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Stalking the Elusive Requirements Definition!

by Carol Rozwell  |  January 2, 2013  |  2 Comments

I’ve been lucky to have had some very interesting jobs during the course of my career. One stint as an applications auditor gave me lots of insight that applies directly in my current role as an analyst. In short, my teammates and I interviewed application developers and the customers for whom they had developed the applications. We used the results of our audits to identify deficiencies, areas for improvement and sometimes even best practices. We tried to fix the problems through education and awareness. We put a system in place so best practices could be shared across the organization.

One of the most frequently encountered problems was the lack of a well-documented requirement definition. The result was an application that might have worked, but which did not meet the customer need. Pretty product but not very useful.

I was reminded of this job and what I had learned following a recent meeting. I met with a consulting firm that needed some help identifying why their collaboration initiatives had gone awry. They started off well – lots of participation and activity – but then lost steam. The goal was to diagnose what went wrong so they could relaunch with an approach that predicted more success.

Based on what I’ve learned from failed social software deployments, I’ve become a firm believer in the need to define a compelling and meaningful what’s in it for me (WIIFM). The trick is to define the WIIFM from the perspective of the target audiences. Notice I said audiences. Plural. That means that for most social or collaboration initiatives there will be many constituencies that must be served and they will likely not all have the same needs. My urgent and compelling need as an analyst will not be the same urgent and compelling need as my sales colleagues, even though we both work for the same company.

Getting to the WIIFM is not easy though. Most workers struggle to define what will help them get their work done better, faster, more easily. Subtler techniques such as storytelling, contextual inquiry and social network analysis help tease out needs better than formal interviews or data flow analysis.


So why did I recount this story? When I pressed the team tasked with rolling out the collaboration solution about the uses case examples and the compelling WIIFMs they’d collected, they told me their top three requirements were:

  1. Ability for consultants around the world to find each other quickly
  2. Social profiles
  3. Search

They get points for having asked the questions but not for having uncovered three urgent and compelling WIIFMs that would make people change how they do their work. The first item is a requirement that could be explored more fully but the second two are technology capabilities, not requirements. The essential fact about social and collaborative applications is that they are opt-in. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to use it. That’s why it’s so essential to identify the WIIFM.

So if you are tasked with implementing a social solution, make sure you really know what will motivate your target constituencies to use it. And make sure it “plays nice” will the other applications they must use to get their work done.

My best to you as we ease our way into 2013. Keep stalking those elusive requirements!

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Category: change-management  collaboration  community  knowledge-management  social-media  social-networks  social-software  

Tags: change-management  collaboration  collaboration-dynamics  knowledge-management  organizational-change  organizational-liquidity  social-analytics  social-networking  social-networks  social-software  storytelling  

Carol Rozwell
VP Distinguished Analyst
11 years at Gartner
21 years IT industry

Carol Rozwell is a vice president and distinguished analyst on Gartner's Digital Workplace team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Stalking the Elusive Requirements Definition!

  1. Hi Carol,

    Interesting thoughts. So they really wanted to jump ahead and find solutions and skipped the root cause analysis. However, in some cases it’s quite impossible for the users them selves to come up with the solution they would use, because they don’t know they know of their need yet. The iPod is of course a great example of that. Non incremental leaps in technology apparently can’t be made on user feedback alone, it seems like those companies takes leaps of faith more than anything else.

    How would you combine that with a requirements definition?


  2. Glynys Thomas says:

    Thank you for this insight. WIIFM critically important, not only for social solutions but, at least in professional services arena, for ordinary data/document-collection KM implementations. WIIFM can differ per practice area within a company even when the overarching WIIFM for the function has been established. It may also change over time so should be re-considered at intervals. If KM is new to the company, WIIFM can be supplied by existing procedures already in practice that were filling the KM gap prior to implementation.

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