Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Build Upon Rock: Understand the Business Need

Because software developers are in the business of delivering solutions our thinking and discussions with business owners tend to be solution-oriented. It’s not uncommon to hear things like this from business owners:
  • “I really need a new column added to the F105 report – the total processing time.”
  • “I need a new screen that tracks inventory.”

It’s also not uncommon for developers to listen to business owners talk about their issues and jump to well-known solutions and say things like:
  • “What you need is a CRM system.”
  • “The F109 screen will take of everything you need. I’ll show you how to use it.”

Thinking about solutions is not a bad thing but it can lead to mistakes if the business problem is not framed properly. You can tell that you’ve framed a business problem properly when its description has nothing to do with a system, per se. Take the case of adding a column to the F105 report. Rather than respond – “ok – we’ll get right on that,” start by getting to the underlying business need:

Developer: “What's changed? What is motivating the need to add the total processing time to the report?”

Business Owner: “We’ve changed our processes so that we’re reporting on this to our customers. Upper management is also really hot on it – we had some very slow fulfillment times last month.”

Developer: “Oh. Ok. It’s easy to add it to the report but that’s just a lagging indicator. Do you think you might need tools that alert you to orders that haven’t been fulfilled in a certain amount of time? Then you’d have a chance to head the issues off before they reach a certain point of criticality. So rather than just a passive indicator we could give you a proactive tool for managing exceptions.”

Business Owner: “Yeah. That’s even better.”

If you understand the underlying business need you will be able to offer alternative solutions and improve upon solutions that may have already been suggested. You’ll be that much more valuable and seen as an architect of solutions, not just someone who implements things blindly without understanding implications. Moreover, understanding the underlying business needs will teach you more and more about the business that you are supporting which will make you far more effective in your work. You’ll be able to make logical deductions based on business understanding that would otherwise not be obvious. And you’ll become the go-to person when your business owners are facing a tough problem – business owners love people that can speak their language and that can help bridge the gap between what they think they need and what they really need.

Related to understanding business needs, it is imperative to ensure that one has framed a problem properly before beginning to work on it. An inaccurate framing of a problem can lead to serious mistakes not the least of which is that one may be focusing on solving the wrong problem. As human beings, our brains are conditioned through millions of years of evolution to see patterns in order for us to process information quickly – we are wired to put things into categories and react accordingly as this has been necessary for the survival of the species. For example, if one perceives a threat (e.g. a hissing cobra) the amygdala takes over and ensures that we react immediately via a fight or flight response. The amygdala is an ancient part of the brain which is not used to solve a difficult math problem – a different portion of the brain (the frontal lobe) is used to solve that problem. Our biology itself is pre-conditioned for pattern-recognition.

As seers of patterns, it is easy to leap to conclusions in either the definition of the problem or worse, its solution. We sometimes make things fit within a box. Sometimes we may even reverse-engineer a problem to fit a pre-conceived solution! Think about it. “I’ve got a meeting with the head of the Customer Service team. Sounds like he needs a CRM.” Then you go to the meeting and due to the human tendency toward confirmation bias all you hear are the issues that a CRM could help solve. “See – told you he needed a CRM.” But you walk away not hearing the fact that this person is dealing with other issues that you might have been able to help with. And after all, have we even framed the problem? What is the problem? CRM-Deficit-Disorder?

Imagine the following scenario. A business owner comes running into your office. “I can’t run the F105 report! I enter the search criteria and then the application just crashes. I need to get these numbers to our customer within an hour. Help!” Being a diligent production support team member you make sure you can replicate the issue. Good – you can. You start seeing if you can fix the crash. You queue up the testing and deployment staff – “hey – we’ve got a hot bug fix coming – be ready”. 45 minutes goes by and you’re still having trouble figuring out why it’s crashing. The business comes in very concerned. “Well?” “I’m working on it” you say. 15 minutes go by and then 30 minutes and then a few hours. By the time you get the issue fixed it’s 7:00 PM. Your business owner says – “Since we didn’t get it out by 4 PM the customer’s going to be pretty angry. But thanks for getting it done as quickly as you could. I know you tried.” You say to yourself – “I did the best I could but I only had a few hours' notice. Oh well.” You go home feeling pretty good about yourself. You kiss the kids goodnight and hold your head up high.

But did you do a good job? What was the problem? You might think – “Duh! Clearly the problem was that there was a bug in the F105 report that was preventing it from being run”. Wrong! The immediate problem was that the business owner was not able to submit required information to the customer by 4:00 thus causing the company to fail in the customer’s eyes. Framed that way, one obvious solution would have been to run the query behind the report (manually) and give the business owner the results. But business owners are not always aware of options available to them – we have to help flesh them out – most have no idea how a system is put together. Framing a problem properly can lead to a broader solution space and can lead one to the best solution faster. Framing a problem incorrectly can, in some cases, lead to disaster.

