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How an un-ironed shirt reminded me of a fundamental BA lesson…

Iron on white fabric

I don’t know about you, but I’ve done a fair amount of business travelling. Early on in my career, I learnt the importance of chatting and building rapport with the check-in staff on hotel reception desks. These are the people that will help you out and (hopefully) be able to arrange for any problems to be resolved during your stay. I’m always amazed at the lengths hotel staff will go to if you ask them for help.

I was recently staying in a hotel near Cambridge, and I needed to iron my shirt for a meeting the next day. There was no iron in the room, so I wandered down to reception to speak to the chirpy receptionist who I’d chatted to when checking in. The conversation went something like this. We’ll call the receptionist “Tom” (this wasn’t his real name):


Iron on white fabric

Tom: Hi again sir, how can I help?

Adrian: Hi Tom. I need a favour.. do you have an iron I can borrow? I need to press a shirt ready for a meeting tomorrow.

Tom: Sure, let me get one for you. OK, you have iron number 5A, I’ll sign it out for you… just return it when you’re ready.

Adrian: Excellent, thanks.


Tom then handed me the iron. Excellent, I thought, and I start heading back up to the room. But something’s missing here…. I have an iron…. It was late and my brain was frazzled…. What was missing? And then it hits me. I don’t have an ironing board!

So I head back to speak to Tom:

Adrian: Me again! Tom, thanks very much for the iron, just a quick question… which is the best surface to iron on? Should I use the table in the room, or the bed…? Won’t that cause burns?

Tom: I have an ironing board I can lend you if that helps?

Adrian: Umm.. yes please….

Tom: It’s funny, people always ask for the iron, and never ask for the ironing board. I have no idea what they normally use.

Adrian: Right. Do you find that you often get burn marks on the carpets and beds?

Tom: Funny you should mention that… yes…


So, I grabbed the ironing board and headed back to my room, rather bemused by the whole experience. Then it struck me… Tom had given me exactly what I’d asked for. He’d met 100% of my requirements – after all, I’d asked for an iron and he had provided one.

The issue was that there was a significant gap in what I’d asked for and what I actually needed. In my mind it was clear – however, I hadn’t articulated my needs with precision.

The same gap exists in projects. There is often a significant gap between:

  • What stakeholders state that they want (stated requirements)
  • What they actually want (unstated, or implicit requirements)
  • What they need
  • What they can afford

It is a role of a good business analyst to elicit and analyse these requirements and anticipate and verify what the stakeholders actually want and need. Earlier engagement is better – if a BA had looked at what I actually needed they may well have come to the conclusion that buying a “non-iron” shirt would be a much better solution which would save time and negate the need for an iron all together!

Anyway, enough of my wardrobe woes. Until next time…



What are your experiences balancing needs, wants and budget? Do you have any stories, tips or tricks? I’d love to hear from you, please feel free to add a comment below.

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5 thoughts on “How an un-ironed shirt reminded me of a fundamental BA lesson…”

  1. Absolutely loved the way you put the finger on the problem. Will definitely remember this example for a long time.

    Thanks Adrian 🙂

    1. A great story that will help remember the point! I may just be bold enough though to suggest that actually, you stated the solution and not your requirement 🙂

      1. Chris – thanks for the comment, and I’m glad you liked the story!. You are spot on, I had fallen for the “solution illusion” — doh! Even BAs aren’t immune to solutionisation…

  2. Nice one Adrian. Of course, if Tom had wanted to achieve excellence as a supplier by providing a superior customer experience, he could have sent someone to your room to collect the shirt and iron it.

    I have a story on a related point called “Meeting the requirements” on my own blog.

    1. Nick, thanks for the comment. I would have loved an ironing service, that really would have exceeded my expectations, especially given the hotel was very much at the ‘budget’ end of the market!

      I’ve just read your blog post. It’s great, and a very useful illustration which also brings in the question of aligning contracts with *outcomes* rather than *products* (e.g. to quote and bend the normal cliche “Am I buying a drill, or am I buying a hole in the wall…”).

      Here’s a link in case any other readers would like to take a look, I’d highly recommend reading it…

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