Requirements analysis is the complete evaluation of an enterprise and its business, in order to identify system needs. This page describes the objectives, the items to be delivered, and the work Essential Strategies, Inc. proposes to do to conduct a Detailed Requirements Analysis Project.
Requirements Analysis is the second step in ESI's system development method — concerned with the business owner's and the information designer's views. Prior to doing a Requirements Analysis, it is desirable to address the scope perspective — determining the company's business strategy and its requirements for information to support that strategy. At the very least, a statement of the company's objectives, priorities and constraints for developing information systems is necessary to establish a context for the analysis effort.
The Strategic Planning activity should have produced lists of the most important things of significance and the relationships between them, lists of operational areas, a high-level organization chart, lists of locations, a description of the business' strategic planning and budgeting cycle, and its overall goals and objectives.
Requirements Analysis, then, translates this scope perspective into the business owner's view of the enterprise. By this is meant that the next set of models to be created will describe the way the business is seen by those who perform it. The models will describe data, functions, locations, people and organizations, timing issues, and the enterprise's objectives and constraints.
The business owner's view will then be converted to more disciplined models that characterize the information designer's view. These reflect the inherent, underlying structure of the same elements. The data models, for example, will be changed to describe the fundamental things of significance to the business (of which the things most people see are often merely examples). Similarly, function models will be in terms of the essential processes of the business (independent of any technology involved). The locations where data are used and functions are performed, the roles involved in each process, the events which cause each essential process to be performed, and the business rules and constraints that apply will all be rigorously defined.
Specifically, given an agreed upon list of objectives, priorities and constraints, a Requirements Analysis Project results in the following:
- First, from the business owner's perspective, it results in detailed models of each of that perspective's dimensions: data, function, loction, organization, timing, and motivation. These include:
- Entity/relationship models describing the fundamental structure of the organization's data. This is in terms of the things observed as significant to the business ("entities") and the relationships among them.
- Models of the organization's activities, as currently understood.
- Lists of the locations where the enterprise does business.
- A complete organization chart, by location.
- The most important external events that trigger responses by the enterprise.
- The rules and constraints that affect the business of the enterprise.
- Second, each of these dimensions is then analyzed in detail to determine its essential structure (its "essence")from the information designer's point of view. This structure is characterized by:
- Refinement of the entity/relationship models to identify those entities that are most fundamental and unchanging to the enterprise.
- Development of hierarchical representations of the organization's business functions, broken down to the level of the "essential process" — that which is the complete response to an external event affecting the organization. Included in the documentation of these is specification of the events that trigger each essential process.
- Detailed definition of the company's organization chart, including the roles to be performed by each organizational unit in each location.
- Specific itemization of all business events and the activities they trigger.
- Matrices showing the interaction between functions and entities.
- Detailed documentation of each element (entity, essential process, location, etc.)
- Definition of the business rules that constrain each data element.
- Continuation of the building of the corporate glossary.
- Third, it begins the process of examining current systems in detail, to determine what is currently available to support the organization. This includes identifying each system currently in use, its purpose, and its interfaces with all other systems.
- Fourth, from the business models and the descriptions of current systems, come determination of what areas could benefit from new or improved technology. From this will come a statement of direction describing a new systems development effort, with its size and scope described in terms of the functions and data to be addressed.
- Fifth, the analysis project begins the process of setting in place a technical architecture, describing the kinds of hardware and software technology decisions that have to be made to meet the requirements. This architecture will also address such issues as security, distribution configuration, and so forth. This includes documentation of the size and scope of the system to be delivered, in terms of the volume of data to be processed, and the frequency of the processes involved.
This will assist the designer in providing enough disk space, adequate response time, etc.
- And finally, during this phase the organization begins to plan for transition. Issues to be addressed include include the definition of acceptance criteria, training requirements, distribution of data and processors, audit requirements, data conversion and definition of a cutover strategy, and so forth.
Most significantly, a requirements analysis project will result in a statement of work and an updated project plan for the next steps in the development process.
The Work to be Done
Essential Strategies, Inc. consultants will perform the following tasks during the course of the study:
- With the sponsor of the project, select key members of the company's staff to supply the information required by the analysis.
- Brief these individuals.
- Interview each one.
- Build or adapt the models of the business, as described above.
- Examine current systems and document purpose, domain and interfaces of each.
- Identify areas for changes to systems.
