Are Business Requirements Important in IT Project Implementation?

Information Technology Projects within large organizations are frequently started in response to some business need or business failing. There is a tendency in organizations to seek funding and approval for project implementation through proposals based on high-level business needs. Usually proposals are attractive, inviting in appearance and are laid out in the form of a statement of work. They focus on the needs and objectives to be met and put emphasis on the persuasive factor of getting the project approved with the intent of “selling the project.”

A common approach is to proceed with the project implementation based on “the solution only” by defining the required resources, plan of action, deliverables, timelines, and estimated costs. The critical part of documenting business requirements is omitted and a brief list of very high level requirements is inserted to obtain funding and approval.

“The three major reasons that a project will succeed are user involvement, executive management support, and a clear statement of requirements.” “Opinions about why projects are impaired and ultimately cancelled ranked incomplete requirements and lack of user involvement at the top of the list.” Source the Sandish Group report: Chaos.

The main goals of documented requirements should be to deliver value, reduce time and cost, increase satisfaction and achieve success. In my experience, the three integral aspects that are necessary for the success of projects, but that are often missed out or not detailed enough, are:

1. Benefits and business value:

People lose focus of the project’s benefits and sponsors do not commit to measuring and achieving the defined benefits. It is very difficult to achieve business value if there is lack of commitment to attain the defined benefits. The benefit statements should be clear, concise, and quantified.

2. Detailed business requirements:

Documented requirements are Important!!! In order to align the solutions for delivery of business value, the business requirements must be captured and the solution must be managed to meet them. In my opinion business requirements should be S.M.A.R.T., namely Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused and Time-bound. Furthermore the solution should be designed to satisfy and comply with organizations enterprise architecture.

3. Documented quality assurance processes:

The lack of detailed requirements creates a huge problem for the Quality assurance team that is expected to ensure the quality of the project as a whole. The quality assurance team needs to have the means to compare what was delivered, to what was required. The more detailed the requirements are, including what is the proof of success, the more likely quality could be achieved.

Findings from surveys of over 100 companies in Keith Ellis’s report: “The Impact of Business Requirements on the Success of Technology Projects” determined that “Companies with poor business analysis capability will have three times as many project failures as successes. 68% of companies are more likely to have a marginal project or outright failure than a success due to the way they approach business analysis. In fact, 50% of this group’s projects were “runaways” which had any 2 of: Taking over 180% of target time to deliver; Consuming in excess of 160% of estimated budget; Delivering under 70% of the target required functionality. Companies pay a premium of as much as 60% on time and budget when they use poor requirements practices on their projects. Over 40% of the IT development budget for software, staff and external professional services will be consumed by poor requirements at the average company using average analysts versus the optimal organization. The vast majority of projects surveyed did not utilize sufficient business analysis skill to consistently bring projects in on time and budget. The level of competency required is higher than that employed within projects for 70% of the companies surveyed.”

One must always remember that people in different roles will view the project from their own perspective and will not always see the bigger picture. A consolidation phase of requirements analysis needs to be done to look at these different perspectives and present an overall holistic best solution.

In FAO gathering business requirements is performed through brainstorming sessions with the business units and/or defining phased deliverables to be used as prototypes. The Information Technology Division in FAO has put in place mechanisms for ensuring Quality Assurance involvement in all phases of project implementation, from the project inception to project closure phases. In addition, emphasis for all IT projects to measure benefits and liaise with our business units to develop detailed business document requirements has become a prerequisite to project approval. In 2015 the IT division will measure the rate of improved project delivery due to increased business requirements definition.

In Karl E. Wiegers presentation, the “Cosmic Truths about Software Requirements” the following points are some key points to remember:

If you don’t get the requirements right, it doesn’t matter how well you execute the rest of the project; Requirements development is a discovery and invention process, not just a collection process; The interests of all the project stakeholders intersect in the requirements process; The first question an analyst should ask about a proposed new requirement is “Is this requirement in scope?”; The requirements might be vague, but the product will be specific.

On a final note, as considerable resources in terms of people and money are used to deliver what is actually needed for the realization of the expected business value and objectives, good business requirements are instrumental to avoid failures and complete successful projects.

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