November 19, 2017
Everything Else Is DetailsFor pretty much all my freelancing and consulting career, I've strongly advocated driving software development directly from testable end user goals. I'm not talking here about use cases, or the "so that..." art of a user story. I'm talking actual goals. Not "reasons to use the software", but "reasons to build it in the first place".
Although the Agile movement has started to catch up, with ideas like "business stories" and "impact mapping", it's still very much the exception not the rule that teams set out on their journey with a clear destination in mind.
Once goals have been established, the next step is to explore and understand the current model. How do users currently do things? And this is where a see another classic mistake being made by dev teams. They build an understanding of the existing processes, and then just reproduce those as they currently are in code. This can bake in the status quo, making it doubly hard for businesses to adapt and improve.
The rubber meets the road when we work with our customers to build a shared vision of how things will work when our software has been delivered. And, most importantly, how that will help us achieve our goals.
The trick to this - a skills that's sadly still vanishingly rare in our industry - is to paint a clear picture of how the world will look with our software in it, without describing the software itself. A true requirements specification does not commit in any way to the implementation design of a solution. It merely defines the edges of the solution-shaped hole into which anything we create will need to fit.
I think we're getting better at this. But we're still very naïve about it. Goals are still very one-dimensional - typically just focusing on financial objectives - and fail to balance multiple stakeholder perspectives. The Balanced Scorecard has yet to arrive in software development. Goals are usually woolly and vague, too, with no tests we could use to measure how we're doing. And - arguably our biggest crime as an industry - goals are often confused with strategies and solutions. 90% of the requirements specs I read are, in fact, solution designs masquerading as business requirements.
This ought to be the job of a business analyst. Not to tell us what software to build, but instead to describe what problem we need to solve. What we need from them is a clear, testable vision of how the world will be different because of our software. What needs to change? Then our job is to figure out how - if possible - software could help change it. Does your team have this vision?
I continue to strongly recommend that dev teams ditch the backlogs (and any other forms of long-term plans or blueprints), sit down with their customers and other key stakeholders, and work to define a handful of clear, testable business goals.
Everything else is details.
Posted 3 years, 10 months ago on November 19, 2017