Taking time to determine business requirements before launching into a new IT or process-based project is a critical component of good planning and protecting company assets. Clearly defining the current process, the problems that need to be focused on, and working with the people in the organization before beginning your project will allow for a much more streamlined process once you start, with better odds for success.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
The old adage used by carpenters – “measure twice, cut once” – has new application when an organization faces a challenge and is considering bypassing certain business requirements. Though urgency may encourage you to think about starting to put new assets in place prior to doing a thorough analysis of what you need, it is better to think twice before pulling out the checkbook. Having a full understanding of not only the challenges and scope of the problem, but what is needed to amend the situation, will save you and your team time, money and additional problems in the future.
How can an accurate determination of business requirements assist you in facing business challenges? Without a full analysis of the requirements, you may suffer from “scope creep” and find yourself and your team taking on more problems than originally planned for. Scope creep can cause overruns in budgeting, staff, resources and funds as well as cause frustration within the team. Other risks of an incomplete evaluation include conflicting goals from other teams or uncertainty about what functions are truly necessary and which are not.
The Value of a Business Analyst
If you are concerned about correctly evaluating your business requirements, utilizing the skills of an in-house or independent business analyst can be extremely helpful and can provide insight into things that you or your team may have missed. Business analysts add value to a company in that they are trained to evaluate and plan business requirements, making the implementation of a new project a streamlined process through their unique perspective.
Business analysts are trained to look carefully at return on investment (ROI). ROI can be quantified as either a reduction in cost or an increase in profitability to your organization. With the assistance of a business analyst, every obvious and not-so-obvious cost will be counted to make sure that the plan that is created makes sense for the business as a whole in the short and long-term. These costs include more than just technology and staffing costs. They include the costs of stakeholder investment and negative influences on other working teams and processes.
While a business analyst's goal is to reduce overall project costs, doing so can be a challenge in itself. To limit costs, a business analyst may consider not only which changes are necessary, but those that are needless and simply waste money and cause confusion. Business analysts also work with stakeholders to make sure that they stay focused on the most important requirements, keeping them on task and on track.
How to Determine Requirements
Clearly, there are many excellent reasons to determine accurate and comprehensive business requirements before beginning any project. Knowing how to go about collecting critical information and where to find it can present many problems. Luckily, there are ways that critical business requirements can be determined and focused to help keep your project on track and on budget. Here are several options to think about:
Interview key stakeholders in the company. Key stakeholders in your organization comprise a group of people who will be affected by any changes that you make. These stakeholders may not only be upper management, but may encompass customer service departments, supply chain personnel and laterally placed teams. Take time to identify everyone who will need to be informed of your changes. Once you have identified key stakeholders, it is time to interview them. Take the time to prepare for the meeting by thinking through their possible concerns and the goals for the organization as a whole. Prepare yourself and give stakeholders clear information as to what the goal of the meeting is so they have time to think through their responses. Carefully crafting an agenda and sticking to it will help to prevent the meeting from diverging into other organizational issues and provide the best information to assist you or your business analyst in evaluating what requirements are ultimately recommended by the group.
Conduct focus groups within the business. Focus groups can be powerful in determining business requirements. When building your group, not only can you select people who are current stakeholders, but you can choose those who can help the process move forward or who will be directly affected by changes that the business is considering. Again, a key to making sure that the focus group works effectively is to make sure that members stay on topic and answer the questions that have been prepared so that you end up with the precise data you need. This is also a prime opportunity to discuss how hand-overs can be managed and what challenges the focus group can envision during that process.
Schedule a brainstorming meeting. Brainstorming is an effective tool when looking for a broad range of ideas regarding the business requirements that your organization is facing. Brainstorming typically generates many quick ideas that may or may not be part of the business requirements. Ask people with knowledge of the problem to attend the brainstorming session and then develop a method to evaluate the ideas that were gathered. Remember that brainstorming is focused on generating ideas and encouraging the group to save evaluation for later. Also called a “use case,” you can work through the problem or process in a very hypothetical way to not only gather functional requirements, but to see how the current system as a whole operates.
Complete a survey cycle. Surveys are tremendously helpful if there are scheduling conflicts between team members that prevent them from meeting face-to-face. Prior to sending out surveys, make sure to take time to be intentional about who receives them and what format will work best for your team. Most importantly, running a small test survey will give you a chance to see if the survey truly gives you the information you are looking for and provides you with time to make any adjustments that may be deemed necessary.
Deciding on the Requirements
Once all of the data about the problem has been received, it is time to determine the final business requirements before starting the project. This can be the most critical step of the process. Requirements must be precise and firm. Vague, unmeasurable goals can lead to unknowns, which leads to cost and time overruns. Though it does take effort, using as much detail as possible will increase the odds of success of the project as a whole. Once a general list has been compiled, then take time to prioritize those requirements. Which aspects of the project are critical? Which are unnecessary options? At this point, you may need to meet with stakeholders in order to determine if there are any conflicts and resolve them as quickly as possible.
Increase your Odds of a Successful Project
While starting a new project used to mean just trying something and hoping it would work, examining business requirements can now make any project run more smoothly with better outcomes. Though determining business requirements can sometimes be a lengthy process, it can make all the difference in today's challenging business environment. With proper planning, the assistance of a business analyst and a sharp eye for details, determining business requirements can be a creative, fulfilling process that sets the groundwork for a successful technology upgrade or project start that guarantees positive momentum for your organization’s future.
Author: This article was provided by Joe Schembri who works with Villanova University’s online business analyst certification courses. For more information about these or any other courses please visit http://www.VillanovaU.com