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FAT REQUIREMENTS; How to Lose Weight and Enjoy the Sunshine

Have you noticed the obesity epidemic plaguing North America? Hey, I’m not talking about the kind you get when eating the wrong foods – I’m talking requirements obesity. Generating fat, hulking, documents that look terrible on the shelf gathering dust is not at all conducive to enjoying the summer fun. Here are a few ideas for slimming-down those requirements. Not only will you experience the joy of actually being ‘done’ and getting into the sunshine, people will better understand what the business wants, and projects get to be more successful. How cool is that as a win-win for everyone?

  1. Split requirements documents into three: scoping, business requirements, and detailed requirements. Most people don’t make this separation and end up spending way too much time detailing functionality that will never see the light of day, or in detail levels that are completely unnecessary for the task at hand. Remember – iterate.
  2. Separate the WHAT from the HOW. Get clear on WHAT the business wants to do before you start to detail HOW it is going to do it. Over and again, I find myself mired in a review of details that are not only clearly inappropriate, but inconsistent, because there was just too much about how some technical aspect of the system was going to be ____________ [fill in the latest technical jargon term]. Get people back to basics here and you’ll find both faster cycle times on projects, AND, vastly simplified requirements documents.
  3. Concentrate on just the right information. Business requirements fall directly out of understanding the desired state of the process flow, data flow, and business rules of the business. The actual ‘requirements’ are the structured statements describing the gap between current state and future state in these areas. Can we agree that this is Business Requirements? If so, why blather on about business case, or get into interface design, or have an opus on the history of compliance. It’s not really necessary. Sure, you need to have some additional pieces like a data dictionary if you hope to have everyone on the same page when you use the term “Customer”, but we’re not dealing with a lot of additional information.
  4. I’m willing to bet, in North America, more projects have managed to kill their intended benefits by failing to identify and manage interdependency than pepperonis have been killed to make pizzas. Business professionals need to have interdependency drawn out for them because this is the stuff where executives actually have to make decisions and love you for bringing it to their attention. Get into using context diagrams – every line on that diagram is an interdependency; or, at least have a section for this in your documentation
  5. Negotiate the details. Every project is different and needs different detail to bridge from business requirements to system design. It’s natural that a system selection/implementation will have fundamentally different dynamics than an off-shore design/build. In the face of high quality business requirements, the nuance of what detailed requirements should be for this project at this time can be negotiated amongst the project team. You’ll invariably end up with a tighter definition of what is needed, and better project momentum with recipients when you deliver what they’ve asked to receive.
  6. Remember – ALL YOUR STAKEHOLDERS ALSO WANT TO BE IN THE SUN TOO. Make the process efficient for everyone.

This is not about being lazy – this is about being hyper-efficient when it comes to projects. In candor, executives respect analysts that can make them, and their project team, more proactive and productive. Driven to extreme, you can wallow in requirements detail until the winter months start blowing frozen air over the corpse of your project. But, is this valuable – or can you get to the right information more efficiently; get better process around developing the information, and yield successful results faster? I’ll tell you – absolutely, yes, you can! Take a look at the base of research – you can be iterative, reduce time to get requirements by 58%, AND STILL have documentation quality high enough to drive down change requests by 75%. So, what do you do with the 58% less time? Why, it’s summer. Go to the beach!

I bet every experienced analyst out there knows where to chop out fat without sacrificing requirements quality. I’d encourage you to share your stories of obese requirements – or fat-chopping solutions.

Keith Ellis is the Vice President, Marketing at IAG Consulting ( where he leads the marketing and strategic alliances efforts of this global leader in business requirements discovery and management. Keith is a veteran of the technology services business and founder of the business analysis company Digital Mosaic which was sold to IAG in 2007. Keith’s former lives have included leading the consulting and services research efforts of the technology trend watcher International Data Corporation in Canada, and the marketing strategy of the global outsourcer CGI in the financial services sector. Keith is the author of IAG’s Business Analysis Benchmark – the definitive source of data on the impact of business requirements on technology projects.