Have you ever noticed that when it comes to mobile (cell) phone numbers, that there is no set rules on how you say the number? With land lines numbers, everybody generally uses the format of 5-3-3 when saying a phone number – so “01256 123456” is said as “01256-123-456”. Its short, punchy, and it works for everybody (for London, the leading 5 gets replaced with 3 or 4 leading).
But with mobiles, after the leading “07” bit, there is no rules for the grouping – it all depends on the number you have. But if you group your number one way, and somebody repeats it with different groupings, it’s easy not to recognise your own number. If my number is “07780123456”, I might say “077-80-12-34-56”. Someone repeating it back to me might say my number is “07-780-123-456” – it sounds completely different and makes me double check and think about what is being said.
This mixed-format confusion can be used to great advantage when replaying requirements back to customers. After they are done stating all of their requirements, by repeating their requirements back to them in a different order (either by voice or in an email), the changed and mixed context forces them to think about what they have said, what you have noted, and also if it is really what they want. I also like to throw in the word “only” (or just) as well here and there, just for good measure.
A requirement of “We want a web application that allows UK students to enter their accommodation details on a form, and this gets saved onto a SQL Server database which we can produce ad-hoc reports from”, when mixed and repeated back, might become…
“So let me check I have this right. You want to produce some ad-hoc reports from a SQL Server database. This database will only be populated from a web-based data entry form that we would develop, and would be made available only to UK based students who would use the form to enter just the details of their accommodation”.
I have used it a number of times where the customer has then commented with something like “well, it sounds like something is missing..” or “yes, but we also need…” after they have specified all their requirements.
Using this technique I have saved myself a lot of headaches during project delivery by making sure the customer has detailed everything that is required by double checking what they really want, which has led to more of the work being detailed up front (with a higher price tag) and saves the last minute “oh, I forgot I needed…” conversations on delivery day.