Building Better Solution Requirements: Why, Who and How
by Amanda Wilkie, Consultant
It’s a common scenario: a firm embarks on a project to select a new workflow solution. They reach out to three or four solution providers, start scheduling demos, and get sold on all of the bells and whistles. It’s only later on, once the firm rolls out the new software across the firm, that everyone realizes the chosen solution lacks core functionality. Instead of improving efficiency, the new software creates more problems.
This story isn’t unique to workflow management solutions. It can also happen with practice management software, a phone system, tax and audit applications, or any new app or digital product or service. But why? Typically, it’s because the firm didn’t start the project by defining solution requirements.
Why is building solution requirements essential?
Great projects start with great plans. When you begin your selection project with defined and documented requirements, you can ensure your project will meet the firm’s needs.
Rather than starting your selection process by evaluating features during a sales pitch, start by considering what problems you’re trying to solve. Then the firm can clearly communicate those requirements to potential solution providers.
The process of defining and documenting your requirements actually offers several benefits:
Alignment. Firm leaders, IT and the eventual users of the technology can reach a consensus on the problems this new technology needs to solve.
Budgeting and timelines. The process of preparing solution requirements can provide important information that can be used for project budgets and estimated timelines.
Efficiency. Defining your requirements before starting demos ensures you won’t waste time evaluating products that won’t provide the core functionality you’re looking for.
Who should create solution requirements?
Firm leaders tend to consider building a list of solution requirements as the responsibility of IT. The IT leader knows the software on the market and is expected to select one that meets the firm’s needs. However, you’ll find better results if you delegate this task to a cross-functional team. That team needs to include the end-users of the technology. It should also include the IT team that will be supporting it. They can provide important information on technical requirements and how the new technology will integrate with the firm’s existing technology stack.
Often, the process of creating your list of requirements can benefit from input from an outside party. Without that objective voice, one person on your team may love one product – perhaps one they used at another firm – and their enthusiasm can sway decision makers. Bringing in that third party removes that bias and often speeds up the decision-making process.
How can your firm define and document solution requirements?
How you capture and document your technology requirements will depend on your firm’s needs and priorities. In some cases, you may only need to outline the high-level functions, while other projects will benefit from a detailed list of capabilities and characteristics.
In any case, the project will benefit from addressing three areas:
High-level business goals. Why is the firm looking for a new solution? How do firm leaders expect this new technology to benefit the firm and/or its clients? Are there any budgetary or schedule constraints that will impact the final decision?
User requirements. What tasks do users need to be able to perform with the technology?
Functional requirements. What must the technology be able to do? Remember, every tax preparation application will be able to accurately calculate a tax return. Every workflow application will track due dates and tell you where the work is in the process. If it didn’t, the solution provider would be out of business fast. It’s more important to consider how you need the technology to integrate with other applications in the firm.
Once you’ve compiled a list of requirements, prioritize the ones that are most important to the firm. You may not be able to find one off-the-shelf solution that will meet every one of your requirements, so prioritization is important.
Finally, reexamine the capabilities of your current technologies. In some cases, your firm may already have applications that could meet your needs. For example, your existing practice management solution might be able to track due dates and provide visibility into jobs. In that case, using it to its full potential will save resources (in both time and dollars) versus adding another application to your ecosystem.
Once you’ve gone through the process of creating and documenting your solution requirements, you’ll have a tool to help you communicate with solution providers and evalua