting with a DM:
1.  Does the DM really want intelligence?2.  What kind of intelligence is the DM looking for?3. What are the DM's assumptions?
Today, I am writing part four of a six part series discussing what intel professionals need to think about when they are actually in the meeting, talking to a decisionmaker about his or her requirements.

4.  What does the DM mean when he/she/they say "x"?

"I'm worried about Europe.  What moves are our competitors likely to make next?"  This is a perfectly reasonable request from a decisionmaker.  In fact, if you are in a competitive intelligence position for a larger corporation, you have likely heard something close to it.  

While reasonable, it is the kind of requirements statement that is filled with dragons for the unwary.  Not the least of these dragons is definitional.   When the DM said "competitors" did he or she mean competitors that reside in Europe or competitors that sell in Europe or both?  And what did he or she mean by "Europe"?  Continental Europe, the EU, western Europe, something else?

Listening carefully for these common words that are actually being used in very specific ways or are, in a particular organization, technical terms is a critical aspect of a successful requirements meeting.  If the intelligence professional has a long history with a particular decisionmaker then these terms of art may be common knowledge.  Even in this case, however, it is worth confirming with the DM that everyone shares this understanding of these kinds of words.

That is why I consider it best practice to memorialize the requirement in writing after the meeting and to include (usually by way of footnote) any terms defined in the meeting.  In addition, if certain terms weren't defined in the meeting but the intel professional feels the need to define them afterwards, I think it makes sense for the intel professional to make their best guess at what the DM meant but then draw specific attention to the intel professional's tentative definition of the term in question and to seek confirmation of that definition with the DM.  

This may sound like a convoluted process, but, as I tell my students, not getting the requirement right is like building a house on the wrong piece of property.  It doesn't matter how beautiful or elegant it is, if you build it on the wrong piece of property you will still have to tear it down and start all over again.  The same holds true for a misunderstood intelligence requirement.  Get the requirement wrong and it doesn't matter how good your answer is - you answered the wrong question!

Next:  #5 What constraints are the DMs willing to put on the requirement?

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