Unravelling what stakeholders need

There are three popular misunderstandings that many of us get knotted.

The first is that stakeholders are implicitly aware of their wants (which they mistake for needs, we’ll get onto that in a moment) but they are quite awful at communicating them. They often state solutions instead, not seeing that it won’t solve the problem. When it comes time to share their requirements, they get stuck.

“I need a car.”

The second is that stakeholders mistake wants for needs. What they need is to commute daily to the office. What they want is a convenient and comfortable means of travelling to and from work. And if they’re expectant enough, a travel time of no more than 30 minutes.

Will a car make the distance, in rush-hour traffic, in that time? Is the train or bus faster? What about moving home closer to the office, is that an option?

The third is mistakenly believing that all stakeholders want the same thing. They don’t. The marketing executive wants something bright and shiny; the finance director wants reliable and affordable. There’s even conflict inside the stakeholders own head. They need things to be improved, but, at the same time, they don’t want things to change.

One stakeholder wants a Mercedes S-Class, another a Honda Civic.

We need to understand what our stakeholders want (not what we think they want) because it shapes the story. And if we don’t know what they start out wanting, it’s hard to take them on a journey somewhere.