Roland Hill*, a business analyst for Dutch IT specialists IPROFS, used Clean Language to reveal a number of misunderstandings which could have caused the collapse of an 34.9 million-Euro project involving financial institutions across Europe.

He joined the project after the functionality of the new computer system had apparently been agreed. But when he checked through the specified requirements with representatives from the two sponsoring institutions, he discovered that each had a different understanding of key sections of the document.

Roland Hill

Roland Hill

“They had agreed the words on the page – but there was a difference in what those words meant to them,” said Roland. “If I hadn’t used Clean Language there is a good chance this misunderstanding might not have come out until a year or more down the line, once the system had been built.

“Then one side would have been very unhappy that things weren’t going to work as they’d expected, and as they’d told their customers they would work. Either the project would have been delayed while it was sorted out – which would have been very expensive and damaged the credibility of the project – or, at worst, cancelled.

“There are lots of statistics about something which costs one Euro to fix at the requirements stage costs 600 Euros to fix once the system has been built. There’s an extrapolation of costs the further you get down the lifecycle of the project, so it’s worth getting things right at the very beginning.

“As a result of what came out in my workshop the sponsors recognised where they didn’t agree, and were able to make a plan to get things sorted out between them.”

Now Roland is using Clean Language – a cutting-edge interviewing tool – to help his customers specify in more detail exactly what they would like. This includes working with metaphor – for example, stakeholders have been able to get a shared understanding of their project by thinking of it as being like a washing machine. They could choose to order a very simple machine with just one or two programmes, or a more sophisticated one with a wide range of different programmes for different kinds of washing.

He said: “The questions I am asking are leaving the client more opportunity to say what they actually want rather than agreeing with something I have got in the back of my head. It’s the difference between ‘Is this OK?’ and ‘What do you actually want?’ Everything is possible, it just takes time and/or money – and the business just needs to decide if it’s worth it.

“Since learning Clean Language I am much more aware of when I am asking leading questions – perhaps leading to a particular technical solution – and when I am leaving things open for the client.

“Quite often, projects succeed in building to the requirements on paper, but still fail to meet the client’s expectations. I think using Clean Language is leading to better results, and more aligned expectations of what is going to be built.

“The business is pleasantly surprised to have such a free hand, and I have an easier working life, with greater transparency about what has been achieved.”

*Roland Hill is a Business Analyst with IPROFS. He is very experienced in complex transactional web application projects in commercial and governmental markets. In the past, he has been a product manager for a content management system for the UK legal market, and an application and process consultant for a market-leading ERP firm.

One Response to “Case study: Analyst’s Clean questions save 34-million Euro project”

  1. [...] – What if your research could be even more compelling for your clients? – What if your client reports were more colourful and easier for busy executives to grasp – while remaining as rigorous as ever? – What if you could uncover (and easily describe) the customer emotions behind your survey findings? – What if customers spoke directly from the heart, through your reports, to make an increased impact on company behaviour? Case study: Saving a large IT project [...]

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