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Ways to Complicate Use Case Analysis

I sat through a great use case analysis session recently.

"Great" because I saw lots of ways to derail a simple process. Eventually, we did identify a couple of actors and a couple of use cases. But it took hours and hours.

Bonus: this was the third go-round on these exact use cases.

Requirements Gathering

The first go-round of requirements gathering was a conference call. We produced some nice notes. Very good stuff.

The various whiteboarding tools available with Skype work pretty well. We could sketch stuff, and collect notes, and digest the conversation down to a tidy document.

The actual work went pretty well. Stuff got built. The principal users need -- of course -- to review the preliminary stuff. There's a first sprint to build stuff, followed by some chance to comment, followed by a second sprint to finalize.

Focus was lost two ways. One, the technical folks were derailed by other, more important projects. Customer pilots, reinstallation on a new host, and an unrelated project threw down trump cards. Second -- and more important -- the principal users simply could not find time or interest to review the preliminary stuff.
Trying Again

For no sensible reason, we had a second go-round of requirements gathering. The core problem is that the users simply won't take the time to try something out on their own. They're sales folks, without an actual customer in the room, they seem incapable of doing anything. This kind of world view takes some getting used to.

Instead of previewing what was available, they insisted on more requirements gathering. What we got was a random document that purported to describe what the actors might do. It was intended to repeat the initial phone call with more focus. Instead it had lots of "We'll need to talk about this" parenthetical comments.

In short, it was impossible for them to even set down a coherent idea on paper. All they could do was talk about it. There was no alternative to a conversation.

Round Three

In order to make some progress, our Adobe FLEX developers were brought in to create something a little snappier than the simplistic HTML interface we had been working on. We redid the entire requirements gathering for them.

The principle users -- sales folks -- did not want any of the previous requirements gathering results brought in. We had to have a "conversation", repeating the entire previous effort from the ground up.

And -- of course -- all of the previous dead-ends, bad ideas, logical impossibilities and business impossibilities had to be repeated yet again. Data that's never been available was still spoken of as "required". The conversation on why the data cannot possibly exist had to be rehashed.


What's derailing the process is simple. The sales folks cannot work independently. Each interaction must be a hands-on, guided tour of the software in which the sales folks say random things that must be ignored.

At some point in the future, there's a remote possibility that someone will login on their own and actually run the demo that's been in place for months.

As developers, we have been remiss in not catering to their learning style. They cannot think without talking, and they cannot take action unless they're influencing someone. Asking them to test the demo site is unproductive because they simply wont. Asking them for "comments" can be troublesome because they're job is influence, not simply provide a simplified "ok/not ok" feedback on specific features of the implementation of their use case.

Broad Not Deep

Additionally, we have folks that keep trying to define the requirements in broad, sweeping terms. They're uncomfortable with an end-to-end use case. At each step in the interaction they want to define all the possible future courses of events and interactions and consequences of each alternative course.

Folks with the big-picture view have a hard time writing a use case that describes a task from beginning to the end. Even basic concepts like "Creating Business Value" can be elusive since the possibilities are limitless.

As developers, we were successful at focusing down on a complete use case. With some effort we got from the user's initial interaction to the final bit of business value.
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