5 Questions To Ask About Software Requirements Gathering

In 2011, Marc Andreessen said that “software is eating the world.” Today, this is more truer that ever. Technology has become an essential part of the our daily lives. Modern life is inconceivable without technology and in particular software that powers these technologies. Software continues to create tremendous opportunities around the world. Software can range from making the Internet function, what software application you use at work, your cell phone to Artificial Intelligence and smart devices. Software is created and maintained everyday. Software can be purchased and is also available for free. Software can be built from scratch or bought pre-built. But before software is created, before the wonderful things that software can do, we have to gather requirements about what we want the software to do.

Software requirements gathering is one of the most important aspects of creating software. It is cumbersome, manual and detailed-orientated work but it has to be done. Incorrect requirements gathering can result in software being created that no one will use or ever know how to use thus wasting a lot of time and money. In organizations, software requirements gathering is typically done by people from or affiliated with the Information Technology (IT) Department and/or external IT vendors. The level of complexity in software requirements gathering various depending if the software is being bought off-the-shelf or being custom built. In either case, there are two main issues:

IT People Are Not Domain Experts

While most IT people are ‘trained’ in gathering requirements, they are not domain experts. This means that IT people have to talk to non-IT people in the organization to understand what is needed. Depending upon who the IT people talk to, the information has to be verified by other non-IT people and any available (updated) documentation. Additionally, IT people have to translate what they have learned from non-IT people with the idea of developing a software solution. The non-IT people are the end-users of the software and thus it becomes imperative that correct and timely information is collected without any biases and preconceived notions. The IT people have to develop trust with non-IT people so that it is easier for them to be upfront about the truth.

Non-IT People Are Not Trained In Giving Requirements

While most non-IT people are willing to help in answering questions from the IT people, they are not trained in giving requirements. This means information that non-IT people share might be siloed and unintentionally incomplete because they didn’t think it was ‘useful’ or ‘relevant’. When IT people encounter this, they refer to it as “pulling teeth”. This creates tension that leads to software which is deemed ‘useless’.

The reality is that it requires both the IT teams and the non-IT teams to create software. With good open-ended contextual questions from the IT teams and with holistic thinking from the non-IT teams, any organization can create great software. To get started here are a few self-reflecting questions to ask:

TodayTomorrow
Who is going to give software requirements?Who should be giving software requirements?
What has been replaced by software?What should be replaced by software?
Where are the current roadblocks to software requirements gathering?Where would the future roadblocks to software requirements gathering come from?
When do software requirements gathering reveals organizational weaknesses?When should software requirements gathering reveal organizational weaknesses?
Why is software important for your organization?Why should software be important for your organization?
5 Questions to Ask About Software Requirements Gathering

Can The IT Team Do Digital Transformation?

Today’s competitive business landscape requires that you have a solid understanding of what technology is doing and what it can do for your organization. This understanding of technology can make the difference between surviving and thriving. Organizations that merely want to survive will eventually be replaced. Organizations that want to thrive will need to do Digital Transformation. But, if someone convinced you that Digital Transformation is only about technology then you will struggle with it as stated in Business Agility and Digital Transformation, 5 Questions to Ask About Your Digital Transformation, and 5 Myths About Digital Transformation.

Digital Transformation requires the entire organization to have a culture that motivates and incentivizes to improve things. Since most functional departments operate in silos, motivations and incentives are limited to functional departments and not to the entire organization. What this means is that even before you begin your Digital Transformation journies, you should have a good understanding of what roadblocks these silos create and how you can move beyond them. While there are many ways to assess your organization’s readiness, today I am going to use the SWOT Analysis combined with SPICE to identify gaps and use it as a communications tool to address those gaps.

What is the SWOT Analysis?

The SWOT Analysis is a way for organizations to understand their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats when it comes to operations and future planning. Strengths and Weaknesses look at the organization internally for self-assessment while the Opportunities and Threats look outside the organization.

What is the SPICE Framework?

SPICE is a way for organizations to understand its Strategy, Politics, Innovation, Culture, and Execution of today and tomorrow. SPICE looks at the Who, What, Where, When, Why for People, Processes, Products, Services, and Technologies.

