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The importance of good business analysis and a written specification

During a recent conversation with a prospective client they said that they couldn’t understand why we charge for a specification.  Their business is squarely placed within the marketing sector, where the supplier has to prepare their pitch and involves a significant amount of work on their behalf, before being considered for the contract.  In reality we don’t charge for an initial quotation; the proposal will include a fixed fee for a business analysispreparation of a specification and estimated costs for development work.  A couple of times in recent months prospective clients have seen this as a barrier and expressed reservations about committing to the business analysis and preparation of a specification and perhaps this is a sign of the times.

So why is business analysis and preparation of a specification so important?

In our experience prospective clients are rarely in a position to clearly define what their business needs.  Conclusions reached are often restricted by their knowledge of what is and isn’t possible, resulting in their stated outcomes being compromised to varying degrees.

cost of altering specificationIf a software / web developer undertakes the project on this basis the most likely outcome is that the solution will not meet the business needs, or changes will be introduced during the development, resulting in spiraling costs!  The result is often the client and / or supplier falling out after the initial honeymoon phase with the inevitable consequences.

An example of this is ensuring the analyst asks the right questions. A simple example would be to ask if the system will be be accessed by users speaking different languages? If this is picked up prior to the development there will be a minimum impact on costs and time scales; however if this was to be introduced at the latter stages of the development it would have a massive impact on both the project management and finances. Although this is a simple example, we have been able to avoid others by ensuring we understand the needs of the business.

As a result we adapted a process called well formed outcomes that is designed to challenge the client whilst enabling them to focus on their business and its needs.  The objective is to clearly define the outcomes the proposed system needs to achieve in order to be successful.  Once the outcomeshave be defined we are able to provide one or more solutions.

This approach ensures that the project is clearly defined and reduces the number of potential changes during the project.  The advantage is that alterations made during the planning stages cost less and have little or no impact on the time scales (as previous described). This doesn’t restrict the project, in fact changes can still be introduced, but using a more controlled procedure that ensures any impacts on the project are understood before implementing the changes.

In conclusion the phrase “fail to plan, plan to fail” probably best sums up the need to invest in good business analysis and ensuring everyone knows what they have to do in the form of a well written specification.

As a foot note it is worth mentioning agile development methods that have been adapted since the phrase was first coined in 2001. Essentially this ensures an approach that aligns development with the clients needs and objectives and has a number of similarities with our approach at Ayrmer Software.

Date: 20/06/2014

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