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Dear 007, Am I Finished?

Sometimes I get questions from BAs and PMs, and when I can’t answer them, I pass them on to CBAP 007. With an IIBA license to drill, no business analysis issue is too big or too small for this experienced professional. Here is one from July 2015:

Dear 007:

My project manager tells me to “finish the requirements”, but no matter what I turn in, she says it is not finished. When I ask what else she wants, she says she wants everything. When I suggest that everything costs infinity, she says I have an attitude.

She is right (about my attitude). What should I do to “finish” the requirements?


More Finished Than She Thinks

Dear More Finished Than She Thinks:

I assume that you, like most BAs, understand that requirements are rarely “finished” in the sense of being complete to the satisfaction of every stakeholder.

The most complete requirements ever written for a cell phone did not include the contingency factors inherent in a pair of boot-cut Calvin jeans worn two sizes too small and stuffed with an understructures oversize phone chassis.

Don’t even ask about rubber gasket temperature requirements for Space Shuttle boosters – they WERE included as requirements, but ignored by project management in spite of their completeness (“But Reagan is sending a teacher into space and giving a big speech – it’s a deadline!”). Deadline, indeed, but not a requirement.

SO, I assume that the words “finished” and “everything” means something different to your PM than they do to you. Let’s try a few definitions – if one of these fits you may realize what to do.

Does finished mean? :

  • I (the BA) can’t tell that anything is missing
  • She (the PM) can’t tell that anything is missing
  • We (the other Business Stakeholders) can’t tell that anything is missing
  • They (the Implementation SMES) can’t tell that anything is missing
  • It (the solution as implemented) can’t tell that anything is missing (everything” works)
  • Notice that none of these definitions involve anyone saying “I can see that X, Y, Z are missing” which would be more helpful.

Now for a definition that helps. Completeness is best defined at a GIVEN LEVEL OF DESCRIPTION. In the BA profession, we look to BABOK for the correct categories and levels of description. In this case, requirements have the following levels of description:

  • Business Requirements (High-level statements of key business needs, approaches and strategically justified capabilities that must be met regardless of stakeholder wants)
  • Requirements[Stated] (stakeholder wants and concerns not necessarily analyzed)
  • Solution Requirements (functional, work to be done)
  • Solution Requirements (non-functional, qualities of any solution to be implemented)
  • Transition Requirements (temporary needs and efforts, until “full” implementation)

“Our business has a need to deliver legal documents to its customers every day on less than one hour’s notice,” might be a COMPLETE business requirement. Make sure to comb your requirements and collect all the “high-level” actual business needs (as opposed to personal preferences, see below). You will discover some “low-level” requirements that imply high-level requirements, and vice versa. Separate them (analysis) into their own groups, rewrite them to fit their level and category. THEN IT BECOMES EASIER TO SEE WHAT IS MISSING AT THE HIGH-LEVEL. This is where MOST IT project mistakes get made and is the most important to get complete.

“I want a car so I can make those deliveries for the business” is COMPLETE in the sense of being a stakeholder requirement [stated, not analyzed]. Make sure that you comb your “requirements” and collect all the “not-really requirement” statements and put them into an “elicitation” document for further analysis. The “requirements” are not finished, because they are not analyzed, but COMPLETE in the sense of being everything the stakeholders said).

“Bicycle couriers average 12 miles an hour in city deliveries, vs. 7 miles an hour for cars. Feasibility ANALYSIS suggests outsourcing delivery to couriers (or we can buy the stakeholder a bicycle instead of a car).” This might be a COMPLETE solution requirement (functional) – DELIVER LEGAL DOCUMENTS. Collect all the actual work functions implied in all your requirements, and list them in one place. It becomes easier to see what is missing (e.g., PREPARE PACKAGE WITH CORRECT DELIVERY INFO, and CONFIRM TIMELY DELIVERY WITH CUSTOMER). To be complete, list all the IMPORTANT business processes, and let the less important arise as needed (e.g., we need to ASSIGN DELIVERY TO COURIER SERVICE as a critical business function, but we can decide to implement this assignment via text message as we negotiate with the courier service. Is the requirement complete, if this “text message” spec is unresolved? Not really (see the beginning), but it is LOW risk and focus belongs on other higher level issues (e.g., how to MEASURE delivery performance objectively, once assignments are made).

“Delivery in less than on hour” was already stated as a business requirement – it is (for this simple example) the COMPLETE solution non-functional requirement – a service level guarantee. Can you think of any functional requirements that would help guarantee that service level? Put those above – group like with like.

Finally, transition requirements. Who has to be informed, trained, won over? Do we have to convert data from the secretary’s Rolodex to a label print system for the courier packages? What is the implementation plan (oh project manager mine). The project plan (think about it) is largely “transition requirements”, and should lump upon the head of your PM as much as on you.

IN short, if you use BABOK categories, you avoid level mixing, confusion, and you gain the ability to see what else belongs at that level. If you do it right, you will perceive redundancies between levels. This is normal, and shows traceability and shows that requirements are related across levels (that is why it is so easy to mix them up and get confused about how complete they are). An example of a seemingly redundant requirement was “Delivery in less than an hour”. At the business level, it is a service strategy defined by a performance level. At the non-functional level, it drives measurement, verification and other functional requirements. By putting it in both places as appropriate, COHERENCE is achieved, which helps stakeholders in perceiving completeness.

ALWAYS START BY FILLING IN THE HIGH LEVELS TO MAXIMUM COMPLETENESS. IF there is no time to “finish” a lower level, you might not even start it. Don’t spec the detail steps of MANAGE USER PRIVILEGES just because you can – stick with high value high-level critical business processes such as VERIFY TIMELY DELIVERY, and try to “complete” the success scenarios. If you have time, go for the top 3 alternate scenarios. At each step, decide how much you can accomplish and put BABOK boundaries on the work so the completeness can show.

THEN when your manager says to “finish” the screen color requirement, you know which requirement and what is missing.

Je suis finis – et vous?

Please comment below – let me know what you DIDN’t get, so I can finish it 🙂