Copyright 2002, 2003 Nikolas S. Boyd. Permission is granted to copy this document provided this copyright statement is retained in all copies.
Business activity planning usually involves establishing a set of objectives and priorities, as well as the criteria used to measure progress against those objectives and to determine ultimate success in achieving them. When tasked with formulating business objectives, it is often useful to examine common value themes shared by businesses. Also, business value can often be expressed in terms of specific improvements in product, service, and process qualities based on measurable changes in the levels of these qualities.
A process for discovering, detailing and aligning information system objectives with business objectives will be outlined in the following paper. The value of describing qualities concretely is briefly considered, and then some qualities that many businesses value are inventoried. The inventoried qualities are expressed as both abstractions and as specific instantiated ends. First, let's consider a concrete example that links and aligns some information system objectives with some business objectives.
Business activities are most valuable when they are aligned with specific and clearly formulated objectives. Each business needs to have mission and vision statements that focus on the ends the business intends to effect in the world. To effect these ends, each business has processes, especially processes that operate on information (and so need information systems). Business information systems are products (with qualities) that provide services (which also have qualities). Information services support and improve business operations by streamlining business processes (which have qualities). So, each business needs to determine its business process and improvement objectives. Based on these processing and improvement objectives, a business needs to specify the product and service qualities required of its information systems. Ideally, the software product and service qualities will be aligned with and supportive of the business objectives expressed in its mission and vision statements, but how can this alignment be achieved? Businesses need a repeatable process for clearly defining their objectives (as ends) and the means for achieving those objectives (especially by using information systems).
Suppose a business wants to improve customer loyalty. The business needs to define what customer loyalty constitutes in measurable terms. How many repeated transactions must a customer conduct before they are considered a loyal customer? How frequently must a customer conduct transactions in order to remain a loyal customer? The business then needs to instrument its operations to capture the number of transactions conducted by each customer. The business needs to establish goals for loyal customer conversion, maintenance, and growth. How many customers must become loyal customers each month to achieve the conversion goal? How many loyal customers must be retained each month to achieve the maintenance goal? How much growth in loyal customers (on average) must occur each month?
Quality Metric Basis Objective Loyal Customer Conversion Transactions 10 purchases Convert 100 new customers / month Loyal Customer Maintenance Frequency 10 purchases / month Retain 80% of existing loyal customers Loyal Customer Growth Rate Add 100 loyal customers / month (average)
For the purpose of this example, customer loyalty can be determined based on customer transaction volume and frequency. So, the business needs to instrument its operations to consistently identify each customer and record the date and time of each customer transaction along with a unique customer identifier. Information systems are generally good at keeping track of time, but businesses have limited strategic options for customer identification. A business can issue each customer a unique identification token (e.g., a barcoded membership token), but may not want to require its presentation to enable the conduct of all transactions. Alternatively, a business can collect identifying information from a customer during each transaction, but this imposes a disclosure burden on customers and raises questions regarding privacy and how much identifying information is required to uniquely identify each customer.
In either case, the business needs an information system that addresses customer identification as one of its key services. In turn, this raises questions regarding the quality of the services provided by the customer identification system (affordability, availability, efficiency, etc.) and the qualities of the system as a product (compatibility, compliance, simplicity, etc.).
Which of these qualities are important enough to quantify and monitor? What are the quality metrics to be used and how will measurements be collected and reported? How will the information system be instrumented to support the collection of these measurements? What are the business' objectives with respect to these service and product qualities? What are the consequences of failing to achieve the intended objectives?
As can be seen from the foregoing example, quality considerations and the formulation of quality objectives involve a repeatable process, with similarities on two levels: business quality concerns and information systems quality issues. The process can be rather involved, but the end results provide enormous business value. Information systems development and maintenance activities can be linked to and aligned with business objectives. The process can be summarized as follows:
The first three steps of this process may be too ambitious for many organizations. It may be necessary to simply pick a single quality concern and work through the remaining process steps. When the process has been applied successfully and its value verified, apply it again. Repeat as needed until all the most important quality concerns have been addressed, or until the organization has developed an appetite for a more comprehensive approach.
Proper framing of quality concerns has a dramatic impact on their evaluation. Abstractions expressed as nouns often hide more concrete concepts that are better expressed as adjectives. Quality concerns can be expressed as abstractions using nouns, or they can be instantiated and made concrete using descriptive adjectives. This subtle linguistic shift can have a dramatic impact on the consideration and formulation of quality objectives. However, the value of shifting quality expressions in this way may not be obvious or may be easily overlooked.
