Systems Analysis

By Chmielewski, Chris | Mortgage Banking, February 1998 | Go to article overview

Systems Analysis


Chmielewski, Chris, Mortgage Banking


In our previous articles on the systems development life cycle, we have covered identifying strategic alternatives, business justification, priority setting and project management principles. At this point, we can assume that an I/T project has been approved and prioritized and the project team (I/T and the business) has been selected. The team has agreed on how to proceed.

Now comes the difficult task of analysis. Many users are disappointed that a software application or hardware implementation can get all the way to testing and still be missing certain functions. This is a failure of analysis: and it is all too common. This situation has one of three causes:

* The business users simply did not understand what they needed, most particularly all the "what if."

* The business users understood their needs but were unable to articulate them.

* I/T was not able to understand the articulated needs.

A number of techniques are available to overcome these problems.

Joint application development (JAD). The purpose of JAD is to define the problem and solution from a business, not a systems, perspective. The business solution should be the driver of the system solution (i.e., platforms, architecture, software and so on). JAD sessions are often used when it is necessary to get the corporate/executive vision and requirements quickly. JAD sessions, depending on the size of the project, can last from one to three days and are generally held off-site in an effort to minimize distractions.

It is very important that the JAD session be facilitated by an experienced, disinterested third party, as the success of the JAD session depends on effective leadership, attendee participation and agreement level. Different JAD sessions can include upper management, subject matter/business experts and I/T experts. The outcome of the JAD session should be documented, agreed upon and committed to.

Typically, the initial JAD session(s) will seek to verify the initial business objectives, scope, benefits and risks. It is important to put all issues relating to these matters on the table. It is incredibly easy for the project team to be blind-sided late in the development cycle by issues that people knew about at the beginning but were reluctant to discuss. Again, the facilitator draws upon experience with prior projects to identify potential issues.

The next JAD session(s) identifies specific deliverables. This should be a comprehensive list, starting with broad functions stated in business terms and including such things as interfaces to other systems and reports or other output. These requirements should be rank ordered, so that the most critical needs are clearly differentiated. The measures of success for each deliverable need to be identified. In other words: How will we know when we are done? And how will we know if the project is a success.

The final JAD session(s) defines the project schedule, broken down into activities and tasks and assigning responsibility for those tasks. This is mapped against a calendar and then usually optimized for maximum parallel efforts, with key checkpoints defined and reviews scheduled. Any unresolved issues or concerns (especially resource levels) are documented as well and brought to the sponsor for resolution. The decisions made at all the JAD sessions become a project agreement, signed off on by each JAD participant. This then becomes a joint project of all parties.

Rapid application development (RAD). Another approach to building automated solutions quickly is rapid application development. This method uses JAD to gather business requirements and uses high-level generation programming languages to reduce the time needed for system construction. …

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