Information technology proposes great opportunities for modern business to compete and improve its operations. Complicating things further is the brutally competitive environment that has arisen with the emergence of globalization and the Internet. This competitive environment has stimulated an obsession with winning the hearts and minds of customers. In today’s business climate, customer satisfaction lies at the heart of most business activity delivered through improved information technology and communication (Owens & Wilson 1996). The Grand River Toy Company is one of the leading companies in toy market operating in the US.
This company proposes a wide range of products in the US and sells the product through retail chains. Scan Systems Inc. was awarded a contract to replace the bar code scanning equipment for all of The Grand River Toy Company’s ninety-five retail outlets in the United States. On the Grand River side, a project manager was assigned from the Information Technology Department. Her responsibilities were principally to generate requirements and to monitor the performance of Scan Systems Inc.
The IT Department was given a central role in the project. In fact, it was the department that generated the proposal request to which Scan Systems Inc. responded. It was also instrumental in selecting Scan Systems Inc. from among five bidders. The vice president of finance was an important player, since this project was undertaken in response to his request. Similarly, the vice president for operations was involved because bar code scanning enabled The Grand River to track inventories (The Grand River Toy Company 2008).
The approach introduced by the Scan Systems Inc is called join application development (JAD). It was developed in the information technology arena to address two issues:
- owing to rapidly changing technology and brutal competitive pressure, project teams need to develop software solutions at breakneck speed, and
- to produce software solutions that address true customer needs, requirements must be developed as part of a group effort, where the key business and technology stakeholders meet to work things out in intense working sessions (Laudon & Laudon 2005).
Define high-level requirements, using visuals, stick-on labels, and prototypes Identify steps needed to implement the JAD design session Set out a schedule for developing requirements. Document issues and decisions (have a scribe do this). Conclude the session. JAD sessions clearly provide a better basis for defining requirements than the traditional approach of having a systems analyst conduct one-on-one interviews with stakeholders. Today’s complex processes demand cross-functional inputs from the full array of significant stakeholders, and the best way to gain their input is to bring them together in a common meeting.
By having key stakeholders working together to identify and articulate requirements, JAD sessions lead to the development of requirements that are likely to define deliverables that satisfy customer needs and wants (Owens & Wilson 1996).
Requirements for this project was difficult to develop because of the contending interests of the different sets of players. For example, the information technology group was likely to focus on technical functionality, whereas the managers of the ninety-five retail outlets were more interested in usability and minimizing disruption to their daily operations. The customer side was likely to have a confused image of who was in charge on the Scan Systems side.
If the toy company’s key players had been working closely with the account manager, they would be likely to perceive of her as the person in charge. If they found the Scan Systems project manager unsympathetic to their requests, they might bypass him by working directly with the account manager. They might also be confused about the role of the consultant (Laudon & Laudon 2005).
The project met the investment objectives and improved connection and communication between ninety-five retail outlets. Second, the project team needed to analyze the requirements. Analysis entailed examining their cost, schedule, and system wide impacts. It also required the team to prioritize the requirements to see which are “must-haves” and which “nice-to-haves.” At this point, the requirements were informal requirements (Burkun, 2005).
Third, the project team needed to formalize the requirements. The initial elicited requirements were typically abstract and vague. The formalization process focuses on tightening them. The elicited requirements were first stated as informal, general requirements. Then as a consequence of the analysis process, they were narrowed to detailed, formal requirements. Finally, the formal requirements should go through a verification process, where a last check was made on whether they were on target. This was done by testing them for traceability and having all stakeholders review them to make sure that they met their needs and wants. The information technology project was launched to address an organization’s internal information needs (Laudon & Laudon 2005).
Owing to the dramatic difference between the environments encountered on construction and information technology projects, the major stakeholders and their requirements-related concerns are quite different in the two scenarios. With the new system, all aspects of order processing, vendor management, and inventory management will be handled by a single, user-friendly, integrated information system. Although the entire organization will be affected by the new system, a smaller group of key players whose perspectives must be captured in order to create effective requirements can be readily identified. They include the project sponsor, solution owner, project manager, subject matter experts, business analysts, technology analysts, technology director, testers, and vendors (Owens & Wilson 1996).
The Effectiveness of the Stakeholder Engagement
Once the requirements had been verified as appropriate, they were accepted and employed to design solutions that are ultimately implemented by means of project management. Testers played a significant role in the requirements definition effort on this project. Although their broad charter was to make sure the emerging technical solution functions properly, they had to specifically determine whether the system met the requirements set out for it.
It was not enough to have a system that works—the system had to address the business needs that led to the launching of the project. If testers were doing their job right, their tests identified solutions that were drifting from defined requirements (Laudon & Laudon 2005). In this case, technical team members were instructed to adjust their work to bring it back into conformance with the established requirements. For testers to carry out their requirements-policing role properly, they must be explicitly instructed to test the solution against stated requirements (Owens & Wilson 1996).
