Technical writing/Requirements Discovering Customer Goals EE

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Goals and Obtaining Information from a Customer[edit | edit source]

It is difficult to obtain information from a Customer. Customers often reply before they have all the information required. Customers do not want to appear to be stupid so they quickly reply rather than investigate and research for a full answer.

You must phrase questions in a way that encourages the customer to research for the answer. Reassure the customer that you value their expertise and intelligence and that you understand that you will have to wait for a full answer. If the Customer feels embarrassed then it will be even more difficult to work with them in the future. Visit the Customer and discover the working methods and environment. Always focus on discovering the details of the goals and ask open questions. An open question is a question that you cannot answer yes or no to.

Examples of Open, Alternate and Closed Questions[edit | edit source]

An Open Question starts with the words:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • How
  • Please describe how

Closed questions start with a verb. Closed questions can be answered Yes or No and Alternative Questions are answered by one of the alternatives supplied.


Examples of Open questions

What is the weather like? When do you want breakfast?

Examples of Closed Questions

Is it raining? Do you want eggs for breakfast?

Example of Alternative Questions Do you want beer or wine with your meal? Is your favourite colour blue, red or purple?

Questions to ask the Customer[edit | edit source]

The Customer will start with approximate goals. Help the Customer to define the Goals in finer detail. Some of the goals of the Customer may not be achievable or needed. Ask questions to discover exactly what the Customer needs. Remember the Customer may need to ask experts in their own organisation. So ask the questions early. And wait for the answer. Examples of open questions that are needed to see whether the project is feasible:

  1. What is the most important goal? This question is important if the project becomes de-scoped.
  2. When is the deadline? This deadline may change but it is better to have an approximate date than no date at all.
  3. If there is more than one Goal, which goal must be delivered first?
  4. What is the budget (total amount of money allocated) for this project? The budget may change but it is better to have an approximate amount than no budget at all.
  5. Can you give me an example of a similar system?
  6. Will all the goals increase your revenue?

The Customer needs help to establish the details of the Goals. The Customer cannot be an expert in all subjects. Intelligent questions will help to guide the Customer to define the goals to a sufficient level of detail to proceed with the project. Ask questions and Wait until the Customer has all the information needed. A quick answer is often a wrong answer. The better the Goals are defined then the more accurately the requirements will be stated

Exercise 2 Draw a Picture from Instructions[edit | edit source]

See Exercises for Requirement specifications. The aim of the exercise is to show the value of open questions versus closed questions. A closed question has a yes or no answer.

Remember an open question starts with:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • How

Open Questions cannot be answered by Yes or No

Instructions:[edit | edit source]

Get a partner or colleague to find a picture of a building and tell them not to show it to you. Tell your partner or colleague only to answer the questions you ask and not supply any information if no questions has been asked. Ask Open questions to discover what type of building the picture shows. Try to draw the outline of the building from the details you receive from your partner. Find another picture and let your partner try to guess your picture.


Funnel Questions[edit | edit source]

To discover what the Customer’s goals are start by asking open questions. Follow these with more open questions. When the goals have been discovered then alternative questions define which of several options the customer prefers. Finally ask closed questions to steer the customer towards what is available.

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Questionnaires are a good way to ask questions[edit | edit source]

If there are a lot of questions to ask the customer then a good way to ask them is by sending the customer a list of questions as a text file. The customer can answer question by question and refer technical matters to the experts in written form. Give the customer time to answer the questions fully and be patient if not all the questions are answered the first time.

Start the questionnaire with open questions use:

  • Open questions to discover the customer’s goals.
  • Alternative questions where the options are limited
  • Closed questions to steer the customer towards industry standards or to discover which of a list of standard features is required in a particular project to produce greater detail.

Number all the questions uniquely and record the answers with a unique number that also indicates who answered the question.


The next module is The Development Process (EE)

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