The contributions of functional analysis

We’ve compiled detailed project studies starting on the basis of an incomplete expression of user needs, including a significant proportion of false needs, and omitting certain real needs.

The gap with the real needs is amplified by an interpretation of the project management, obliged to generate by renewal of the existing or arbitrarily the share of the unexpressed needs.

On 11 projects, we had the opportunity to conduct a value-based management study on projects already in the detailed study phase, therefore having at the start of pre-projects describing the needs and quantified solutions that had been validated.

Although on this type of intervention, it is easy to take stock of the overall contribution of the methodology, but difficult to affect the results between the functional analysis and the following phases of research and analysis of the value of solutions. , we can draw the following results:

2 specific projects showed an underestimation of user needs by a factor of two, due to insufficient user investment in specifications, and a lack of prospective dimension: too great a preeminence of project management in the development of functional specifications led to replacing at great expense an obsolete system by a system of too similar performance.

The 9 other projects had, among the needs expressed, a percentage of “false needs” of:

  • 25% for 1 project, in the order of magnitude of what the methodology highlights in other application sectors.
  • 50% to 65% for 4 projects, inflated, on the basis of correctly assessed needs.
  • 65% to 90% for 4 projects: in these cases the needs were expressed in the form of a preconceived solution that was very out of step with the real needs. The functional analysis led to adopting conceptually different solutions.

It is interesting to underline that the false needs, if they generate additional costs proportional to their rate, do not however bring a better satisfaction of the users: on the contrary, factors of increase of the complexity of the systems, they induce dissatisfaction. 

Managing IT projects

The methods of conducting IT projects involve heavy and very structured processes. Often personalized by companies, they generally draw their framework from the “MERISE” method.

They generally begin, after an opportunity study, with a phase called “expression of user needs”.

Our experience feedback over ten years shows that the needs expressed by users often turn out to be significantly different from their real needs.

We analyze the main causes of this lag:

Factors of incompleteness and distortion of expressed needs

The process of expressing needs, carried out without a particular methodology and too quickly, the users not agreeing to devote the time they deserve to it, is already generating gaps:

Expression limited to dissatisfaction with the existing

Projects initiated on virgin land represent only a tiny minority. The vast majority are aimed at overhauling or extending existing systems. In an expression of needs, users generally content themselves with citing everything that dissatisfies them with the current system: dissatisfaction with an aging system generally concerns 10 to 20% of the services provided.

For the remaining 80 to 90%, the formulation of the request is limited to “a continuation of the services provided by the existing system”. For lack of anything better, the project managers generate specifications from an analysis of this existing: the result is solutions that meet … the needs of users 10 years ago .

The unstructured expression

The IT project development methods do not have any tools to frame the expression of needs. The result is a heterogeneous list, combining on the same level strategic objectives and operational points of detail.

Expression in terms of solutions

The popularization of IT means that every user prides himself on having a good knowledge of it, and leads him, perhaps even more than in other fields, to express the needs not in terms of services to be rendered, but solutions.

The successions of interpretations

The contracting authorities or assistants to the contracting authority, relatively recent trades in this sector of activity, and in full expansion, have the role of facilitating the relationship between users and contracting authority, and to control the services. project management in terms of costs, deadlines and quality. But many of them, often former users themselves, invest in the mission of representing users, and replacing them to express their needs.

Experience shows that a former user, from 6 months away from everyday reality, already has a distorted view.

Analysis of the value of information systems Results obtained

Taking into account the real needs of users

A very structured methodical analysis, in view of the costs, issues and performance objectives, allows the transition from expressed needs to real needs, together with quantified performance objectives. The approach devotes at least as much energy to the analysis of needs as to the search for solutions.

A guaranteed consensus between project management, project management and users

All (including the different categories of users) participate in a group in the design process under the guidance of a facilitator: they understand the constraints of the other professions involved, and must adhere to the solutions developed together.

Decision support for steering committees

The method generates a dashboard structured according to the services provided by the system: elements of solutions, expected performance, investments, recurring costs, gains that can actually be mobilized, etc. are assessed for each of the services provided by the system.

Much less costly solutions … while satisfying users better

The solutions resulting from the method are simpler, creative, targeted on real needs, and avoid the a priori of both users and contractors. 

The graph below gives the cost reductions that we generated on 9 specific projects, for which we had the reference of a pre-project, carried out before the value analysis:

The cost reductions brought about by the value analysis on 9 information systems projects: greater than 50% in 7 cases, greater than 80% in 3 cases.

Value is not a performance / cost ratio, and it is not by degrading performance that you reduce costs. Solutions that are too complex (commonly referred to as “gas factories”) are both costly and unsatisfactory for users, due to their very complexity.