Combining SPICE and SWOT

By combining SPICE and SWOT, we can get a deeper understanding of what is needed at organizations to move the needle. We can this SPICE-SWOT. Here’s how it works and specifically what questions you can ask:

Strategy

Organizations develop strategies for short-term and long-term. The strategy development process can be either exclusive or inclusive. In most organizations, we have an exclusive strategy development process that involves a few key executives such as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and the Chief Operations Officer (COO). In some organizations, an inclusive strategy development process will involve executives, middle management, and front-line employees. Another way of developing an organization’s strategy is by outsourcing it to outside consulting firms. Each of the strategy development processes has its pros and cons.

Ideally, your organization’s strategy development process should have manual and digital feedbacks loops going from the front-line employees all the way to the executives and must include Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), Chief Human Resources Manager (CHRM), Chief Security Officer (CSO) and Chief Data Officer (CDO). If your organization is going to use a consulting firm then the consulting firm must:

  • Take feedback from all stakeholders including customers, partners, and vendors
  • Look at industry trends and cross-industry pollination opportunities
  • Not develop pie-in-the-sky ideas that are not implementable
  • Not merely be a mouthpiece for the CEO or the Board of Directors

Your organization’s strategy should look at how your organization can grow and how organizational operations can be improved. With this in mind, let’s ask a few questions:

  • Strategic Strengths
    • Who is able to develop a strategy and execute it?
    • What products and/or services provide you the tools to create effective strategy?
    • Where do your products and/or services specifically help in reaching strategic goals?
    • When conditions change, how quickly can your strategy adapt?
    • Why no one can match your strategy and strategy development processes?
  • Strategic Weaknesses
    • Who is always slacking on executing your strategy?
    • What products and/services do not result in effective strategy?
    • Where do your products and/or services specifically harm in reaching strategic goals?
    • When conditions change, how often do you ignore them?
    • Why others can match your strategy and strategy development processes?
  • Strategic Opportunities
    • Who can you partner with that understands and helps your strategy?
    • What products and/or services you forsee that can help create effective strategy?
    • Where do your products and/or services can benefit other organization’s in their strategy?
    • When conditions change, who have you partnered up that can help you navigate them?
    • Why no one can match your partner’s strategy and strategy development processes?
  • Strategic Threats
    • Who have you partnered up with that does not care about your strategy?
    • What products and/or services from your partners can harm your strategy?
    • Where do your products and/or services can hamper another organization’s strategy?
    • When conditions change, who have you partnered up that are oblivious to it?
    • Why anyone can match your partner’s strategy and strategy develop processes?

Politics

Wherever there are humans, there is politics. Sometimes this politics is visible and sometimes it is hidden but it is still there. In organizations, politics plays a key role in determining who gets promoted, what happens in governance boards, what vendors should be trusted, what kind of assistance should be provided, whose ideas are listened to, and who gets to give requirements to create something new for the organization.

Ideally, your organization’s politics should be addressed head-on by creating an open-door policy, ability to submit ideas/feedback/concerns anonymously both manually and digitally, and training for employees to understand how their own biases can affect the organization at various levels. Politics does not have to be a dirty work in your organization. With this in mind, let’s ask a few questions:

  • Political Strengths
    • Who are the go-to people at front-line, middle management and executive levels?
    • What products and/or services came about due to political influence and proved to be a strength?
    • Where did political influence change the culture for the better?
    • When does your internal politics keeps you focused on the future?
    • Why your orgnizational politics is a positive thing for the organization?
  • Political Weaknesses
    • Who are the people that play bad politics at front-line, middle management and executive levels?
    • What products and/or services came about due to political influence and proved to be a weakness?
    • Where did political influence change the culture for the worse?
    • When does you internal politics distracts from what you can achieve in the future?
    • Why your orgnizational politics is a negative thing for the organization?
  • Political Opportunities
    • Who are your go-to partners that are influencing various industries which will provide opportunities for you?
    • What products and/or services that can come about due to political influence?
    • Where can you use your political influence to make your customers, partners, vendors go a certain direction?
    • When does you competitor’s political influence threaten their own existence?
    • Why your political influence matters to others?
  • Political Threats
    • Who you did not partner up with who politcal influence
    • What products and/or services might never be developed due to political influence?
    • Where can your competitors’ use of political influence make your customers, partners, vendors go a certain direction?
    • When does your competitor’s political influence threaten your existence?
    • Why you have no political influence?

