What is it good for . . . . . Requirements

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TreeThe order of the day was a complex in an international institutionalised practice desperate to move into “best practice” methods of doing business. Now surely “best practice” can only be defined in context of the performance of the individual organisation. You’re only as good as your last . . . . .

They had worked hard, tirelessly to assimilate all the requirements and categories them, align them, group them and dissect them. Good job clearly a momentous effort.

The list was extensive, each statement hanging in the breeze like leafs on a branch, connected and bound by their precarious stems waiting to detach at any moment under the stress of the changing breeze of business. They twist and turn on the branch, and not easily translate to the canvas of colour and texture that defines  . . . . . . .

It was going to take a big effort from the team to pull this into shape. The countless workshops and PowerPoints, papers and examples given, received, digested, regurgitated and pondered only added to the strength of the breeze blowing the leafs and stressing the branches. The task stared us in the face, the cutting wind of Requirements Definitions.  Were we able to see the wood for the trees?

But what is a statement of requirements as the first stage of a project life cycle? If we stopped to ask what is it we are trying to achieve and what part of a process we looking to complete or why do we need to do this, we may rethink an approach and weighting of this stage. For sure the business will change during the life time of the project and therefore our requirements may become irrelevant or just plain different.

We want to ensure that sufficient understanding of the domain space has been transferred into a project artefact and that the project is able to articulate what the project must deliver and for what outcome or benefit; “The solution should allow . . . . to do this to achieve the following outcome.“

 There are several tools to help describe definition such as flow charts, Unified Modelling Language (UML) Use Case, Swim Lanes, User Story, State Transition Diagram etc . . . . However, we want to be able to communicate to a non-technical, non-engineering audience, typically business Subject Mater Experts (SME) and key stakeholders.  These participants often work from the repetitive, process driven lens or day-to-day operation. Not the engineering lens looking to dissect and rebuild. Making conceptual requirements difficult to relate to the now of the everyday operation.

Assume in existence is a strategy statement, a vision, a mission statement and all that good stuff, something to hang your hat and scarf on in the stiff breeze of requirements gathering. Assume there is visibility of a value proposition and quantifiable KPIs.  I guess if you cannot substantiate these assumptions you should STOP now.

The project is being set up for failure without clarity on this. Speaking to my previous blog (SoO) these should be listed and counter signed as part of the outcome partnering proposition between organisations.

For the purpose of this blog post let’s assume all that good stuff is in place.  Otherwise I should stop writing now.

A requirements definition could then reflect the following:

  1. Requirements1A reference number – Always useful and unique
  2. A short title – Representing the gist of the need
  3. A fuller description – Of the “What” – not how and should be singular in nature, one statement for one need
  4. Business Alignment – The “Why” this is needed and how it fits into the business operation and/or practice
  5. Strategy Alignment – A short statement on how this support the business strategy
  6. KPI – How the requirements will be quantifiably measured against the business outcome as business value (take it that Strategy Alignment could be qualitative measure)
  7. Audit/Knowledge Custodians – Who, when, SME, version, date etc

Yes there is a ton of other stuff but let’s not boil the ocean here. It should not include design and implementation matter or commitment to user experience and/or solution design. We are after all trying to relate business needs to a set of deliverable to form the exercise of design, not design as a seed to requirements.  Reminds me of the saying “a good invention waiting for a purpose.”

Language, texture and tone. We need acceptance, buy-in and most importantly agreement and alignment to take these to a formal approval sign off.  So this document has to be non-technical and speak a business language and not an implementation and/or technical one. It must bind leafs blowing in the wind into a coherent sway of changing winds.

As such it must be a collaborative effort and individuals on both sides of the table must approach this with a view of making this work. It must speak a common language and it must engage and satisfy many masters.

A by product: This exercise is a great asset to any organisation as a by-product often establishes the missing corporate procedure manual that can go a long way in managing the overall alignment and effectiveness of the enterprise.

So the next time a requirements gathering phase is initiated it may be worth looking at your template, tool kit and definition of this task and asking: “What is it that we are trying to achieve through this effort?”

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