Unfolding plans 200 – Hoary chestnuts roasting

Once again that perennial problem of system specification has raised its head.  It is a hoary chestnut yet one I thinking we are making good inroads into cracking.

Traditionally when we have decided we have a need for something, a new process, a new system or a new tool we would get a group together of those people in the know to define what they want or need.  We’d then write a specification that would button down requirements, get that signed off and then build what was written down.  My experience is of course with systems development.

After a while (and it can be quite a long while) out would pop the product and we’d then realise that it doesn’t work.  The customers would blame ICT and we would retort by saying that we have delivered exactly what was asked for. Exactly!  We would moan about each other between gritted teeth then work hard to retrofit the features and benefits the system should have had in the first place.

The problem however lies elsewhere.  The only people who know how the system really works is the people that use it day in and day out yet we rarely involve them in the process.  They are too busy getting on with the business to take time out to think about systems design.  They are not used to thinking conceptually and so perhaps couldn’t add to a process that so removed from their daily experiences.  This is rubbish.  Every day those who use the system make use of its features and grapple with its inadequacies.  They could tell you exactly what is needed and how a system could help with what they do.  Perhaps they could not tell you conceptually, or with flow diagrams but they could spell it out in words of few syllables.

This morning we had our Customer Focus Board.  It does what it says on the tin.  I had two reports and Cheryl brought an update on our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) project.  Each of these three highlighted some of the positive things we are doing.

We’ve thrown ourselves on the mercy of agile project management for the CRM.  It’s our first real attempt and we have a lot to learn yet already scrums and sprints are in our vernacular.  We’re getting through the stuff that we said we would do and it is all very exciting.

My first report was on the student app that I described in Unfolding Plans 196.  We took a mock up version, an alpha release, on a Windows phone into the meeting.  While I was telling them what we were up to and why it was important the members of the group could feel it in their hands and see it with their eyes.  It was tangible and believable.  The group bought into what we were proposing and so that is another project that is underway.

My second report was on electronic document management, again which I described this time in Unfolding Plans 171.  I won’t repeat myself yet we’d spent more time in defining what we meant by the problem or issue we were trying to resolve rather than the system to solve it.

So, we had three separate circumstances with one related approach.  My project management is roasting on an open fire.

2 thoughts on “Unfolding plans 200 – Hoary chestnuts roasting

  1. I am absolutely astounded by your article and stunned that you think that “people on the coal face” are not or were not involved in the System Soecification process.The CRM system that survived County and District merger was exactly implemented like that with the PRINCE methodology and delivered what the customers wanted from Benefits clerk to Customer Service agent to Head of Finance.Its a shame that nobody has learned from the past and actually written the history of good system implementation.Unfortunately all the knowledge was purged and we have to have a Groundhog Day!

    1. Happy New Year Heiko, I hope you are well. I’m not saying that the previous CRM was a failure or that the users were not involved. It was before my time anyway. What I am saying though is that there are better ways of engaging customers than through PRINCE2.

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