Innovation

Innovation is the lifeblood of your organization. It energizes or demoralizes your organization. It can positively affect your organization or it can make it hollow. There are many levels of innovation that come from front-line employees (e.g., doing some tasks more efficiently), middle-management (e.g., becoming curators of innovative ideas and creating synergies) to executive management (e.g., ability to extrapolate and connect the dots at the highest levels). Innovation does not have to be disruptive, it can be incremental but it needs to happen and your organization should have a mindset to think about constantly. With this in mind, let’s ask a few questions:

  • Innovation Strengths
    • Who in your organization is the most innovative at the front-line, middle management, and executive levels?
    • What products and/or services do you provide that no one can match?
    • Where does innovation take place in your organization?
    • When you have problems with products and/or services, how quickly do you fix them?
    • Why do you think you can maintain a competitive advantage?
  • Innovation Weaknesses
    • Who in your organization is the least innovative at the front-line, middle management, and executive levels?
    • What products and/or services do you provide that everyone can as well?
    • Where does innovation create a bottleneck in your organization?
    • When you have problems with products and/or services, how slowly do you fix them?
    • Why do you think you will lose a competitive advantage?
  • Innovation Opportunities
    • Who can you partner with inside and/or outside your industry to be innovative?
    • What products and/or services can benefit your organization in the future?
    • Where are the next products and/or services coming from that you can take advantage of?
    • When do you think it would the right time to launch new products and/or services?
    • Why do you think you are better positioned to take advantage of new products and/or services?
  • Innovation Threats
    • Who might have been a good partner but now it is too late?
    • What products and/or services can harm your organization in the future?
    • Where are the next products and/or services coming from that might leave you behind?
    • When was the right time to launch new products and/or services?
    • Why do you think your competitor is better positioned to take advantage of new products and/or services?

Culture

Your culture determines your future. With this in mind, let’s ask a few questions:

  • Cultural Strengths
    • Who in your organization represents what your organization stands for at the front-line, middle management, and executive levels?
    • What products and/or services that you provide to others that you use yourself?
    • Where does your culture compliment your business objectives?
    • When someone portrays complacent culture, how quickly do you fix it?
    • Why is your culture better?
  • Cultural Weaknesses
    • Who in your organization takes your culture for granted at the front-line, middle management, and executive levels?
    • What products and/or services that you provide to others but never use yourself?
    • Where is your culture an obstacle to your business objectives?
    • When someone portrays great initiative, how often do you ignore it?
    • Why is your culture worse?
  • Cultural Opportunities
    • Who can you partner with that represents your cultural values?
    • What products and/or services that you provide can enhance another organization’s culture?
    • Where can your culture open up partnerships that might not seem obvious?
    • When can your cultural values provide societal benefits?
    • Why your culture is better in bringing societal change?
  • Cultural Threats
    • Who should your organization avoid partnering up that eats away at your culture?
    • What products and/or services can make your culture useless?
    • Where can your culture destroy potential long-term partnerships?
    • When can your cultural values negatively affect society?
    • Why a competitors’ culture might win over yours?

Execution

The ability to bring together all the capabilities of your organization to achieve business objectives is execution. Execution is hard since it requires people, products, processes, services and technologies have to be in-sync. Execution creates rythem in the organization and eventually momentum. But we always have to take time to reassess this momentum and see of the orginial underlying assumptions and conditions for execution have changed. Even today there is a big gap between what the organization whats strategically and what it is able to achieve operationally. With this in mind, let’s ask the following questions:

  • Execution Strengths
    • Who is incentivized at the front-line, middle management, and executive levels to produce a positive return-on-investment?
    • What products and/or services help you execute your business objectives?
    • Where is the sweet spot when business objectives meet execution?
    • When is your execution is effective and efficient?
    • Why no one can copy your execution?
  • Execution Weaknesses
    • Who is disincentivized at the front-line, middle management, and executive levels to produce a positive return-on-investment?
    • What products and/or services create obastacles in executing your business objectives?
    • Where do your business objectives and execution have gaps?
    • When is your execution incompetent and wasteful?
    • Why your execution can be easily copied?
  • Execution Opportunities
    • Who is incentivized at your partners to help you executive positively?
    • What products and/or services you foresee that can increase your execution speed?
    • Where can your products and/or service increase your customer’s execution speed?
    • When can your execution speed provide benefit to your partners?
    • Why your execution speed creates opportunity beyond your industry?
  • Execution Threats
    • What partners can derail your execution speed and accuracy?
    • What products and/or services you forsee that can decrease your execution speed?
    • Where do your products and/or services decrease your customer’s execution speed?
    • When can your execution speed harm your partners?
    • Why your execution speed and accuracy implode your industry?

