January 9, 2011 20 Comments
How You Gather Requirements Sends a Message!
Let’s us go through an analogy together. You are the customer and I am the consultant working with you to develop some software changes for your packaged software. As the consultant I can take two approaches for gathering requirements:
Option #1: “What would you like?” An open-ended question that will generate a lot of feedback from you the customer. Yet it communicates several underlying messages:
- You as the customer will get a turn-key, custom solution. Software changes require a minimal effort.
- I as the consultant may not have sufficient knowledge of your business – or not enough to lead with a recommendation.
- You as the customer know exactly what you want.
- I as the consultant appear to be more customer-focused.
Option #2: “Here is the delivered functionality. Please explain why this is not sufficient?” A question that will generate less feedback from you the customer. Yet it communicates several underlying messages:
- You as the customer may not get what you want. Software changes should not be required.
- I as the consultant may not have sufficient knowledge of your business – especially if I did not know of the gaps beforehand.
- You as the customer may feel to be put on the defensive and not treated appropriately as the key stakeholder.
- I as the consultant appear to be less customer-focused.
Both options are valid approaches for gathering ERP requirements. However, the challenges I see today are due to how project teams apply requirements gathering strategies to their ERP implementations. Project teams typically confine themselves to only one approach and do not account for the challenges associated with the selected requirements gathering method.
Multiple Methods for Requirements Gathering
Based upon my experience there are three main strategies for gathering ERP business requirements:
A pure requirements-driven strategy focuses on defining all business requirements independent of organizational and technology constraints. This approach is the most widely used method today. This is also the slowest approach to gathering requirements and will require the most time from business users to articulate requirements. We can anticipate gathering non-value-added business requirements that must be filtered through the requirements section process. With additional gaps business stakeholders will have to spend more during Fit/Gap to make decisions.
On the other end of the spectrum, a pure solution-driven strategy focuses on the gap business requirements (requirements that cannot be met with delivered functionality). This approach is highly popular in for rapid ERP implementations. This approach requires the least amount of time from business users; however, business activities must conform to the packaged business software. This could have a significant impact on organizational acceptance and impact because ERP software designs are based upon a market-driven set of requirements and not the specific requirements of an individual customer.
The configuration-driven strategy is based upon the premise “The new system needs to do what the existing system does today”. It may be a situation where a customer simply needs a replacement system because the existing system is nearing the end of its license and may become decommissioned software. Starting with what the customer knows helps to expedite requirements gathering. Business user time is minimized because IT can provide insight into the existing business system capabilities and configuration. However, this approach will surface requirements based upon existing system limitations as well as legacy non-value-add business requirements.
Each requirements gathering approach has its strengths and challenges. This fact does not invalidate the approaches described. What is required is the right application of these methods to encourage – not force – customers to maximize their ERP investment.
Best Practice: Use Multiple Methods for Requirements Gathering
What if there was a way to take the best from all the approaches mentioned above and produce a strategy that took full advantage of ERP software? What if we could bring in different approaches in such way as to complement and progressively elaborate (iterate) business requirements? This is the aim of the blended approach – to leverage different techniques in the process where they can generate the most value. The project team gathers business requirements from different perspectives which enable the team to create a holistic requirements definition set. Finally, the approach will naturally filter out non-value add business requirements. Let’s review how we would execute on a blended approach for requirements gathering.
Iteration #1 – Listen to your customer
In the first iteration we will utilize the requirements-driven approach to gather high-level requirements. The difference in applying this approach is the level or degree that we execute in this iteration. The objective is to gather enough business requirements that will enable the project team to develop a competent system for business solution modeling. A key concept here is that your customer needs to feel that they are being listened to and engaged, yet not being promised a custom solution. The project team wants to be able to develop a system that will convincethe customer that the packaged software will support their business. Focus on gathering the main business scenarios and relevant data that will enable the project team to produce a realistic solution to utilize during business solution modeling.
Iteration #2 – Lead your customer
Here in this iteration the project team transitions from listening to leading with a business solution. During business solution modeling the project team will demonstrate the ability of the packaged software to support the main business scenarios to your customers. During business solution modeling the project team also focuses on gathering exceptions to the standard business process scenarios defined. You will also note that this activity will provide the project team with the opportunity to validate business requirements and software configuration during the requirements gathering process.
Iteration #3 – Negotiate with your customer
This final iteration is a confirmation that all value-add business requirements are defined and all business exceptions and scenarios have been addressed. Looking at the configuration of your customer’s legacy system(s) not only is another source of validation but also can be the first iteration of defining legacy data migration requirements.
One of the key techniques the project team can use to detect and resolve business requirements conflict is to gather requirements from different perspectives.
Driving to define your business requirements from different perspectives will naturally identify potential conflicts. Starting off with a requirements-driven approach lays the foundation for effective requirements gathering as well as promotes collaboration. Next, taking a solution-driven approach enables the project team to quickly identify the boundaries of the packaged business software. Third, utilizing the configuration-driven approach provides a validation of results from both the requirements-driven and solution-driven activities. And finally taking a results-driven approach ensures that the business results support the desired business results.
Source: This hybrid approach is further defined in my book Maximize Your Investment: 10 Key Strategies for Effective Packaged Software Implementations.