Understand the business need, frame the problem properly and your solutions will be built upon rock.

62 comments:

  1. Very good points. For a long time now I've suspected that analysis skills have been on the wane within the agile community, very likely caused by far too much focus on user stories. User stories are great, but only one part of the overall modelling picture.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. My experience is that the hardest part of software development is often analysis and requirements-gathering. And it's the area that often gets the least attention. It's the hardest piece to teach as well because it's part art, part science - bits of tribal wisdom often work best. This Dilbert cartoon hits the mark. :-) http://images.cryhavok.org/d/1401-1/Dilbert+-+Software+Requirements.jpg

      Delete
  2. Nice post Joe!

    I have seen too many project teams in my career do a sloppy rush job on the problem framing.

    No less of a genius than Albert Einstein said:

    "If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the answer, I would spend the first 55 minutes figuring out the proper questions to ask. For if I knew the proper questions, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes."

    and I love John Tukey's observation:

    "Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise."

    IMHO, many of the most startling innovations in business have started with a single person looking at a situation countless others have looked at before and framing the problem in a unique way, which leads to a breakthrough solution.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This reminds me of How To Ask Questions the Smart Way

    http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html

    The similarity is "ask about what you want to do, not about an implementation of what you want to do."

    For questioners on the internet, the onus is on them to ask a proper question. For software professionals, the onus is on us to help the client get to their need.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This bit of blog shows commitment of essayist.
    online dissertation help

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. IEEE Final Year projects Project Center in Chennai are consistently sought after. Final Year Students Projects take a shot at them to improve their aptitudes, while specialists like the enjoyment in interfering with innovation. For experts, it's an alternate ball game through and through. Smaller than expected IEEE Final Year project centers ground for all fragments of CSE & IT engineers hoping to assemble. Final Year Project Domains for IT It gives you tips and rules that is progressively critical to consider while choosing any final year project point.

      JavaScript Training in Chennai

      JavaScript Training in Chennai

      The Angular Training covers a wide range of topics including Components, project projects for cseAngular Directives, Angular Services, Pipes, security fundamentals, Routing, and Angular programmability. The new Angular TRaining will lay the foundation you need to specialise in Single Page Application developer. Angular Training

      Delete
  5. Superlative style of writing that every new blogger aspires to have.
    essaywriters

    ReplyDelete

  6. pretty helpful stuff, overall I believe this is really worth a bookmark, thanks

    loans for unemployed

    ReplyDelete
  7. Superlative style of writing that every new blogger aspires to have.
    Send Flowers To Japan Cheap

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for Sharing this nice information it is very informative and Very good looking blog.
    Best short term loans

    ReplyDelete
  9. The basic speculation given is estimable. Can’t be any better.
    Dissertation Examples

    ReplyDelete
  10. What an interesting article! Thank you for sharing with us!
    Coursework Writing Service UK

    ReplyDelete
  11. very interesting post.this is my first time visit here.i found so mmany interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion..thanks for the post!
    john faraday

    ReplyDelete
  12. Keep the balls rolling!! Nice posts you have given for us. parallel profits review

    ReplyDelete
  13. I still can’t quite think I could often be one of those reading through the important tips found on this blog. My family and I are really thankful for your generosity and for giving me the chance to pursue our chosen profession path. Thank you for the important information I got from your site. nvidia profile inspector

    ReplyDelete
  14. What a really awesome post this is. Truly, one of the best posts I've ever witnessed to see in my whole life. Wow, just keep it up. Betaalbare website laten maken

    ReplyDelete
  15. This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck Featured

    ReplyDelete
  16. This is as popular as dealership financing, if not more. In this type of loan, your car is used as collateral against monthly payments.

    bad credit loans monthly payments

    ReplyDelete
  17. The article didn't link to any auction website. It was purely educational. Finance

    ReplyDelete
  18. Most little organizations that search for business financing do as such in light of the fact that they have income issues.run your home business from anywhere

    ReplyDelete
  19. It’s very informative and you are obviously very knowledgeable in this area. You have opened my eyes to varying views on this topic with interesting and solid content. mini paris

    ReplyDelete
  20. Truly the more peculiar and progressively special your enthusiasm is, the almost certain you are to succeed essentially in light of the fact that that kind of business doesn't exist yet.digital Gujarat

    ReplyDelete
  21. Really I enjoy your site with effective and useful information. It is included very nice post with a lot of our resources.thanks for share. i enjoy this post. adobe photoshop free download

    ReplyDelete
  22. Thanks for sharing this information. I really like your blog post very much. You have really shared a informative and interesting blog post . خصم اي هيرب