Phew! Now that we have asked our 100 questions. Let’s get back to the question, Can the Information Technology (IT) Team do Digital Transformation. If it is not evident by now, the IT team is just one part of the entire organization. In order to do Digital Transformation, you need to make changes at all levels of the organizations. These changes are not the responsibility of the IT team only but in fact these changes occur by collaboration of IT with Accounting, Administration, Business Development, Customer Service, Finance, Human Resources, Management, Manufacturing, Marketing, Operations, Production, Research and Development, Sales and others.

Use the SPICE-SWOT to identify gaps and as a communications tool to address those gaps. For Digital Transformation, do SPICE-SWOT two times:

  1. IT team should self-assess their current capabilities to do Digital Transformation
  2. Non-IT teams should self-assess their own readiness to contribute to Digital Transformation

5 Questions To Ask About Cloud

Gartner describes Cloud (Computing) as “a style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service using Internet technologies.” While the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), defines Cloud Computing as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

In layman terms, Cloud (computing) is a way for people to use hardware, software, and data through the Internet.

Basically, what this means is that instead of using their own devices (e.g., computers, mobile devices, etc.), we use our own device to access a cloud provider’s services. Some examples of cloud computing services used by consumers include Gmail, Facebook, and Amazon, etc. For organizations, ‘going to the Cloud’ can mean different things depending upon the business models and the main objectives to be achieved.

Within an organization, the Information Technology (IT) is responsible for all technology-related hardware, software, data, services, and security across all departments (e.g., accounting, administration, business development, customer service, finance, human resources, management, manufacturing, marketing, operations, production, R&D, sales, etc.) This is a huge undertaking especially when we consider that different departments within an organization can have different needs and those needs change can change rapidly based on consumer behaviors, market conditions, regulatory requirements, and other changes. This implies that rapid changes require organizations to move fast and adapt. This is where the IT department can help or become an obstacle.

The IT department responds to changing organizational needs by gathering relevant requirements from other departments to develop IT systems. These IT systems can be custom-built or bought from technology vendors or a combination. The hosting, development, maintenance, and update of these IT systems typically become the responsibility of the IT department. The speed at which these IT systems are deployed and respond can have a direct effect on the organization. For example, an IT system that is only capable of handling 2000 simultaneous users will crash if 30,000 simultaneous users accessed it. What to do? This is one example among many where Cloud Computing shines.

Generally speaking, cloud services provided by cloud service providers can be stacked into Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Additionally, Cloud can be private – where it is hosted on an organization’s data center, public – where it is hosted on a cloud vendor’s data center or hybrid.

To begin your Cloud journey, here are some questions to ask:

 

Today Tomorrow
Who is going to use Cloud services? Who should be using Cloud services?
What organizational departments provide the Cloud requirements? What organizational departments should provide the Cloud requirements?
Where is the biggest Return on Investment (ROI) when it comes to going to the Cloud? Where should be the biggest Return on Investment (ROI) when it comes to going to the Cloud?
When are organizational weaknesses identified? When should organizational weaknesses be identified?
Why is the Cloud for you? Why should the Cloud be for you?

If the organization is going to the Cloud to provide software (cloud) services to consumers then some of the things they have to figure out how to make them easy to use and always available. If the organization is going to the Cloud to improve IT operations then they have to identify efficiencies, be specific in terms of time and costs, figure out vendor lockdowns, and data hosting considerations. Sometimes organizations want to tackle both the internal improvements and consumer-focused services which can add more complexity to what going to the Cloud could mean for them. In certain respects, Cloud computing is about being efficient but it is more about being flexible enough to respond to changes quickly.

To be clear, going to the Cloud is not for every organization but if proper due diligence is done then it is beneficial for most organizations.

5 Questions To Ask About Data Collection

Data, data, data. Every organization today, is collecting data in one way or another. Due to the declining cost of data storage, data collection has become an obsession for most organizations. This data can come from employees, customers, suppliers, governments and many other sources. The basic premise behind collecting all this data is that it can be used to make informed decisions. But is it?

Informed decision-making should be based on sound data which requires data to be collected in a way that does not portray a false landscape. In other words, if the way data collection methodology is incorrect then the decisions made on that data will also be incorrect. Whenever we do data collection, there are a couple of things we should consider:

  1. Is the data coming from a primary source or a secondary source?
  2. Is the data coming from an individual or an organization?
  3. Is the data coming from conducting a survey?
  4. Is the data coming from conducting a study?
  5. Is the data coming from ongoing business activities?

