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Business Requirement Definition Redefined
A worthy opponent
A few weeks ago, my wife forwarded me a link to a blog by a developer that had finally “seen the light”. That’s what she does, my wife, she sends me links. Of course, to understand that, you probably have to know that my wife is not just my wife. He is also my primary researcher (source of all my knowledge), my literary critic, (source of all my insights), and my guide in life (source of all my wisdom). But that is beside the point.
The point is the aforementioned blogger and his insights (or his insights – in the blogosphere, no one knows for sure. For simplicity – and not to face any gender, but my own -) This individual in the male form. Also, to maintain the anonymity that is unique to electronic, but to maintain the social conventions of referring to people by their name, I will anoint him “The Man”.)
The nature of the requirements – according to the man
The intuition of the man had to do with the needs of the user. The gist of The Man’s blog was that user needs are a joke. In his opinion, the problem is not that we have difficulty in achieving good user needs; the problem is that we waste our time trying. To quote The Man, “Have you ever noticed that the applications and technologies we use most, probably >90% of the time, are never, ever designed by the people who use them? For example, have you personally participated in the design. and user requirements for email, browsers, operating systems, spreadsheets, microprocessors, word processors, disk drives, presentation software, monitors, voice mail, routers, etc.? Nor is it necessary that do. The very idea of a long ” User requirement activity for technologies and applications is absurd, absurd.”
So these applications, as I understood The Man, were “obviously” designed by intelligent designers who understood the basic needs of all humans well enough to develop these products without bugging the fictitious “process owners” and “subject matter experts” with demanding questions and decisions that they (the owners of the process and the subject matter experts) were sick of making.
The logic of history
After reading the man’s blog, I was happy. I (thanks to my loving wife) had finally found The Man. He was the Holmes to my Moriarity, the Superman to my Lex Luthor. The Man had seen the light and in doing so had ignited a light in my mind that almost blinded me. The man woke me up to my true vocation, he showed me my mission in life. I, the consummate needs analyst, finally knew why I was put on this Earth. I was meant to fill this gaping void by reverse engineering the user needs for these ubiquitous programs that have blessed our daily lives for so long.
Actually, I don’t know why it hadn’t hit me much sooner. I mean, it’s a common practice in Corporate America to buy a software product and then give the business analyst the assignment of defining what the hell it’s good for. At least, that’s how many projects I know are started. Why oh why didn’t I apply this simple but economically ruinous concept to the products I depend on for a living? But enough of lamenting fate, now I was finally, finally ready to seize the moment, to go where no one had gone before, to accept my destiny and, in doing so, to change the way the world perceived the needs of users forever
So, without further ado (and we’ve had a lot of noise, haven’t we?), let me begin. To start with the obvious, since I had to use a word processor to capture my insights and revelations on this topic, I have to write the missing user requirements for it. (As an added incentive, the recursive concept of using a word processor to capture the requirements for the word processor itself also appeals strongly to my inner Geek!) So, here are the first cut user requirements, Reverse engineering for this versatile tool. .
The Reengineered Requirements
- The system should capture my keystrokes and render them electronically so that I can store them in files that I can never find again.
- The system should allow me to change the files I created and automatically save the changes in places I never thought to look for.
- The system should automatically check my spelling as I type and highlight in red any misspelled words.
- The system should offer alternative spellings for a red word to confuse me even more by suggesting words I never knew existed.
- The system should automatically change the language whenever my mistakes get close to the correct words in French, German or Italian and assume that I wanted to become proficient in that language. (Since I’m fluent in German, I’m amazed at the translated suggestions you offer.)
- Once I have changed the language, the system should then assume that everything I have written up to that point should be rechecked to ensure that my text respects the spelling rules for this new language, adding additional comfort to my eyes with more red lines.
- The system should also confuse me by refusing to offer spelling suggestions for words that are not red, but for which I want to check the spelling in advance to avoid the distraction of the red line.
- The system should automatically notify you of grammatical strokes of genius from green passages for no apparent reason.
- The system needs to sharpen my social skills by telling me why he chose to green my text with cryptic messages that I have to call my 8th grade English teacher to translate for me.
- The system must automatically format my text into lists, paragraphs, pages and tables in a way that can really confuse my effort to get a page break where I want it.
- The system should wow me by numbering my numbered lists in such a way that amazes me and, again, removes any temptation to understand the logic, and also to manipulate the numbering to meet my needs.
- Finally, the system should offer hope by allowing me to modify all the settings, and then confuse me by hiding this flexible feature behind a barrage of menu items and secret keystrokes.
- Oh, and one more thing. The system must be released every few years, just when I start to take the shot, but before gaining the level of competence to which I strive and the new version should offer the same functionality as the old one but better disguised behind. new different ways of interaction like “ribbons”.
The Last Word
OK, thirteen is the maximum number of requirements allowed for such a simple tool, so I’m going to quit now. At this point, I can start defining user needs for my spreadsheet program, my presentation tool, and (my personal favorite) my email/contact/time management application. thread to keep my life in order. Unfortunately, I found out that this is really hard work, so maybe The Man was right after all. We should only spend our time trying to define the functions, functions, facts and future behaviors that the proposed IT solution should enable, perform, enhance or exhibit when delivered. We should just stand aside and let developers like The Man do their work. After all, we’re just annoying The Man with our “user requirements” and obviously requirements don’t help The Man anyway. Man knows what we need far better than we do, so let’s get out of Man’s way and let Man do the work, shall we?
The Real World
For those of you who still believe in the critical role that business needs play on projects (and I happen to belong to that esteemed group!), I want to point out what I really believe.
- There are new paradigm-changing applications for which asking targeted end users what they want would be a waste of time. To quote Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, ‘A faster horse.’ the successes.
- Applications that improve the way people work are better based on the experience of those people. If we ignore that experience, we ignore reality. A business is too complicated to be managed by technology alone. For non-believers, we recommend studying the published failure rates (and reasons) for projects in our industry.
While it could be much more fun and challenging for developers to work on the projects defined in point 1) (speaking as an ex-developer, I know it was for me!), there are many more projects that fit to point 2). So, as a tribute to The Man and others like him, you can spend your time and money looking for or inventing the next great gadget (and we sincerely wish you luck) or, if you’d rather make a life as a developer in the business world, you can also reduce your frustration by better understanding what the business needs are and why they are important. We offer many courses on this topic.
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