Posted by: Arun Gupta
BITA, business IT alignment
When I wrote about requirement gathering versus solving business problems last week, I did not anticipate the kind of comments I would get. The agreements and flurry of lateral thoughts gave me enough impetus to continue the chain and focus on some of the views. Almost everyone agrees that we need to solve real business problems; the challenge is the definition of the business problem and changing the mind-set of our customers to stop thinking about technology and really tell us about what they want.
We talk about IT folks not speaking plain English or Spanish or whatever is the lingua franca, business tries to talk IT lingo and confuses the blazes out of the Business Analysts. Every industry has its slang and acronyms that add to the confusion (domain experts know this, but keep quiet). Between the domain expertise and the attempt to straddle the gap, the real problem gets lost in the chasm or some finer nuances remain uncovered. This then leads to what we classically refer to as out of scope functionality or scope creep.
The word creep somehow makes my hair stand up, that is the way of creepy guys or gals. Scope creep however indicates that no one articulated the problem or thought that it was unimportant or irrelevant to the discussion or just simply forgot to talk about. There are also instances of assumptions where the giver assumes that the taker has the knowledge by virtue of it being public domain or so obvious that it does not merit being explicitly being specified.
Translated to a document which the developer (read coder) in some faraway place sitting in a cubicle totally disconnected from the discussion is now writing the software that will be put up to the business. S/he does not have domain expertise and depends on the document to decipher what should be. We all have faced the end results that have missing pieces and functionality since it was not captured. Even when the development is undertaken internally these gaps exist albeit to a lesser extent.
So now the IT team gets beaten up and the Business Analyst bashed up for not translating adequately the business problem. Then the dance starts on what was said, how it was interpreted, and why does not IT make efforts to understand business. Escalations get nasty with the CIO having to face the music. While I generalize the problem, I have not come across too many instances of stupidity or wilful exclusion of documented features or functionality.
The skill of the Business Analyst to ask the right questions and probe are critical to the definition of the problem and thus the document that becomes the Holy document on which the system will be based. Leave out anything and you have a system that does not meet requirements thereby giving rise to “change requests”, the bad word for any developer, business user, IT team, CIO, CFO and whosoever is a stakeholder in the success of the solution.
Is there a way out? I believe that the CIO needs to play an important role in setting expectations upfront and defining the rules of engagement. S/he should educate the business teams on the criticality of the discussion and the necessity of clearly spelling out every aspect of the business and process irrespective of how stupid it looks or its obvious nature. A system is as good as the people who define it; trainees and junior staff with shallow expertise will provide only that, an incomplete system. Creepy no?