That riff about business analysis myopia

Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt famously said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

The lesson is that people are too focused on solutions and don’t spend enough time understanding what their stakeholders’ problems are or the best way to solve them.

What do they want a hole for?

Do they want one hole or many holes?

Are they decorative, or load-bearing holes?

Will the holes be made in brick or wood, or paper?

Should the holes be made according to a specification?

Is how quick, accurate, or cheap the hole can be made the metric that they’re measuring success on?

A drill bit is one of many ways to get a hole. Depending on what is needed, we can give different options for achieving the goal—a drill, a laser, a gimlet, or a hole-punch.

But even that doesn’t go far enough. A hole is a means to an end.

The holes in the brick wall are an immediate result. The extra storage space once the shelf has been erected on the wall is the end result. That’s what the stakeholder had in mind when they bought the drill. That’s what they really wanted.

But wait…

They also have in mind the desire to see their stuff organised and away on the shelf.

Or perhaps the peace of mind that the old storage spot is left uncluttered.

Or knowing their expensive equipment is now stored safely.

Or the accomplishment of doing the job themselves.

Or the kudos from their family and friends.

Or belonging to the ‘DIY club’.

Your eyesight might be blurred by business analysis myopia—a nearsighted focus on building products and services, rather than seeing the “big picture” of what stakeholders really want.

People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want to to feel in control and empowered.