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Turn Customer Needs and Values Into Requirements

The ability to translate customer needs and values into requirements is relevant to every individual who deals with customers. However, it seems the process is not that well known.

Needs Versus Requirements


Needs, while indicating necessity, are usually quite broad in their form.

Need: (n) circumstance in which something is desired (I need time to myself), or that requires some course of action (I need you to build this); a thing that is wanted (the customer needs to be safe)

In layman’s terms needs represent that which is important to the person expressing the need, in effect needs are indicative of one’s values.


By contrast, a requirement is a much more specific element associated with the verb require.

Requirement: (v) to specify as compulsory (the level of compliance required by law); (require something of) regarding an action, ability, or quality as due from (someone) by virtue of their position (the specific quality required of the company as a supplier)

Customer Requirement is then defined as: (n) the specific and measurable characteristic that determines whether or not the customer’s needs have been met

Here are some examples that help demonstrate the difference and the relationship between customer needs and customer requirements as we might view it through the eyes of the customer.

I Need ..

  • The correct part length
  • My need is met if – the part is in the range of 25.5mm to 26.5mm in length

I Need ..

  • The task to be completed in a reasonable time frame
  • My need is met if – the task is completed within 20 minutes of commencement

I Need ..

  • Simple documentation
  • My need is met if – The document does not exceed 2 pages in its entirety

I Need ..

  • The project to be completed as soon as possible
  • My need is met if – the implementation plan is handed to the process owner no later than 2 months from today

The Value of Good Questioning Methods

Most improvement practitioners are great at eliciting needs.

However, it is a a much smaller proportion who make this connection and turn those needs into specific requirements.

For example a consultant might be asked to deliver some training to a group of employees. The customer says she wants staff to be competent at the end of the training. Many consultants and trainers will leave it at that. The question not answered at this time relates to what the customer actually means by competent, how would that customer know when competency is achieved?

The key to eliciting needs and to turn those into relevant requirements is to ask quality questions. Below are the most useful types of questions I have found for this work when talking to customers.

To Identify Needs

  • What is it that you need?
  • What is most important to you about [insert the thing]?
  • What are the most important characteristics of [insert the thing]?

The shorter the answer the better as it is more representative of the customer’s values.

To Translate Into Requirements

  • Your need for [insert] would be met if what?
  • How would I know when I have met your need?
  • How would you know when your need is met? What would you see [or experience]?

This process is not just for business improvement projects by the way. It is an important activity for anybody providing any service to any customer regardless of the context.

Crafting Requirement Statements

The final thing we need to really understand about requirements is the characteristics of a well-worded requirement. Crafted well, a requirement will exhibit four characteristics.


Refers to one characteristic or feature only, multiple characteristics or features dilute the ability to effectively measure the requirement.


Phrased in measurable and / or observable terms, when a requirement is in this format it is easy to determine whether or not the requirement has or has not been met. Ultimately it will be ‘sensory rich’ in that you can use one of the senses to measure.

Yes or No Evaluation

The answer to the question: “Did we meet this requirement?” is either yes we did, or no we did not.


Linked to a specific product, service feature or moment of truth relevant to the process, a requirement that is not linked is not meaningful in measuring the performance of the process.

These questions may assist in assessing the wording of your customers’ requirements.

Q. Will we be able to test whether or not the requirement has been met?

Q. Is this requirement easy to understand?

Q. Is this requirement a reflection of what the customer really needs of our product or service?

This is an extract from Process Mastery with Lean Six Sigma 2nd Edition – a complete Black Belt’s lean six sigma body of knowledge written by George Lee Sye. The book is now used by Lean Six Sigma professionals around the world in both classroom and online Lean Six Sigma training. It covers an extensive range of topics including leadership psychology and organisational change, lean project leadership, and six sigma project leadership. Click here –
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