The following is the second blog in a series of technology alerts that will be shared with the NADTC mailing list. Make sure you check out the first blog post, “How Do I Get Started with Technology” and subscribe now to receive these posts in your inbox!
With all of the news lately about technology – technology to make it easier for older adults and people with disabilities to travel, self-driving cars and smartphone apps to tell you when the next bus is coming – you may be wondering how to approach a technology project.
To ensure success in technology planning and implementation, it is critical to use a process that identifies user needs, defines what the technology should do to satisfy user needs and follows a rigorous testing process is critical to successful technology planning implementation.
Following four basic steps will ensure a successful technology project:
Step 1. Know what the users want and need and how the system must perform. This step can be called “Requirements Analysis and Baselining.
Step 2. Determine desired functionality of the system to meet users’ needs. This step is often called “Functional Analysis and Decomposition.
Step 3. Study various system options and determine a preferred solution. This step can be called “Alternatives Analysis.”
Step 4. Verify the preferred solution. This step is often called “System Validation and Verification.”
Why do we use this structured approach? There are several reasons:
- Stakeholders or users want and need to define what the system should do (not how it should do it) and manage these “system requirements.”
- It is important to identify and minimize risk. This is very often ignored in technology projects!
- The components of the technology system have to be integrated both from a physical and organizational perspective.
- Systems can be complex, so using a process like this helps you manage the complexity.
- This type of process enhances communication and system understanding among project team members.
- It is important to verify that the system meets users’ needs.
So, who are the “users?” System users include customers of your service, internal staff and any people outside of your organization who might use the system (e.g., client managers, doctor’s office staff, caregivers).
Let’s focus on a few of the critical elements of the four steps. Do you remember the three-box diagram from the last blog? It is shown below.
Here are the concepts to keep in mind as you navigate through this structured process:
Use a combined top-down/bottom-up approach (note how the arrows point both down and up in the figure to the left);
Focus on stakeholders’/users’ needs, NOT technology; and
Scale your process to the size and complexity of the project.
What are “needs?” Needs can be one or more of the following: problem to be solved, process to be improved, new capability. It is critical that the system users are the ones who define the needs (Step 1 above). Anyone could identify needs, but the users can best articulate what they feel is necessary for the system to function in order to best utilize the system. For example, users may describe needs that reflect how they envision interacting with the system.
Next, these needs are used to determine the system requirements – in other words, what the system must do or deliver (Step 2 above). Once system requirements are developed, the project team needs to keep track of each requirement as the system is actually developed, tested and deployed. This is called “traceability.” Traceability is necessary because we need to be able to confirm that all requirements are derived directly from user needs; and requirements may change over the life of the project, so we need a way of documenting any changes, the reasons for any change and the status of each requirement throughout the testing process.
At this stage, you will determine the technology alternatives that can be used to meet the system requirements (Step 3). Once you have identified the alternatives, you will evaluate and select the alternative that best meets the requirements. You can use a variety of factors to perform the alternatives analysis including cost, ease of use (although this can be very subjective) and maturity of the technology.
Now, the system will be built consisting of the functions identified in Step 2 (so that it meets the users’ needs) using the technology alternative defined in Step 3.
Most likely, the system will be developed by a vendor. This means that you will need to procure a vendor’s services. The key elements of such a procurement and resulting vendor contract are:
- providing potential vendors with the system requirements;
- ensuring that vendors can meet those requirements; and
- defining a process that the vendor must use throughout the project to make sure that they are delivering a system that meets the users’ needs, that the project is on-time and that the project is within budget.
There are multiple components of such a project implementation process, including:
- maintaining a system requirements matrix that notes the status of each requirement throughout the project (for traceability, as described above);
- conducting bi-weekly conference calls or meetings with the vendor to discuss project status and action items;
- and defining and executing iterative testing to ensure that the system components work as they were intended, that all the components work together as a system and that, in the end, all requirements are met and can be accepted by your organization.
Okay… so what are the benefits of using this structured approach? It reduces the time required to move from concept to deployed systems; ensures that that system meets users’ needs; and reduces the cost of deploying systems. Further, it ensures that the number of “change orders” that result from a vendor needing to do more work than was expected is minimized. Finally, it reduces the risks associated with system development; improves system quality, reliability and performance; improve communications among team members and the vendor during design and development; and improves the ability to sustain and upgrade systems in the future.
So now that we understand the basic steps associated with a successful technology deployment, how do you get funding for your technology project? Stay tuned – that is the subject of the next blog!
About the Author:
Carol Schweiger, President of Schweiger Consulting, has over 36 years of experience, and is nationally and internationally recognized in transportation technology consulting. Her wide-ranging and in-depth expertise is in several specialty areas including systems engineering, technology strategies for public agencies, public transit technology, and traveler information strategies and systems. Ms. Schweiger has provided nearly 50 transportation agencies with technology technical assistance, including developing and applying structured processes to procure and implement technology systems; providing detailed procurement and implementation assistance; evaluating technology deployments; conducting research and delivering training.