IT Solution - Hidden Ordinary Significance

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One of the worst things that can happen when delivering a new system is that you find there is a core business function of the legacy system that is missing in the new system.  Moreover, retrofitting this core function requires fundamental change to the new system. This obviously would mean one of two things, assuming the missing function is essential to the business:  1) the users will set for a delay in the delivery of the new system; and 2) the users will reject the new system finding other ways to deal with the new functions they desire.

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Fortunately, I have not seen that happen too many times. Yet, to see it once is enough to leave a mark. Significance of missing functions may vary and so may the reaction by their user community.  All have the same result, placing high risk in the deployment of new business capabilities and causing additional unplanned expenses.

There are a few root-causes that would drive us to miss required functions.  One of the least obvious causes is the ordinary function.  In our lives, there are things that we take for granted.  They become so entrenched in our day that we do not pay attention to their existence anymore.  The most natural one is our body parts.  Who thinks daily, weekly, or annually on the importance of their left toe?  In fact, who really understands the significance of it?   It takes one to lose their toe, or even the control of it, to understand how important it is for our balance.  Such is the case with ordinary functions.  When gathering requirements, experienced users with the existing system may unintentionally omit a description of a function rooted so deeply in their action that it becomes obvious that any new system would provide it by default.  So, from these users’ perspectives, there is no need to describe such a function.

What I learned is that there is one way to prevent this from happening:  when researching an existing system to be replaced, do not leave any stone unturned.  Details, details, and more details; everything small as they may seem, may have significant functions that have become hidden by being so common and ordinary.

How to find those hidden common functions?  If we are looking at backend processing, I start with a sequence diagram of the processes.  “What?” and “how?” questions continue until atomic actions are defined.  Each function that participates in a scenario needs to be mapped.  They can be classified with two metrics:  1) how often transactions use the function; and 2) how critical the function is to making business.  If there is high ranking in either or both of these metrics, then the function becomes a candidate for being essential to the system.  If for any reason, such function is removed from the design, a better alternative should be considered.

What is your take on the subject?

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