On the Scan Systems side, a project manager was assigned. He had total responsibility for overseeing the installation of scanning hardware and software in the ninety-five Wonder Toy retail outlets. He had access to about twenty technically capable staff members who would carry out day-to-day activities on the project. Because Wonder Toy required that the software run on the unique B-Zar Operating System, Scan Systems hired a B-Zar specialist as a consultant. The account manager who shepherded the project during the preaward phase and was instrumental in developing the winning proposal continued to work on the project as a customer liaison (The Grand River Toy Company 2008).
Finally, since this project entailed the delivery of some six hundred scanning units, Scan Systems ‘ manufacturing group was actively involved in the project effort. The Scan Systems project manager was highly experienced with this type of project. He did a “structural analysis” of the situation and saw immediately some structurally based challenges that he had to be prepared to deal with. The following were some of the key challenges: Decision-making authority was diffuse on the customer side. Although the Wonder Toy project manager might appear to be a key decision maker, in fact she was a minor player because three powerful players—the Finance, IT, and Operations VPs—could make independent decisions by virtue of their power. In fact, if there is a major divergence of interest between the information technology and finance groups, all decision making can become bogged down.
On information technology projects, project sponsors were senior managers who were the ultimate “owners” of projects carried out within the organization. Their principal functions were to define high-level project goals, to use their powerful position to help sponsored projects achieve these goals, and to protect projects from disruptive political actions. Sponsors helped projects by making certain they were properly resourced. The requirements the project sponsor supports were important, and all subsequently developed detailed requirements and specifications should trace back to them. The sponsor’s requirements were invariably business requirements and should be explicitly tied to corporate strategic goals (Laudon & Laudon 2005).
Solution owners are typically upper-level middle managers (such as vice presidents) who are actively engaged in project affairs. In a sense, they are agents of the sponsor, and their job is to see that projects are carried out effectively and that the sponsor’s high-level goals are achieved (Burkun, 2005). They will monitor project progress through weekly meetings with the project manager and key project personnel. Project managers are assigned responsibility for delivering successful projects.
Their primary requirements-related concern is to ensure that the business requirements being addressed by the project are accurately expressed and converted into viable technical specifications. They serve an important bridging function, making sure that the gap between business and technical issues is properly spanned. Occasionally, they play the role of referee, adjudicating disputes between business and technical members of the project team (Laudon & Laudon 2005; The Grand River Toy Company 2008).
Business analysts played a significant role in requirements definition for the Grand River. Their primary responsibility was to capture the business requirements and to formulate them in a fashion that is understandable by the technical team. They were in effect interpreters who translate business talk into technical requirements. The best business analysts had a thorough knowledge of both business issues and the technology that were employed to provide business solutions. In practice, many of them worked in the technical arena earlier in their lives, so they are well acquainted with conditions and concerns the technical team may face (Owens & Wilson 1996).
The company introduced a training of employees that facilitated roll-out during the implementation. Also, the company einvestigates needs and requirements of different customer groups. Needs reflected conditions that were satisfied in order to enable people and their artifacts to function satisfactorily. For example, if workers lack the proper knowledge to do their jobs, they may need to be educated. Or if a database system responds too slowly to customer queries, it may need to be revamped so that it operates more quickly. Needs may be inextricably interwoven with wants. The needs themselves go through a three-step evolutionary process. First, needs emerge (Laudon & Laudon 2005).
They arise, but at the earliest stage, they are amorphous and barely perceived. To the extent they are unrecognized, no one will act to address them. Then needs are recognized. At this stage, the existence of the needs becomes clear, and it is evident that they should be addressed. Note that a key function of market research departments is to scan the business environment for new opportunities.
Requirements were the physical manifestation of needs. If needs had not been captured properly, the resulting requirements will be off target , no matter how well they are formulated. They were generally divided into two categories: business and technical. Business requirements were requirements seen from the perspective of business users. They generally addressed two broad questions. First, what problems need to be solved?
For example, it may be determined that managers need to improve our responsiveness to customer inquiries (Laudon & Laudon 2005). Or the comapny may need to add a new column to our financial reports to address changes in SEC financial data reporting requirements. Second, what business objectives are the company striving to achieve? For example, a company may determine that the project should achieve 10 percent profitability or payback within two years or should contribute to a 5 percent growth in market share (Laudon & Laudon 2005).
Technical requirements offered guidance on what the deliverable should look like and what it should do. They were broken into two types: First, functional requirements are requirements stated in ordinary language. They were formulated once needs are clearly articulated. They were a step in the direction of creating detailed specifications. You crawl before you walk, and you walk before you run. So it is that you develop functional requirements before delving into the formulation of detailed specifications. Even intangibles and semitangibles were designed before they were developed (Owens & Wilson 1996).
