The Consultant (C) was charged with the job of providing an extra level of oversight to the projects under execution. He had called a meeting of the End User (EU) and the Techie doubling up as a Business Analyst (BA) to inquire about the status of the project.
The company operated a fleet of vehicles that traversed the length and breadth of the country. The project was to develop a software application: ‘Daily Fleet Movement (DFM)’. This was conceived as the first of the several modules they needed to operate and manage the fleet.
The BA reported on the status: The EU and he had agreed on a set of reports – the primary output of the system (screen based or in print) to be generated on the vehicle and the driver with facilities for filtering on dates, towns, etc. He further stressed, in C’s presence, on the finality of the report content and formats arrived at after lengthy iterations. This, he believed, was necessary especially in view of an earlier experience where the project dragged on inordinately with changes to the output coming from the EU right up to the final stages of the project. The solemnity that BA was imposing on the occasion made the EU nervous about what he was signing off. So he had questions and concerns on what he would get to see from the application and if the same debilitating ‘holes’ and the painful iterations of the earlier experience would recur this time too.
While this discussion on the formats and the flexibility in retrieval was talked about, C jumped in with a question for the EU:
‘Well, you certainly need these reports and you’ll get them. But I’ve a concern.’
Both EU and BA stopped in their tracks and looked at C.
‘I’m sure you’re tracking and managing the operations on the basis of a few parameters?’
‘Most certainly so, how else would one go about?’ The EU didn’t say it, his body spoke.
‘How come these don’t get mentioned in your discussion?’
‘Not right. You heard us talk about the ‘Vehicle Usage Report’, the ‘Fuel Efficiency Report’…’
‘Do you realize you’re asking for Vehicle Usage Report and our friend here is giving you a big daily log of which vehicle plied where? Exactly what you’re asking for. While the name of the report is comforting, what would you do with it?’
‘What’s wrong with it? I’ve always got one compiled. I can find out, for instance, how many kilometers did a vehicle cover in a day.’
‘So you’ll find out, I’m sure…somehow from this log. Though I don’t know how. Now don’t you want the software to compute and report the same for your ready use instead of you ‘finding out’?’
C turned to the BA: ‘Just as I suspected. More often than not, the output generated by an application stops short of what a EU must have. And the EU fills up the gap by some means, sometimes even erroneously, watering down the benefits of automation. He doesn’t know to ask. If that’s not short-changing the EU…’
And to the EU: ‘The few parameters that you need for tracking and managing the operations are called Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)’
Again the look of ‘What’s wrong with him?’
‘My submission is: You tell the BA you need these KPI’s to be computed and reported. Let him start from there and figure out how they’re computed and how could they be presented for effective communication. You don’t tell him: ‘These are the reports I need, here are the formats, now can you get on with it? And you don’t ‘find out’…’
The BA and the EU agreed to take up one KPI – Fuel Efficiency – and adopt this approach to design the report afresh from first principles.
End of Scene I
Not to be laughed off. Many sessions of requirements gathering proceed along the above lines, especially in smaller and not-so-IT-savvy shops. Two common reasons: a) The EU is very assertive and/or b) The BA lacks the necessary skills to set the right start for the discussion and take it to conclusion. It is a misconception that a techie or a UX designer with his wireframes is adequate to tease out the business requirements.
So what we have nett nett is the patient telling the doctor: ‘I know what ails me, Doc, give me these pills.’
The Scene II gets even more interesting when they meet again to apprise C on the output they had designed to report on Fuel Efficiency. Once the approach was clear, now arriving at a design was a pretty straight forward exercise. Right?
Please wait for Scene ii to appear where C continues his review of the design presented to him, making a point or two of far-reaching impact.