The importance of "Understanding the Business" in defining a Solution
Posted by Doug Walters on 2nd May 2014
A while ago, while working in the health service, I was asked to step in to a piece of work as "cover" for a colleague who had fallen ill and was likely to be absent for at least a month. While I found this very challenging and the outcome was less than satisfactory, I experienced a practical vindication of one of my long-held beliefs that the technologist also needs to understand the problem domain from a real-life perspective to be able to deliver a solution that really works
The work related to a business area of which I had no previous knowledge - completely divorced from anything I had done previously or even experienced in my personal life, so that I felt very exposed during the assignment.

This was exacerbated by the fact that they were working in a "waterfall" approach, where business users sit in workshops with business analysts and agree requirements that are passed down to IT for interpretation into technology solutions.

I duly received the aforementioned requirements, in the form of process descriptions, de-composed into task descriptions. I was asked to identify the technology solutions necessary to satisfy these requirements. I objected - while I could very easily identify the theoretical answers to the business requirements (indeed, privately I had scribbled down an inventory of "solutions" and candidate technologies) I had no idea of the constraints and drivers which affected the solution in situ.

Finally, I was allowed to spend a day actually experiencing the environment - a "day-day-in-the-life-of" experience which really opened my eyes, and made me realise that most of what I had envisaged would not work. This was not so much from a technology perspective (although there were some physical challenges there that I hadn't imagined and which would have drastically increased the costs to overcome) but from a business perspective.

In one sense, I felt very dispirited - technology solutions were not the answer to all the ills (pardon the pun) of the current business, so to some extent I felt a failure. On the other hand, I felt vindicated - I have always insisted that the successful application of technology to a business problem requires someone who understands both the business AND the technology rather than two sets of specialists who communicate via sets of documentation and question-and-answer dialogue.

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