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When Requirements Should Bend

It is common for requirements to be stated as absolutes, with intricate detail being provided about the way things must be done. But these “requirements” are often an interpretation of a business need, or an executive’s preference, or even a legal regulation. Sometimes, the literal requirement is a poor interpretation of the underlying business need. It’s important to be as creative as possible in requirements statements so that you don’t over-specify or get locked into one particular approach. Identify alternatives and different ways of achieving the underlying goal.

For example, the Finance department may have an edict that an order cannot be shipped without a manual approval. So the requirement is stated as a mandatory human approval cycle. But if the approval cycle is there only to apply a set of strict rules, maybe the manual approval cycle isn’t the real requirement. By restating the requirement as “no shipment will be made without applying the following rules,” it becomes possible to have a fully automated approval, saving time and cost on every order.

Look for opportunities to restate “requirements” that are over-specified or arbitrarily complex. Requirements should be statements of business goals and criteria, rather than strict step-by-step procedures.

In some cases, the best path forward is to change the business process, rather than investing in automation of a silly or obsolete practice. In particular, look for opportunities to make things better by making subtle changes to the sales and marketing processes. Some of the most doctrinaire SFA/CRM requirements miss key opportunities for leverage. The SFA/CRM system will give sales reps and managers information and tools they never had before. Because the whole point of the system is to make it easier for the reps to make their numbers, why not take the blinders off? For example, better qualification of leads can mean fewer pointless sales calls and shorter sales cycles. Likewise, marketing personnel should be encouraged to think outside the box, looking for new ways to plan campaigns and execute events. Of course, you’ll need to get the executives’ approval before you formally recommend process changes or restate the requirement, but it’s well worth the effort.

Bending and restating requirements in this way can make the system easier to implement, easier to use, and more beneficial to the business over time.

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