We once heard it said that most companies replace systems before they’ve used 80 percent of those systems’ capabilities or capacities. We were skeptical at first. But the more we thought about it, and the more we looked at systems, the more true it became. Here’s why:
Most companies decide to replace systems because of recurring functional frustrations: “Our system doesn’t do this.” “If only our system could do that.” And our favorite: “We need a new system to [fill in whatever you want that new system to do here].” In response to any of those statements, the logical questions are: Did you want your system to do this, that, or the other thing (whatever that thing is) when you bought it? Did you tell anybody?
When Sylvester Stallone was shooting Rambo III in Thailand, cast and crew members were dropping like flies from the heat and dehydration. Stallone said, “By the time you realized you were thirsty, it was too late.” So it is with systems: By the time you realize you need something, it’s likely too late. That’s why foresight is so important in defining and articulating system requirements. Adding a little more nitromethane to the fuel mixture propelling a top-fuel dragster is much easier to do in the staging area than it is on the straightaway at 300-plus miles an hour.
To define and articulate requirements effectively, you have to:
- Ensure transparency. If you try to define requirements in secret, away from the prying eyes of users, you’re building the system for yourself. Don’t be that limited or limiting.
- Specify functional needs. The less you describe specifically what you need the system to do, the more you’re likely to fall for technical smoke and mirrors.
- Avoid popularity contests. If you ask peripheral stakeholders — rather than users — what they want, they’ll tell you. If you don’t deliver those things, they’ll talk badly of you. If you do deliver those things, you’ll blow the timeline and the budget, the system won’t perform the way users needed it to, and they’ll talk badly of you.
- Avoid pilots or prototypes. Either the vendor’s done it before or not. As the saying goes, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. If the vendor hasn’t done it before, you probably can’t afford to be a guinea pig.
- Agree to a list of prioritized deliverables. Those deliverables should be a clear reflection of your requirements.
Act Like the Future is Now
We know it’s not possible to anticipate everything. But the more you anticipate, the more accurately you can define and articulate your requirements. And the more accurately you define and articulate your requirements, the more you’ll get out of your system and the longer it’ll continue to meet your functional expectations.
Rambo wouldn’t be able to beat the bad guys and dragsters wouldn’t win any races if they ran at 20 percent.
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