Analysis and design (A&D) is often the first phase kicking off a technology project. It’s the time when the consultant meets with the customer organization to learn about the goals and expectations for the project. Consultants often call this “requirement gathering.” However, while A&D is there to help them deduce the requirements used to build the solution, it’s also about alignment — making sure everyone in your organization agrees on where they want to go.
Through my years of implementation and consulting experience, I’ve noticed common mistakes consultants make during A&D — the kinds of mistakes that can break down alignment and leave everyone dissatisfied with the end solution. I’ve also picked up on some really great strategies consultants should use to avoid those mistakes. Let’s go over each.
1. Not having the right people in the room: When entering A&D, a company will often delegate one person to be the voice of a department — a sponsor. For example, the sales ops lead may be nominated to represent the sales department during A&D. The problem, though, is that if you only have that one person to discuss sales alignment, that one sponsor may not be able to accurately explain what a day in the life of a sales rep is like. Bringing in people who can’t speak to the day-to-day experiences of the business sets you up for future rework during the user acceptance testing phase when actual users get their hands on the system.
2. Not understanding the business outcomes: It’s typical for customers and consultants to rush into A&D solely focused on requirement gathering. While it's certainly necessary, only working on requirements means you’re not considering the business outcomes. Business outcomes are critical to ultimate alignment and should be defined from the start.
3. Treating A&D as law: One of the biggest mistakes with A&D happens at the very end of A&D: Stakeholders walk away thinking the decisions made in A&D are irrefutable law. But when the build phase gets going, the stakeholders are either perfectly pleased with demos or shocked beyond repair. As the solution starts to shape up and become more real, it’s important to allow for flexibility and change. You should create an open-ended review of the design with your consultant during A&D and may need to update the timeline and costs. While A&D will help you prepare the best plan possible with all the endpoints you can know at that stage, you can't know some things that will come up during the solution build until they’re right in front of both consultant and customer. When a customer walks out of A&D with unchangeable expectations, it makes adjusting for changes trickier.
How Your Consultants Should Avoid Those Mistakes
1. Your consultant should halt A&D until the right people are in the room. Experienced consultants should notice when they don’t have access to the right people. They should put A&D on hold until those people have been identified and brought to the table. These consultants are looking for the right people to define the requirements because otherwise, the A&D stage works with bad requirements — and ultimately bad design.
You really want a consultant who asks questions about the business versus the system. For example, what has the executive team made their top priority for the year and the next five years? What blockers are keeping the business from growing? The easiest way for you and your consultants to start finding the “right” people is to ask questions like “who is going to use this every day?” or “who is responsible for the business outcome of this solution?”
2. Your consultant should provide not just requirements, but also a strategy to align requirements with outcomes. A&D and good strategy engagement should allow your consultant to solve problems and identify desired outcomes. If you involve your executives with strategy visioning and you can confidently, unanimously say “our most important thing is to increase x or minimize y,” you’re doing it right. This helps consultants prioritize testing, budget and timelines during the coming build phase. Because of these benefits, a good consultant shouldn't gloss over business outcomes.
To evaluate these capabilities, listen to how they sell. Be wary of the consultant that wants to rush the sales cycle and only talk about specific requirements. You really want a consultant that is okay with a sales cycle that last a few months. In some cases, that’s how long it takes to get every executive and business owner aligned. Look at the people they put on the deal team. Are they all technical resources? That's probably not best: You typically want someone who knows your functional area or someone who knows your industry that can talk about how others have solved similar problems.
3. Your consultant should use an iterative build phase. This means the ideal consultant is the one who is consistently asking for feedback along the way. They know the earlier they find problems, the less it will cost everyone. Consultants should constantly be iterating, asking for feedback and validating against those original requirements and outcomes they identified during A&D. A&D yields great results, but it can’t be treated as unchangeable, or else it’ll keep consultants from doing what you hired them to do: consult. Every project should have some contingency built into it, and every customer should be prepared to make difficult decisions when variables change — and both customer and consultant should anticipate some roadblocks and detours. And be ready for your consultant to push back sometimes. They’re just trying to deliver on those business outcomes.
Ultimately, picking the right consultant who knows how to avoid the common trip-ups is only half the battle. It’s important for any organization to remember its role in all this. Internal alignment isn’t magically created through A&D requirement gathering. But A&D can help encourage the tough conversations that need to happen within your organization to create internal alignment. And once a company truly understands what it’s trying to accomplish, it can drive A&D (and the rest of the project) to success.