    ReplyDelete
  23. You can even have your sim find a job so they'll have money to take others out on virtual dates. brisbane executive portraits

    ReplyDelete
  24. Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! corporate headshot photographer

    ReplyDelete
  25. Awesome article, it was exceptionally helpful! I simply began in this and I'm becoming more acquainted with it better! Cheers, keep doing awesome! appcloner

    ReplyDelete
  26. I am incapable of reading articles online very often, but I’m happy I did today. It is very well written, and your points are well-expressed. I request you warmly, please, don’t ever stop writing. Gestoria en madrid

    ReplyDelete
  27. I was impressed with the site that you created, so memotipasi many people to be more advanced, there also kunjugi me, as a comparison shopify vs wix

    ReplyDelete
  28. On this page, you'll see my profile, please read this information. bb13 colors tv

    ReplyDelete
  29. Its an incredible joy perusing your post.Its brimming with data I am searching for and I want to post a remark that "The substance of your post is magnificent" Great work.  Corporate Headshots Brisbane

    ReplyDelete
  30. Ghana as a nation can increase in impressive quantities of persevering ladies who in spite of their constraints with formal proficiency training, attempt to bring home the bacon while furnishing their families with all the material needs.payroll services singapore

    ReplyDelete
  31. Please let me know if you're looking for a writer for your site. You have some really great posts and I feel I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I'd absolutely love to write some material for your blog. Please send me an email if interested. Thank you!
    Dissertation Writing Services

    ReplyDelete
  32. Thank you again for all the knowledge you distribute,Good post. I was very interested in the article, it's quite inspiring I should admit. I like visiting you site since I always come across interesting articles like this one.Great Job, I greatly appreciate that.Do Keep sharing! Regards, additional info

    ReplyDelete
  33. On that website page, you'll see your description, why not read through this. Si Mont9k Versi Terbaru 2020

    ReplyDelete
  34. For true fans of this thread I will address is a free online! vetement femme

    ReplyDelete
  35. Your blogs further more each else volume is so entertaining further serviceable It appoints me befall retreat encore. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. vetement femme

    ReplyDelete
  36. Did you know that home improvements qualify for deductions on your Federal taxes? Due to current market conditions and the downturn in the real estate markets many homeowners are opting to improve the existing home over upgrading to a new home. Ansys Electronics 2020 R1

    ReplyDelete
  37. The best article I came across a number of years, write something about it on this page. rachat de crédit immobilier

    ReplyDelete
  38. Very interesting information, worth recommending. However, I recommend this: loi pinel

    ReplyDelete
  39. Listed here you'll learn it is important, them offers the link in an helpful webpage: ecommerce hosting

    ReplyDelete
  40. Admiring the time and effort you put into your website and in depth information you offer. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material. Great read! I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account. solidworks 2019 vs 2018

    ReplyDelete
  41. For true fans of this thread I will address is a free online! 123movies

    ReplyDelete
  42. David Bowie is a classic, i like all his songs during the old days.:: CheapSoftwareDownload

    ReplyDelete
  43. What a lovely blog. I’ll certainly be back. Please preserve writing! 먹튀

    ReplyDelete
  44. I am thankful to you for sharing this plethora of useful information. I found this resource utmost beneficial for me. Thanks a lot for hard work. detective privado

    ReplyDelete
  45. This is a topic near to my heart cheers, like your blog layout too. Must be wordpress? 먹튀사이트

    ReplyDelete
  46. It has fully emerged to crown Singapore's southern shores and undoubtedly placed her on the global map of residential landmarks. I still scored the more points than I ever have in a season for GS. I think you would be hard pressed to find somebody with the same consistency I have had over the years so I am happy with that. https://meerasimulation.com/

    ReplyDelete
  47. very nice post, i definitely love this site, persist in it 먹튀사이트

    ReplyDelete
  48. Merely a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw outstanding style. xo so mien bac

    ReplyDelete
  49. Everyone wants to get unique place in the IT industry’s for that you need to upgrade your skills, your blog helps me improvise my skill set to get good career, keep sharing your thoughts with us.
    Best CRM System

    ReplyDelete
  50. Your post is very great.i read this post this is a very helpful. i will definitely go ahead and take advantage of this. You absolutely have wonderful stories.Cheers for sharing with us your blog. python training in noida

    ReplyDelete
  51. Online Class Hub is an association of professionals dedicated to serving students save capital and simplify their careers.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Hi there! Nice material, do keep me posted when you post something like this again! I will visit this blog leaps and bounds for more quality posts like it. Thanks... internal audit software

    ReplyDelete
  53. Acadecraft is one of a recognized accessibility audit services provider to clients like universities and schools. We adhere to educational authorities guidelines and ensure that content is developed for knowledge enhancement, not for selling any products or services.

    ReplyDelete