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This chapter is from the book

Highlighting the Main Ideas and Threads of the Book

For those who may not read every chapter in order, we hope that the following executive summary, which outlines some of the main ideas and threads, will be useful:

  • The role of IT has changed. To fulfill their mission, today’s IT departments must become trusted intermediaries between technology providers and business units.

  • The failure of business, IT, and users to communicate effectively is responsible for many types of IT project failures, including the failure to realize true business value.

  • With the wealth of technology options available to business today, making the right technology selection decisions has become a key challenge.

  • Successful solution development using components, packages, and Web Services calls for new methods and new ways of working together.

  • Technology decisions are best made by interdisciplinary teams with multiple viewpoints present.

  • Effective collaboration requires a common language. Establishing this language between business and IT realizes enormous dividends.

  • Capability Cases were designed as a precise communication vehicle between stakeholders. When Solution Envisioning with Capability Cases is adopted in an organization, it establishes a vocabulary for talking about future systems.

  • Solution Envisioning is a process for working with Capability Cases to design business solutions. It provides a consistent, repeatable, and rapid way of progressing from a business problem understanding to a solution concept.

  • By supporting a dialog on "What the system could be, and what it could do for the business," Solution Envisioning becomes an effective enabler of business–IT partnering.

  • The deliverable of Solution Envisioning is a conceptual blueprint that serves as a starting point for implementing a business solution using any of the well-established software development practices.

Solution Envisioning with Capability Cases in a Nutshell

The Solution Envisioning process starts with a model of the business situation. Business forces, desired results, and their measures and key business scenarios are identified. Candidate Capability Cases are nominated as a starting point for the solution. Serving as a portfolio of possibilities and solution ideas, Capability Cases encourage creative exploration. Expressed in business terms, the identified solution ideas are mapped to business activities and serve as a shared vocabulary of capabilities, meaningful to all stakeholders. Solution Envisioning continues with the forging of a shared understanding of a solution concept. Technology selection and implementation architecture work then follows.

The Problem Addressed

The business–IT gap is hardly a new topic. Its impact on business and the various approaches for resolving it have been well-chronicled over the last two decades. Many methodologies have come and gone. Structured methods were superseded by object-oriented methods, the waterfall lifecycle by the spiral lifecycle, and informal tools by Computer-Aided Software Engineering (CASE).

Although these approaches to systems analysis and design helped technical people translate requirements into code, they did little to ensure that the right problems were being addressed. Everything rested on the quality of requirements. Verification—"Are we building the system right?"—was more the focus than validation—"Are we building the right system?" Many of these techniques had the reputation of being too cumbersome, slow, and static even at the time they were first introduced. Since then, business expectations of rapid IT solutions have changed by orders of magnitude.

Not surprisingly, a keen interest developed in Rapid Prototyping, Joint Application Development (JAD), and Rapid Application Development (RAD).2 Each was motivated by the desire to have business people and developers work together to identify what the users really need. These techniques were all designed for custom software development. Today, Agile Methods,3 in some ways, can be seen as following in the tradition of RAD and JAD [Beck, 1999; Cockburn, 2001b].

Solution Envisioning, having the same motivation for "Rapid Validation" and "Shared Understanding," adopts techniques from JAD and the Agile Methods. What is new is the creative, connective, and expressive power afforded by our use of Capability Cases—creative in that they provide a rich space of solution possibilities and stimulate innovative thinking; connective because they bridge the worlds of business and IT by using business language to connect solution concepts to business situations; expressive because they use solution stories to convey "the case for the capability."

While software development methods were maturing, business strategy and business design methods were also evolving. Porter’s Five Forces and Value Chain models gave business people a language for talking about business contexts and for exploring how networks of value could inform business strategy [Porter 1985]. Senge’s systems thinking work provided techniques for understanding business dynamics [Senge, 1990; 1994]. Kaplan and Norton introduced a business performance measurement approach called the Balanced Scorecard, developing their ideas into a method called Strategy Maps [Kaplan, 2001; 2004]. Because business today is inseparable from the technology that enables it, these approaches began to enter the world of IT.

In another space, the field of management science, two notable developments for problem understanding and structuring emerged: Checkland’s SSM (Soft Systems Methodology) [Checkland, 1981; 1990, Wilson 1984] and Eden’s and Ackermann’s use of mapping techniques in SODA (Strategic Options Decision Analysis) [Rosenhead, 1989]. SSM has endured well into the present day. Its ideas on conceptual models of the problem and root definitions of viable solutions are used within our Solution Envisioning Method. SODA has evolved into a method for business strategy formulation [Eden, 1998]. We adopt some techniques from these approaches in our work.

Taken on their own, none of these software development, problem-modeling, and business methods addresses "bridging the gap" between business and IT. We found that we had to combine elements from a number of these approaches along with pattern language ideas and decision support techniques for technology selection to build our Solution Envisioning approach.

Today, the acceleration of business and technology change has made it a challenge to choose and become proficient in a development method that will assure timely business results. Because today’s technology offers the ability to quickly deploy very powerful solutions, organizations often elect to jump directly into these solutions rather than go through a traditional business requirements process. Simply stated, businesses cannot justify the benefits and do not have the time to use rigorous methodology.

One response is component-based approaches and Web Services. These have simulated a renewed interest in a dynamic reuse-based approach to constructing IT solutions. We are motivated to bring reuse to the earliest part of the development lifecycle and present Solution Envisioning with Capability Cases as a method for the appreciation, reuse, and adaptation of solution concepts. Of particular relevance is the way Capability Cases are useful for component-based strategies for developing solutions, such as Service-Oriented Architectures with Web Services.

When Can Solution Envisioning Be Used?

Simply stated, any project that has to consider how technology can make a difference is a perfect candidate for Solution Envisioning with Capability Cases. The process can be used both to create new solutions and to improve existing solutions. For assembling pre-made (packaged) components, it offers an effective way to identify, select, and establish an integration plan. For defining new capabilities, it invites stakeholders to consider a more comprehensive set of solution possibilities.

The problems that Solution Envisioning addresses are the key to the success of any technology project. However, we note that there are projects where these problems are especially critical—in fact, where they dominate the effort. These are the projects that target the creation of new business capabilities through the adoption of emerging or "breakthrough" technologies. With the increasingly rapid evolution of technology, these cases are becoming more of the norm than the exception. Here, we find ourselves inventing new names for capabilities, envisioning stories of their potential value, and inviting stakeholders into creative discourse. A current example is Semantic Web Technology,4 a disruptive technology that is emerging rapidly.5 This book includes a number of Capability Cases that use Semantic Technology.

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