- Define potential changes to the enterprise's technical architecture.
- Present models and draft statements to one or more meetings of the participants, and obtain consensus.
- Prepare a strategy for transition to the proposed systems.
- Prepare a final report fully documenting the requirements, including process logic, distribution of data and/or processing, and any other issues that should be considered. The model diagrams will be full described in accompanying text.
One person from the client organization must be identified as the client project leader for the study. This individual will make introductions, help schedule meetings, arrange for facilities, and so forth. One or more people from the client organization are welcome to participate in this process, as well. It is recommended also that a member of the organization's executive committee be visible as a sponsor of the project.
Typically, between 10 and 20 people will be interviewed and review the findings. Where the Strategy Study was done with the top management of the organization, the Analysis Study typically is done with the people who carry out its work. These may be anyone from clerks and operators to middle management, depending on circumstances. These people must be prepared to:
- Attend a briefing session with the other participants, which will last an hour or two.
- Be interviewed individually, to describe his or her work and the information used. (This will take from one hour to half a day each, depending on the role of the interviewee in the company.)
- Participate in one or more day-long "feedback" session.
- Optionally, participate in a final presentation of one to two hours.
- Review the management summary of the final report.
While the time required for a study will vary from company to company, a typical project will cover a period of four to six months, subject to the availability of the people mentioned above. The length of time the study will take is a direct function of the number of people interviewed, and the "unusualness" of the area being studied.
Note that this project defines architecture not technology. The objectives here are to identify the structure and nature of the business and present them in a disciplined form, to be used as the foundation for a system design. While these steps may seem unnecessarily detailed and time-consuming, not to do them is to make implicit assumptions about the nature of the business. These implicit assumptions could result in the building of an information system that does not adequately meet the needs of the organization.
Because this architecture is intended to reflect the nature of the business, it is important that the company participate actively in its development. This means ensuring that someone from the company assumes responsibility for the project and that those involved in the running of the business are available for interviews and feedback sessions.
Indeed, as stated above, a member of the company's executive committee must be seen as a sponsor of this project, if it is to receive the required support from everyone else.
Preparation of the models and documentation of the requirements will require use of a CASE (computer-aided systems engineering) tool. Such a tool will produce drawings and document the "meta-data" — data describing all the entities, functions, and other objects collected in the various models. Once this information is in a computerized "repository" it will be available to support (which is to say, to automate) the subsequent design and construction efforts. This represents an additional investment, but it will provide invaluable support not only to this effort but to the project as a whole. Essential Strategies, Inc. will be happy to work with the client to select an appropriate tool.
After the Study
The Requirements Analysis project will define in detail the architecture to be used in the development of future systems.
Once functional requirements for an application area have been defined, the next step is to define the technology view of the systems effort. Previously none of the models have been concerned with new technology. The following phases of the effort address this point of view.
Specifically, the following subsequent steps are required to put a new system in place, each of which may be increasingly narrow in scope:
- Design: definition of the particular technology to be used to implement one or more of the information processing requirements identified during analysis. This includes determination of the hardware and software technology to be used, design of software, the physical data base structure.
- Construction: physical creation of the data base designed above, the construction of one or more programs, and, if necessary, the assembly of the specified hardware.
- Transition: process of moving from the old system to the new. Planning for this takes place during the prior four steps.
- Production: ongoing operation of the system, once it is complete and implemented.
Essential Strategies, Inc. will be pleased to assist with any or all subsequent phases, once the analysis phase is complete.
From this project, the client will get a detailed definition of the processes and data flows required to support a specified set of business functions. From this definition, a system designer will be able to identify opportunities for new or improved automation. This description of the functions' information requirements will be "technologically neutral," in that it will not describe how they are to be met, and will leave to the designer the job of identifying the best available technology for doing so.
The functional specification will provide a basis for choosing which processes should be automated in what order -- and a basis for doing so without preventing future growth.
Finally, the client will benefit from Essential Strategies, Inc.'s experience in the planning and development of systems in a wide variety of industries.
Essential Strategies, Inc. consultants have helped many organizations prepare information systems plans, both in the US and abroad. The techniques employed have been used successfully by hundreds of consultants working on thousands of projects. We believe that Essential Strategies, Inc. consultants using these techniques can prepare a plan in a relatively short time, and that it will set the stage for successful systems development for many years to come.