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User needs analysis and requirements capture the business context of how data will be used in analytics. More specifically it captures the who, what, why, how, and when of the application. Requirements are an important part of the application development process. Without clear understanding of what the needs are, engineering will not fully understand what they are building and why they are building it.
In addition to engineering, requirements are also used by stakeholders and sponsors to understand and validate what will be built. Requirements are used as a consensus tool to ensure agreement on all aspects of the application, including metric definitions and data hierarchies.
We have extensive experience conducting user needs analysis and capturing detailed business and functional requirements for the purposes of building analytics applications. We can define a requirements capturing model for you or we can fully document requirements end-to-end for use by an engineering team to develop the application.
User Needs Analysis
User needs analysis can be conducted by department, by user role, by geography, by function or by any combination of these things, depending on your environment. For organizations with a large dispersed user base, a good approach is to identify representatives within each group and capture reporting requirements through them.
Requirements Capture Methods
Requirements can be captured via facilitated meetings, surveys, online discussion groups, by shadowing users with their current application, or other methods as applicable. These methods should answer questions about what data needs to be analyzed, how it needs to be analyzed, for what period of time, and in what manner it should be presented and visualized.
Requirements can also be captured through use cases or user scenarios, which describe the actions a user will take and why they take them to complete a task on the application. Use cases form part of the what and how of the application and are used during user testing to validate the application prior to deployment.
Also part of part of requirements are business rules that need to be applied to the source data to transform it into meaningful information that can be consumed by the business for the purposes of gleaning insight and making decisions.
Consensus is Important
A challenge in capturing requirements is reaching consensus on metric definitions and calculations. Every metric must have an agreed upon definition by stakeholder groups. This ensures consistency of reporting across the organization. If the same metric has different definitions by different groups you will not have a consistent view of how the business is performing.
- What business questions are being answered?
- How will completeness of the data be ensured? We recommend a MECE model — mutually exclusive, collective exhaustive, to ensure rows are data are not assigned to multiple hierarchies and that aggregation includes all the data within a grouping.
- What are the security requirements? Will the data be accessed outside the organization?
- What are the user roles of users accessing the system and where are they located? Local, regional, domestic, international? (e.g. power user, casual user, analyst, sales person, etc)
- Does the output become input into another system? Are there integration requirements with portals?
- Any monitoring or alerting requirements? What about email and mobile requirements?
- What role does machine learning or artificial intelligence play, if any?
- Will the data be a source of revenue or be sold externally?
- Will the data be shared with outside customers (if allowed)? Are you telling stories with the data?
User needs analysis is an ongoing process. As your organization refines its goals, changes its business, or as new source data is created, new requirements should be spec-ed in order to update, enhance, or create a new system.
We recommend a thorough user analysis and requirements phase of your application development process. Shortcuts in understanding user needs for the purposes of development expediency produces short term results. A system built without thorough user needs analysis will outlive its purpose sooner and not later and not deliver at scale.