The Art and the Science: Documenting requirements

When creating requirements documentation for data-driven marketing solutions, it’s crucial to talk to and involve end users. It’s both common sense and basic courtesy to do so, but it’s surprising how often it’s overlooked.

It’s important for user acceptance; to get a system that does what users need it to do; and to make people aware that the way they work is going to change so they start to prepare themselves. But once you’re sitting down and talking to people about what they need, there is an art to interpreting their needs and turning those into a workable, useable system.

Finding business analysts who can interpret rather than just document user requirements, is quite challenging. Users tend to describe solutions rather than problems when they define their requirements. They tend to describe how they imagine the screen will look, and ask for a tick box or drop down, to store information. Bad business analysis is just capturing this information verbatim and letting the solution provider add the requested tick box or drop-down to the solution. When you start to add a lot of these, the cost of configuring goes up and the need to create special reports based on user-added fields adds more work and the costs increase further. It’s a vicious cycle that’s to be avoided.

Good business requirements gathering will be a conversation between the analyst and the user: “Why do you want that field, what action will be taken based on that field?” and to talk round the problem. Often what they are trying to achieve, can be satisfied with an out-of-the box solution. Aiming to avoid configuring brings three benefits:

  1. It reduces configuration, which in turn reduces costs. The costs are lower in the short term as it simplifies the implementation and in the long term because lots of configuration means any further changes need to be done by people who know the implications for future changes on the original configuration.
  2. It keeps the configuration more closely aligned to a solution’s inherent design. Many systems have good, robust and logical process built in. Messing with these means messing with the software itself and the opportunity to improve and streamline processis lost. Usually a solution must be configured to some degree, but seeking to minimise this pays off later and will, paradoxically, often deliver more efficient processes in the end.
  3. Reduce data entry burden. The less information users are expected to type in, the more likely they are to use it. Deriving information from fields that already exist is far better where it is possible. It is far easier to add a field in CRM than it is to get people to populate it. Only add those that will make a significant difference to your sales and marketing results.

This ability to interpret user requirements and still deliver the system they need, is one of the keys to the successful adoption of a data-driven marketing solution. In our experience, being qualified as a business analyst or having many implementations under the belt, does not demonstrate competence. An analyst needs to know sales and marketing well, be able to talk to users in their language and possess technical empathy and the ability to match problems to solutions. It’s a great skill that occurs only occasionally, but these are the people you want running your projects.

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