October 2010

To see how these concepts played out in our project for this client, please visit Clarifying Business Needs and Issues to Specify Systems Requirements.

Todd Herman

There's a good story behind this e-newsletter's title.

A few years ago, we had just begun working on a project the client and we both believed would require a custom-developed application. This presumption stemmed from a large number of client requirements unique to the way they did business in a very specific industry. As it turned out, solving the client's issue did require a custom-developed mobile quoting system, which turned out very well and exactly met the client's requirements (see: They Wanted BlackBerrys...And Then What?).

System Requirements, Vital for Goal Success

image of planning process

Even if we start a project where the presumed outcome is custom software, we still need to gather system requirements to definitively conclude whether custom development is required. Assuming so, these requirements guide the application development work to meet the goals needed for success.

We gathered requirements for this other client using a process we've honed over the years – leading a highly-structured meeting evaluating and ranking ideas of key stakeholders. Such a meeting is led by one of our consultants who has already done the necessary pre-work to make good use of the limited time of busy executives and managers. This intense and fast-paced session involves wall charts, sticky notes being placed and then moved (possibly many times), and extensive doodling as consensus forms in the group. At the end of this session for another client, one of the client's staff – looking at the many charts, notes, and colors decorating the conference room wall – termed it "The Wall of Knowledge."

"The Wall of Knowledge" perfectly summarized the content surfaced and captured during that meeting. It was accurate and pithy – thus, it stuck. When we speak internally of a client needing such a session, we just say they need "The Wall of Knowledge" and everyone understands what to do.

Distilling Needs and Gaining Group Concensus

This month's case study describes how "The Wall of Knowledge" was conducted as part of a system selection project. There was an especially strong need for this with this client, because they were considering replacing several fragmented systems with a highly-integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system – yet, no one at this client had ever been exposed to what such a system could or could not do. Thus, there was an education component to this working session, in addition to the main focus – to gather and distill the key requirements candidate systems needed to possess.

"The Wall of Knowledge" refers to the deliverable from the structured idea-generation meeting, and finds use in many different contexts, including:

  • Surfacing and making explicit requirements for selecting a new business, finance, or ERP system.

  • Defining specific requirements for a custom-developed application.

  • Pinpointing bottlenecks in a critical business area, and agreeing upon steps to reduce or eliminate these.

  • Identifying process improvements or technology solutions – both "quick fix" and longer term – by functional areas, and ranking them based on potential improvement in business results.

  • Helping a group which is "stuck" look at the situation from different vantage points, including a third-party objective viewpoint.

In the end, the intense session yielding "The Wall of Knowledge" brings agreement on the major "pain points" of the business or organization, builds consensus within the group on business priorities, and clarifies expectations for any solution.

Might a "Wall of Knowledge" project help you and your business? Contact me, and I'll be happy to discuss this with you.


Todd L. Herman

Todd L. Herman