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Developing Requirements for Enhancement and Replacement Projects

Encouraging new system adoption

You’re bound to run into resistance when changing or replacing an existing system. People are naturally reluctant to change. Introducing a new feature that will make users’ jobs easier is a good thing. But users are accustomed to how the system works today, and you plan to modify that, which is not so good from the user’s point of view. The issue is even bigger when you’re replacing a system, because now you’re changing more than just a bit of functionality. You’re potentially changing the entire application’s look and feel, its menus, the operating environment, and possibly the user’s whole job. If you’re a business analyst, project manager, or project sponsor, you have to anticipate the resistance and plan how you will overcome it, so the users will accept the new features or system.

An existing, established system is probably stable, fully integrated with surrounding systems, and well understood by users. A new system with all the same functionality might be none of these upon its initial release. Users might fear that the new system will disrupt their normal operations while they learn how to use it. Even worse, it might not support their current operations. Users might even be afraid of losing their jobs if the system automates tasks they perform manually today. It’s not uncommon to hear users say that they will accept the new system only if it does everything the old system does—even if they don’t personally use all of that functionality at present.

To mitigate the risk of user resistance, you first need to understand the business objectives and the user requirements. If either of these misses the mark, you will lose the users’ trust quickly. During elicitation, focus on the benefits the new system or each feature will provide to the users. Help them understand the value of the proposed change to the organization as a whole. Keep in mind—even with enhancements—that just because something is new doesn’t mean it will make the user’s job easier. A poorly designed user interface can even make the system harder to use because the old features are harder to find, lost amidst a clutter of new options, or more cumbersome to access.

Our organization recently upgraded our document-repository tool to a new version to give us access to additional features and a more stable operating environment. During beta testing, I discovered that simple, common tasks such as checking out and downloading a file are now harder. In the previous version, you could check out a file in two clicks, but now it takes three or four, depending on the navigation path you choose. If our executive stakeholders thought these user interface changes were a big risk to user acceptance, they could invest in developing custom functionality to mimic the old system. Showing prototypes to users can help them get used to the new system or new features and reveal likely adoption issues early in the project.

One caveat with system replacements is that the key performance indicators for certain groups might be negatively affected, even if the system replacement provides a benefit for the organization as a whole. Let users know as soon as possible about features they might be losing or quality attributes that might degrade, so they can start to prepare for it. System adoption can involve as much emotion as logic, so expectation management is critical to lay the foundation for a successful rollout.

When you are migrating from an existing system, transition requirements are also important. Transition requirements describe the capabilities that the whole solution—not just the software application—must have to enable moving from the existing system to the new system ([ref115]). They can encompass data conversions, user training, organizational and business process changes, and the need to run both old and new systems in parallel for a period of time. Think about everything that will be required for stakeholders to comfortably and efficiently transition to the new way of working. Understanding transition requirements is part of assessing readiness and managing organizational change ([ref115]).