Requirements Consulting: When clients can’t describe their business process, for lack of Product Definition

I have been running into more cases where a project team is tasked with eliciting functional requirements to support a business process that is not fully defined. The most common cause is that the business is still doing (or has not started) Product Definition (Services too).

 Obviously, having a completed Product Definition first is the best situation, and makes requirements discovery basically the same as that for an existing process. Certainly anything new will change going forward, but that can be managed if you have a starting agreement on what the process will be.

 But I think you have to know what product or service will be offered to customers before any supporting processes can be defined. The questions I think I will have to address at some point include:

(a)how similar/different is Product Definition to Requirements Discovery?

(b)can you combine both into an integrated approach that stabilizes Product Definition while discovering the functional requirements?

 Based on my experience and a little research, my answers right now are (a) very different, and (b) no.

 My experience is based on doing facilitated sessions with clients to elicit functional requirements, where I wait on a frequent basis for Product/Service discussions by the session participants to finish, hopefully with a decision that helps define the process. Often the discussions do not reach a decision, which means the topic of discussion gets added to an issues list, to be addressed after the session. In these situations, the issues list can be very long.

 My small amount of research (how did we do research pre-web?) led me to Kenneth Crow and DRM Associates, who have many web pages on Product Definition, at

 I am not familiar with Mr. Crow or DRM, but their content is impressive based on what I have scanned to this point. It includes what is essentially a methodology for Product Definition, with a key factor being understanding the “Voice of the Customer”. As time allows, I intend to dive deeper into the content to see how it could assist me in helping my clients with Product Definition issues. At this point, I still think that Product Definition and Requirements Discovery would be separate/sequential tasks, but some efficiency would be realized in Requirements Discovery as the business process would be defined and fresh in the minds of the client.

 And if any readers have had similar experiences, and possibly some suggestions that could help me with this issue, do add them as comments to this post.

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