Posted by: kerrywills | June 29, 2012

The business side of the equation; by Randy Wills

Intent vs. Requirement

As the business lead on a lot of IT projects, I am often stuck in the “what I said” vs. “what I meant” vs. “what you heard” world where requirements are often misunderstood and not aligned between business and IT.  I have noticed that a lot of the misunderstandings between an IT project and the business is often around the difference between an intent and a requirement.  Often times when a business lead is giving requirements, they are under the impression that they are expressing the intent of their needs and that IT will come back with any questions.  The problem is that often times, the IT team is reading that as the specific requirement.

 Part of what makes a strong PM or strong Business Analyst valuable, is their ability to facilitate the requirements discussion to ensure that requirements gathering is guiding the conversation into detailed requirements.  This is done through intellectual curiosity, probing questions and repeating back what you thought you heard the business lead saying.

 Take the following scenario where the business lead has a project – lets say they want their lawn mowed.  They submit a request saying mow my yard.

 Intellectual curiosity:

I find the working relationship better when the IT team truly understands not just the letter of the requirement, but the reason for it.  Its okay to ask the business lead things such as:

  • What are the goals of the project?
  • What question / problem are we trying to solve by doing this work?
  • Is this a short term or longer term solution?
  • Are you looking for this to be done in a certain timeframe?

The more the PM, as a project lead, understands and knows about the project, the better you will be at managing it and ensuring that you are meeting expectations.

 Probing questions:

This is where the BA, or PM (whoever is playing the role of facilitator) earns their keep.  Getting this information up front helps avoid rework, frustration and misalignment which could be more costly down the road.  I always find it useful to brainstorm the questions ahead of time, so that one comes prepared for the requirements meeting, which should be done face to face.  Some questions to guide the conversation could be as follows:

  • How big is your yard? (try and quantify the requirement)
  • What landscaping is around the lawn? (try and figure out your constraints / scope)
  • Are their any risks such steep grade, hornets nests, etc (try and document any risks)
  • When was the last time you mowed? (scope out the work)
  • Do you have a mower, or do I have to bring one? (what tools are needed)
  • Is there a specific timeframe you have in mind? (quantify timing)

Repeating back what you heard:

This is your chance to repeat back what you think you head the business lead say.  Sometimes by hearing from someone else, it may not sound right and will lead to more clarity.  What it also does is force the facilitator to really understand what is being asked, and not just an order taker. 

 Understanding the intent of a request, and then probing for the details behind it will help lead to clearer expectations on both the business and IT .

Article submitted by Randy Wills (yes he is my brother)


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