The Initial Client Interview - File Maker

The first thing you need to do is talk to the client and find out what it is they want to do. The conversation shouldn’t necessarily be technical in nature but rather cover the general problem(s) that exist and what proposed solutions there might be, if this is known. Examples of problems that might be solved at a company are:

  • Taking orders over the phone is too slow. You want an order to be taken and processed in eight minutes tops.

  • You have no idea who your customers are. You need some way to gather some information about all your clients and then generate meaningful summary reports on this data.
  • You have a products database now. Now you want a database that will keep track of your real-time inventory, too.
  • Your database needs to be upgraded from FileMaker Plus to the latest version of FileMaker Pro.
  • Your FileMaker database system is great, but you’re double-entering time sheets into your Unix-based accounting system. You need FileMaker Pro to talk to that legacy system via ODBC and send error-free time sheets automatically every Friday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. (Greenwich Mean Time) sharp.
  • Your database always crashes. You need it analyzed to uncover what the problems might be.
  • You currently keep track of all of your campsites using “this here clipboard.”

Could you do the same thing via “some kinda database thingie?”
When you’re talking about these problems with the client, it’s okay to start thinking in the back of your mind how these issues might be solved using FileMaker products (or other ones, when FileMaker isn’t suitable). But geekspeak need not come into the conversation unless the client is already familiar with FileMaker Pro or is generally technically savvy.

Focus on finding out exactly what the client is interested in trying to do and take good notes. Also keep in mind that, even though you could surely use the consulting dollars, in the final analysis, maybe new software isn’t what the client needs in order to be able to process orders in less than eight minutes. Maybe what’s needed is for everyone to have access to a more reliable network connection, or a quieter work environment, or more of the office’s light bulbs working.

A good solution is an honest one, and clients will appreciate it (and keep coming back) when you say things like, “Ah, you don’t need all those bells and whistles. Just take this 7MB image of a gopher off of the main menu layout and that will speed things up tenfold!”

Here’s a good list of questions to ask any client. They help you understand not only the current proposed project at hand but also the client’s company and workplace in general. Be sure to only ask questions relevant to the current situation.

Don’t waste a client’s time with trivia.

Contact/Company Information
These questions are concerned with general information about the company what they do and how they do it.

  • What is your name, address, phone number, and email address at work and at home?
  • Are there different contacts for accounting, IT, management, or a third party or somewhere else that will be involved in the project? If so, who are these people and how can they be reached?
  • What kind of business is your company?
  • How old is the business?
  • How many employees?
  • What hours are your offices open?
  • Do you require on site development, or is remote collaboration/telecommuting also an option?
  • Are there other development projects on the horizon?
  • Have you worked with any other developers before me/us? If so, who, and what was your experience like?
  • Who has final approval of project specs, budgets, and so on?
  • Does your company operate under any government regulated standards as far as computer system design or development procedures? If so, what are these regulations, and where can I/we read about them?
  • What is your vendor screening process like?
  • How technically savvy are your employees?
  • How FileMaker-aware is your IT staff?

Project Description
These questions are concerned with general information about the project your firm has been called in to discuss.

  • Please describe exactly what you’re trying to accomplish (i.e., what are the primary goals of today’s conference)?
  • Are there any example databases, documents, diagrams, or other visual aids to help me understand what you’ve just described?
  • Will this database ever need to be Web-enabled, or must it talk to other systems via ODBC? If so, describe these needs.
  • Are there any existing databases, or is this project being built from scratch?
  • If something’s already built, how will this new functionality be integrated?
  • If nothing is yet developed, who is in charge of the interface design, an inhouse graphic designer or your database developer?
  • Is there a preferred color scheme (team colors, perhaps)?
  • Do you have any speed issues with the current system?
  • Are there any other problems with the current system?
  • Is there any existing documentation on the current system?
  • Has any analysis of the current system been done such as report lists, database design reports, field lists, or other items that you can provide?
  • Does the database need to print on any special letterhead or paper stock (such as custom label or envelope sizes)?
  • Will any data need to be migrated from an old/existing database system, like product or contact lists?
  • Should there be a secure login system?
  • Are there any remote users that require synchronization like with laptops or handheld computers?
  • Are audit trails required?
  • Will you be interested in an ongoing support and maintenance contract?
  • Are you interested in any other products, such as (fill in the blank)?

Network/IT Environment Description
These questions are concerned with the information technology infrastructure the company has.

  • How many servers are there? How many workstations?
  • What type of network is it?
  • Is it cross-platform?
  • How fast is the network?
  • Is there a LAN? A WAN? Is global access required? (Note to reader: If global access is required, make sure to design databases to control for the possibility of international characters, the way different countries display dates, and so on. If possible, test your solutions using the various international copies of FileMaker Pro to make sure they’ll work in any country that has users that will be logging on.)
  • Will FileMaker get its own dedicated server or shared server?
  • Will you use FileMaker Pro or FileMaker Server to host the databases?
  • Are there any printers?
  • Do users have Internet access?
  • Is remote administration of the FileMaker Server possible?
  • Who will administer the FileMaker server?
  • What operating system is installed on all workstations/servers?
  • Are any upgrades to hardware/software planned in the near future? If so, describe.
  • What screen resolution is a typical workstation?
  • What Web browser do you prefer?
  • Are there any unusual fonts in use, like maybe the corporate font?
  • What is your security environment like?

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