Information technology professionals describe requirements first in terms of system requirements. These are the technical specifications of hardware, software and networking systems to support business applications. To produce accurate and reliable assessments of these and other information systems requirements, we need to understand the business requirements first. Information technology can make dramatic contributions to productivity growth. Misaligned requirements can lead to expensive disasters.
The more that IT leaders and analysts can learn about the business, the better. Start at the top with the business context. The context includes key foundations such as the purpose or mission of the business. It also includes the business strategy with regard to markets, customers, products and services. The next element is the management of the business including goal setting, metrics, and leadership style. Finally, the business context includes change management processes and communications.
Collectively, the business context serves to filter ideas, decision-making and the support structure to execute the ideas. It further serves to define how work is performed in the company and, as a result, how information is managed. The purpose or mission of the business clarifies the raw potential of the business. Think of ideas like ore, which is raw material that has a higher value in the context of a purpose or solution. The mission aligns all of the energy and effort of the people inside the company to achieve a common purpose.
In addition to learning about the business, effective IT leaders also learn the language of their business counterparts. Learn to bridge the communication gaps between business processes and functional models, and information flow and system requirements. Learn to adopt the business leader’s definition of a business problem and desired outcome to guide the development of process maps, modules and detailed requirements.
Finally, to connect with the ultimate value to the business, learn to connect information systems requirements to business outcomes, as expressed by business management. There are only two critical desired outcomes to any business, increased sales and increased profits. All of the other measures in the business support these two critical outcomes. IT leaders must align every IT project not only to the critical outcomes but also to one or more of the measures that contribute to them.
Examples of these business measures include:
• a measured reduction in response time to customer issues
• a measured reduction in the cost of technical support
• a measured decrease in cycle time; a measured increase in sales performance and closure rates
• a reduction in the time to deliver products or services
• a measured cost reductions to production including the cost of products, people, suppliers and time.
In designing solutions to business process problems, begin with the business requirements first. Determine whether the proposed solution will produce the desired business outcomes. Make design choices that lead to specific outcomes and measureable business improvements. Link investment needs to these business outcomes. In other words, “follow the path to the money”.
Create a believable roadmap to deliver business results in measureable phases. Large monolithic projects with multi-year development cycles face the greatest risk of cancellation, as the business grows weary with the financial outlay for no perceived return or improvement. Finally, to gain the confidence of the business leaders, share the technical knowledge, experience and project management discipline of the team that will implement the system.