Getting the right question

Posted on April 22, 2015. Filed under: business, forensic | Tags: , , , |

One of the biggest challenges for anyone who offers a consulting service is getting the client to ask the right question. All too often, the client already has an idea of what they think the answer is and produces a question around that answer.

An example:

On a forum that I frequent, one of the members asked about where to get a PDF editing program. Lots of people threw suggestions at him, some free, some very expensive, some somewhere in the middle and all were dismissed as too complicated for what the asker needed. So I asked a simple question – “What are you actually trying to achieve ?”.

It turned out that his company had a temporary problem – the document feeder on their scanner wasn’t working properly and they were getting blank pages in between the scanned pages¬†because they had to feed them in manually. He didn’t really need a PDF editor, all he needed was a way to get rid of the blank pages. I suggested that what he should do was load up the files produced by the scanner and then re-print them to PDF, setting the output options to skip every second page. Job done. Free, easy and using a system he already understood and had readily available.

The same thing happens in forensic science, especially in the digital forensic world. People make assumptions about the evidence they need or think they can get, instead of describing the problem they are trying to solve – defining the investigative requirement. The crucial skill for the forensic scientist is not in the realm of technical solutions, but in old-fashioned requirements elicitation.

That’s why I have a rule that I won’t start work until I’ve had a proper discussion with the client and got the answers to¬†“What are you trying to achieve?” or “What problem are you really trying to solve?”.

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    This is the weblog of Angus M. Marshall, forensic scientist, author of Digital Forensics : digital evidence in criminal investigations and MD at n-gate ltd.


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