The Most Important Question in a Successful Software Project

The Most Important Question in a Successful Software Project

What is the most important question in a successful software project?

Questions like “What functionality will we get?” or “When will it be finished?” or “What will it cost?” are all good candidates, but they should come later in the project. The real answer is a small but critical question – “Why?”

In high school, I took a writing class. At one point, we were studying journalism. The teacher took us through the 5 W’s and 1 H of a good journalistic writing (Who, what, when, where, why, and how). Of course, those questions (sometimes in a slightly modified form) have a much broader application than journalism. In fact, we use two of them, “what” and “why”, extensively in our Business Analysis process at ArcherPoint.

As my colleague, Darin Rich pointed out in his blog, On your mark! Get set! Wait! You can’t just start with the execution phase!, having a clearly defined scope should be among the first steps in a project. When we start a project with a Business Analysis engagement, we spend significant time asking questions about our customer’s business. But we always start with the question, “Why”. “Why do you want to do this project?” We want to understand the business need, or more commonly, needs, that drive the project.

From there, we ask a lot of “What do you do in your job” questions, with the occasional “How do you do it” to clarify. But, again, the question that is always uppermost is “Why?”: “Why do you do it”, or, if it is new functionality, “Why do you want to do it”. This ultimately leads to understanding whether there is business value in that process or procedure.

Too often we see situations in which a customer is doing something “because that is how it has always been done here”. You have probably heard this story, or some variation of it, but it is worth repeating:

A young couple decided to cook “Grandma’s Roast Beef”. So they bought a roast and took it home to prepare it. The wife cut off both ends of the roast, rubbed the roast with spices and placed it in the pan. As the husband put the pan into the oven, he asked, “Why do you cut the ends off of the roast? Does it make it cook better?” The wife replied, “I don’t really know, mom always did it that way.” Interested now, they called the mother and asked her why she cut the ends off of a roast.

The answer came back, “Well, that’s how Grandmother taught me to do it. You should call her and ask her, she would love to hear from you.”

When they called Grandmother, after she got over her laughter, she said, “We had our original oven for many years, and it was too small for a roast. I had to cut the ends off so it would fit.

If you only think about “what you do” when specifying a new system, you might find that there are a lot of unnecessary holdovers in your business processes. Are you doing something because that’s the way it has always been done? Maybe it is due to a limitation of a previous system. Or, it might be a leftover from an old process that no longer has any business relevance.

Asking “Why do we need to do it” will always lead you back to the underlying business requirement (if there is one) and it will help you to understand whether there is real value in continuing to do it the same way.

If you would like to explore ways in which ArcherPoint can assist you in understanding your business requirements, contact ArcherPoint to discuss a Business Analysis engagement.

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