Sometimes comprehensive data collection is time-consuming, costly, cumbersome and impractical. Considering these restrictions, we have to collect sample data and have to be cognizant that if this data can or can’t be generalized for decision-making. The wrong generalization of data from a small data sample can result in errors that might not be evident to the people who are making decisions on this data. 

Let’s assume that you have been given the task of collecting data that can help the organization in Business-IT Alignment. For this, you conduct a survey in your organization to get a feel of what is going on. Your goal is to collect all this survey data, make sense of it and present it to the executives so they can make decisions.  Here are the steps you take:

Step 1: Create a survey to collect data

Step 2: Reach out to relevant respondents

Step 3: Understand what the data is saying

On the surface, the above steps sound good. But here are the problems with each of them. 

In step 1, when you are creating the survey, you can run into issues when:

  • You ask leading questions that direct the survey into a certain direction
  • The tone and mannerism of the survey/surveyor can make respondents uncomfortable
  • A standard question across various respondents can be easily compared but based on the context the answer may differ drastically

In step 2, who you think the respondents are can affect the survey when:

  • You only ask a subset of the respondents but you are unaware it was the wrong subset
  • Respondents provide no answers
  • Respondents don’t have access to the survey
  • Respondents provide false information

In step 3, your tallying and interpreting the data can have issues when:

  • Your personal biases (we all have them) influence your interpretation
  • Others’ personal biases influence your interpretation

As you can see from the above errors, you have to be careful in data collection so it reveals the truth rather than a skewed version of a hypothetical scenario. The basics start by asking the following questions even before you start creating the survey for data collection:

Today Tomorrow

Who is going to respond?

IT (Help Desk, Software Developers, Management, Database Developers, Network Support, Cybersecurity, etc.) 

vs.

Business (Accounting, Sales & Marketing, Finance, HR, Operations, Management, Customer Service, etc.) 

Who should respond?

IT (Help Desk, Software Developers, Management, Database Developers, Network Support, Cybersecurity, etc.)

vs.

Business (Accounting, Sales & Marketing, Finance, HR, Operations, Management, Customer Service, etc.) 

What areas are covered?

Person-to-person interaction

vs.

Organization-wide capabilities

What areas should be covered?

Person-to-person interaction

vs.

Organization-wide capabilities

Where do you think is the organizational misalignment?

Offline

vs.

Online

Where should be the organizational misalignment?

Offline

vs.

Online

When did organizational-misalignment appear and reported?When should organizational-misalignment be identified and reported?
Why is the data being collected?Why should the data be collected?

 

5 Questions To Ask About Business Continuity

Business Continuity is the idea that your organizations’ should be able to continue operations even after potential and/or direct threats. These threats can be internal and/or external. Some examples of internal threats include theft, sabotage, espionage, and IT-outage. Some examples of external threats include weather-related, vendor-dependent, health crisis, supply chain disruptions, and cybersecurity. The most important thing for any organization is its employees and its customers. Thus, organizations should be able to be well-equipped to make timely decisions with optimized business processes and relevant data that helps its employees and its customers.

In order to continue operations in difficult circumstances, organizations need to create a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) which addresses how people, processes, products, services, and technologies can be applied efficiently and effectively for the entire organization. The BCP should be created with support from all stakeholders especially employees who are in the frontlines dealing directly with customers and/or their work directly affects customers. The BCP should be a holistic document whose purpose is not only to identify risks, critical processes, and critical data but also to provide solutions to what should be done in case something happens. Most importantly, the BCP is an organization’s self-awareness document that should always be tested and updated to represent reality.

Depending upon your organization’s industry, size, culture, and technological capabilities, Business Continuity would be different from other organizations. However, Business Continuity would be similar for most organizations when it comes to payroll systems, financial systems, accounting systems, technology infrastructure systems and the ability for the employees to work remotely.  Now that we have a good understanding of what is Business Continuity, let’s keep the following questions whenever you are creating/analyzing, testing and implementing Business Continuity for your operations.
Today Tomorrow
Who is involved in creating the BCP? Who should be involved in creating the BCP?
What areas are critical for BCP? What areas should be critical for BCP?
Where does the data reside for BCP? Where should the data reside for BCP?
When is BCP tested and updated? When should BCP be tested and updated?
Why BCP is helping your organization? Why BCP should help your organization?