The aim of training was to teach employees that there was an art and science to estimating. Over the years, methodologies have emerged (for example, parametric cost estimating) that enable individuals to make quite precise time and cost estimates. There are even societies that focus on estimating procedures, such as the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (Laudon & Laudon 2005).
Governance and Reporting
During the project implementation, the governance and reporting were effective and supported project implementation and change. Once a deliverable has been designed, a project can be implemented to achieve the design. To implement the project, the company went through the traditional project life cycle: it geared up to launch a project in an initiation phase; then planed the schedule, budget, resource allocations and technical details; and then executed the plan. Even as the project is being executed, the company needed to engage in control efforts to make sure that the project is achieving its baseline goals. Finally, at the end of the project, the company needed to close out operations to make sure the project was brought to a conclusion in an intelligent way (Frame, 2002).
The concatenation of needs → requirements → design → project implementation demonstrates that project success required the company to get each of the pieces right. Too often, project teams focused entirely on implementation. In many cases, they can pay lip service to capturing needs and defining requirements and are also oblivious to the role of design (Frame, 2002). After all, project management is an action-oriented discipline, so managers are eager to roll up our sleeves and get to work. However, if any link in the chain is flawed, the final solution will be defective. This means that project teams must give needs definition, requirements development, and design creation the same degree of attention they give project implementation (Owens & Wilson 1996).
The Scan Systems project manager’s structural “fix” was to make his central role on the project clear to everyone and to insist that consequential communications be routed through him. For example, he told the consultant not to deal independently with anyone in the customer organization. He got the Scan Systems players to agree that they would funnel all change requests coming from the client organization to him.
In turn, he told all the key players at Wonder Toy that any requests they had should be directed to him—and that the other players at Scan Systems were cooperating with him to enforce this rule (Frame, 2002). As a consequence of his proactive stance and structural fix, the project went smoothly. Scanning systems were installed on time and within budget and generated high levels of customer satisfaction (The Grand River Toy Company 2008).
The basic unit of project work was the project team. Unfortunately, project environments were so dynamic that teams operating in this environment did not look like regular teams. On projects, team members were borrowed resources. They came to the project, did their work, and then returned to their functional homes. A key concern of project professionals was how to engage in team building in such an environment (Frame, 2002). Technology was continually changing—new technologies may be viewed as irresistible, and pressure to incorporate them into the deliverable may grow. The business environment experiences change—what was a compelling feature at the outset of the project is now regarded as a white elephant. People simply change their minds— at the outset of the project, the requirements they agreed to were abstractions written on paper, but when they see what they are actually getting, they may ask for additions or deletions (Owens & Wilson 1996).
Methods and procedures were focused on making sure that nothing fell through the cracks. For example, they required that customer walk-through be conducted at periodic intervals. Furthermore, they described the steps that should be taken when conducting the walk-through. These procedures served at least two important functions: they assured customers that they were not being ignored , and they protected the project team from accusations that customer views were not solicited. Methods and procedures also detailed how project staff had to deal with pressures to change requirements (Laudon & Laudon 2005).
The document should spell out how change requests should be submitted, evaluated, and implemented. Only through such procedures can the inevitable problem of shifting baselines be managed. The establishment of effective methods and procedures requires that special attention be given to documentation. Projects were filled with documentation. Common documents included the project charter, the statement of work (SOW), the project contract, preliminary design review (PDR) and critical design review (CDR) documents, monthly progress reports, specifications, performance appraisal documents, punch lists, user manuals, and engineering change proposals. Risks management methodology helped the company to react to possible threats and introduce changes and amendments if it was necessary (Frame, 2002).
The key point here was that change to requirements is inevitable. Given this reality, is the project operating under a regime of well defined change control processes? This information was crucial for future maintenance of the deliverable. It was also important to have in the event of legal disputes between customers and developers, when one party maintains that the other did not meet its contractual obligations (Laudon & Laudon 2005).
Information technology project helped the Grand River Toy Company to improve its internal operations and customer services. Owing to the increased complexity of business problems and the need for speed, enterprises like the Grand River Toy Company began adopting a team-based approach to solving most business problems. The project team would be required to have key members from other areas as well, such as finance, marketing, operations, and information technology. Business solutions would need to accommodate a whole range of issues beyond the narrow technical ones that were the traditional focus of project efforts. Complicating things further is the brutally competitive environment that has arisen with the emergence of globalization and the Internet. This competitive environment has stimulated an obsession with winning the hearts and minds of customers. In today’s business climate, customer satisfaction lies at the heart of most business activity.
- Burkun, S. 2005, The Art of Project Management. O’Reilly Media; 1 ed.
- Frame, J.D. 2002, The New Project Management: Tools for an Age of Rapid Change, Complexity, and Other Business Realities. Jossey-Bass.
- The Grand River Toy Company Home Page. 2008. Web.
- Laudon, K. C. & Laudon, J. P. 2005, Management Information Systems: Managing the Digital Firm, 9th Edition.