Defining Your Project’s Business Need

The first essential task found in the Enterprise Analysis knowledge area of the BABOK® Guide is identifying the business need.  The business need “defines the problem that the business analyst is trying to find a solution for.” Remember, not every project gets started because an organization is having a problem.  Organizations often consider adding new or changing existing capabilities based on new market opportunities, customer feedback, newly available technologies or to meet changing legal and regulatory requirements. After the business need is defined and agreed-upon for a project, it is usually not expected to change significantly through the resulting project’s life cycle.

In order to define and fully understand your project’s business need, you need to look at the business drivers and issues to determine if a change or a project is even needed.  Project manager or business analyst or both, you are now the master investigator, questioning the business need and any assumptions to make sure that the underlying problem or opportunity is being properly addressed.

After all, defining the business need for a possible project starts key stakeholders down the path of fully understanding a business problem or opportunity. Organizations need to stay targeted on the business needs versus reacting too quickly to problems, issues or perceived inefficiencies. The business need sets the stage for what comes next in the early part of a project, such as the range of solution options to consider, the set of stakeholders to involve and appropriate solution approaches to evaluate.

According to the BABOK® Guide, there are three essential steps in defining the business need for a potential project.  Here they are, one at a time.

1. Make sure your business need aligns to the business goals and objectives of your organization.  Early in a project or before a project even begins, you may be asked to analyze the organization’s business goals and objectives as part of defining a particular business need. This strategic information is usually located in the organization’s strategic plan, starting with the organization’s mission, vision and values.

Business goals are strategic statements describing changes that the organization seeks to establish or current conditions that the organization wants to maintain. A single business goal may be sub-divided into one or more focus areas, such as customer satisfaction, operational excellence or business growth. These business goals must be decomposed into a set of more quantitative business objectives.  Business objectives state the predetermined results towards which effort is directed, such as a strategic position to be attained or a purpose to be achieved.

2. Be sure that you clearly state the business problem or opportunity facing your organization. You and your team must investigate the business problem or opportunity to ensure that there is a good reason to move forward and address that particular problem or opportunity.  Remember, your project is a way to improve the business and add value (or at least it should be).  Be sure to take a close look at the benefits and risks of doing something.  Don’t forget to look at the “Do Nothing” option as an alternative approach and be sure that you accurately identify the underlying cause of the problem or opportunity.

3. Produce a well-written description of the desired outcome that results from addressing the business need.  It can be challenging to describe the desired outcome of a proposed project.  This is the business benefits that will result from meeting the business need.  Do not confuse the desired outcome with a solution; they are not the same thing.  However, solution options will be evaluated relative to the desired outcome to make sure they can deliver the business benefits that are expected.

Remember, your business need describes the problem or opportunity that an organization is facing.  This problem or opportunity exists within the framework of that organization’s business goals and objectives.  The business need and the desired outcome from addressing that need guide the identification, definition, and selection of possible solutions and solution approaches for that situation.  The business need is the first building block that you need to define the business requirements for your project.

The business need is not typically a stand-alone deliverable or document. Instead, the business need is a very high-level business requirement that should be included in the business requirements document or business case for your proposed project.

Happy business need investigations!

Susan Weese

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