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Built It Better: Requirements Gathering – Tip #2: Map It Out

The old phrase “you can’t get there from here” should not be a part of your vocabulary when gathering business requirements. In fact, a key part of your mandate is to accurately map both “current” and “end” states, as understanding where you’re starting and where you want to end up is critical.

I’ve found the easiest way to accomplish this is to sit down with your customer, fire up a copy of Visio, and say “Walk me through the way you do things now”. As your customer articulates the process, start dropping boxes into your Visio diagram with a quick note in each box indicating the general step being performed. Don’t get bogged down in the minute details at this stage – you want to sketch out the major steps being performed and any decision points that are needed.

Once you’ve got things fleshed out – step through the process again with your customer, confirming that a) the notes you took are right, b) you haven’t missed anything, and c) they haven’t missed a step.

Congratulations – you now know where you’re starting from. Next, you need to figure out where you want to go. Again, this is an area where you’ll need to collaborate with your customer and start documenting the ideal “end state”. In other words – how can the process be improved. Start dropping those boxes into Visio and making notes. Look for ways to remove unnecessary steps from the process, rearrange steps to improve the flow of information, etc. Ideally, you should be able to rework the process and identify any “net new” functionality you need to add.

At the end of this exercise, you should have the following:

  1. A flowchart showing the current process.
  2. A flowchart showing the new, improved process.
  3. A list of changes between the “current” and “improved” processes. This delta will form the basis for your business requirements.

In my next post, Tip #3 will expand on point #3 above. Stay tuned!

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Build IT Better: Requirements Gathering – Tip #1: Get A Room

First off, allow me to apologize for the delay in starting this series. Life has been hectic in the Berquist household and that’s resulted in a delay in these articles. I hope to get back on track in the coming days and start to introduce some of the ways you can Build “IT” Better. So, without further ado…

To kick off the “Build IT Better” series of articles, I’m going to focus on the 1st phase of a proper solutions methodology – Requirements Gathering. In my experience, this is the most important phase, as any incomplete, incorrect, or unclear information in this step will throw the whole project off the rails right quick. The first tip I have to avoid this problem is:

Get A Room

When it comes to trying to tease out the details of the business problem you’re trying to solve, nothing beats being face-to-face with your customers. Taking the time to arrange an in-person meeting, and travel to your customer’s location – be it in the same office tower, across town, or maybe even across the country – shows that you value what they have to say and are willing to invest the time to listen.

Your Secret Weapon

I’ve found that working with people face-to-face is the single best way to build rapport, gain trust, and establish yourself as a subject matter expert whose advice they should take seriously. Allowing your customers to put a face to your name also helps to build a bond between you which can prove invaluable when the inevitable snags come up during your project. A little goodwill established up front can go a long way.

Aside from the team-building aspect of meeting face-to-face, the other main benefit I’ve found is that it provides the best forum to gather the level of detail you’ll need to successfully implement your project or change. Collaborating as a group in the same room tends to bring out the “gotcha” scenarios as people bounce ideas off of each other, or start to talk through the details of a process. Often you will hear “Oh, I almost forgot – we do this, and this, and this,” or “Actually, on second thought, maybe we don’t really need you to do (item X) because we only do that once a quarter and it doesn’t take us much time at all.”

While it is certainly possible to gather requirements over the phone, or even over email, I have found that if you truly want to understand the problem at hand, establish rapport with your customers, and capture all of the different scenarios involved, nothing beats meeting together in the same room. 

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Build IT Better: Overview

As an IT Architect, my job is to help design solutions to complex business problems. Along the way I’ve learned a few things – some by trial and error, some by listening to what smart people have to say – which help me do my job well.
In the month of January, I’m launching the “Build It Better” series of articles. It’s my goal to craft a series of daily blog postings which will tackle the 5 key areas of building solutions which will “Wow” your customers, whether they are internal or external:

  1. Requirements Gathering
  2. Design
  3. Build, Configure
  4. Test
  5. Deploy

In each section, I’ll have 5 different tips, tricks, or suggestions on how to excel at each particular area. At the end, I hope you’ll have learned a few things which will help you “Build IT Better” as you tackle your next challenge.

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