Considerations and discussions regarding quality are often abstract. Many business mission and vision statements are typical in this regard. Some common mission themes include loyalty, honesty, integrity, diversity, innovation, leadership, growth, etc. However, the targets of these themes are often obscure, which in turn obscures the intended ends. So, while quality abstractions may be useful in framing and prioritization discussions, they diminish the impact and clarity of mission and vision statements. Focusing on ends makes mission and vision statements much more powerful.
During the mid 1970s, John Carver created the breakthrough Policy GovernanceSM model for board leadership. Carver recognized that values permeate and dominate all organizational life. For this reason, the Policy Governance model emphasizes values, vision, empowerment and strategic leadership. Creating a Mission Statement That Makes a Difference provides Carver's essential guidance on crafting mission statements. His primary recommendation for mission statements is that they reflect the intended ends of an organization, rather than its means. These ideas can be summarized as follows:
Ends versus Means. An ends statement describes what difference the organization will make for its beneficiaries in the outside world, rather than merely describing what the organization will be doing (its means) to effect those ends.
Effects versus Efforts. A well-formed ends statement describes the results and effects to be achieved by the staff, rather than their efforts and activities. Hence, an ends statement should not include verbs, which are indicative of activities rather than effects.
Broad versus Narrow. A well-formed ends statement describes the appropriate, realistically achievable scope and size of the mission. Too broad a scope will be unrealistic or unachievable. Too narrow a scope will not cover the range of intended effects.
Value Chain versus Net Value Added. A well-formed ends statement articulates the net value contributed by the organization within its context, especially the contribution to the value chain within which the organization is situated.
Hence, ends are best expressed as effects that make qualitative (valuable) changes in the world. Ends are best expressed using adjectives that describe the intended effects, i.e., the state (of being) to be achieved. Descriptive adjectives indicate such states of being. So, descriptive adjectives are generally more useful for formulating ends statements, e.g., compare: customer loyalty vs. loyal customers. Making this simple linguistic shift can have a profound impact on how we conceive of and discuss business quality concerns. This shift can be especially helpful in the discussion and formulation of ends statements and business objectives.
Ends are best expressed with descriptive adjectives.
For these reasons, the following quality inventories are presented in both forms: the inventoried qualities are expressed as both abstractions and as specific instantiated ends. The inventories also provide some indications of how these qualities can be defined and measured. As can be seen from examining these lists, most qualities can be quantified and measured (when adequately motivated). In this regard, the proposed measures are intended to be suggestive and representative. The actual measures used in practice will depend on the situated needs of a business and whether they actually contribute to specific improvement objectives.
Mission and vision statements focus on qualities that businesses value and intend to foster in their operations and relationships. There are several common themes found in most mission and vision statements. The qualities listed here provide a representative sample of these common themes organized by their area of focus.
|service||served customer||can become a satisfied customer||transaction counts|
|satisfaction||satisfied customer||can become a loyal customer||satisfaction surveys|
|loyalty||loyal customer||transacts business repeatedly with low (or no) cost of sales||repeat transaction counts|
|honesty||honest employee||shares relevant facts appropriately||complaints, legal actions|
|integrity||ethical employee||adheres to the corporate behavior standards||complaints, legal actions|
|responsibility||responsible employee||accounts for decisions and actions||plans and status reports|
|excellence||excellent employee||excels in sales, service, innovation, productivity, leadership, etc.||productivity and quality reports|
|reputation||reputed employee||contributes to and increases business reputation||industrial acknowledgments|
|diversity||diverse employees||offer diverse and innovative perspectives||employee demographics|
|teamwork||collaborative employees||increase innovation and productivity||team productivity and quality reports|
|leadership||exemplary employee||gains recognition from their peers, customers, or managers||honors, awards|
|empowerment||empowered employee||decides and acts on own initiative||self-directed projects|
|recognition||recognized employee||receives honors, awards, and bonuses||honors, awards|
|innovation||innovative employee||introduces novel solutions||solutions introduced|
|productivity||productive employee||completes assignments on (or ahead of) schedule||productivity and quality reports|
|growth||trained employee||applies training to work||relevant courses|
|leadership||exemplary business unit||adds outstanding value to the organization||value added|
|strength||strong business unit||contributes value to the overall organization||value added|
|growth||expanded business||increases market share||market share|
|growth||expanded business||demonstrates measurable growth in generated value||annual value growth|
|improvement||improved operations||demonstrate measurable increases in productivity and quality||productivity and quality reports|
|diversity||diverse offerings||strengthen the business revenue base||product revenues, projections|
|leadership||exemplary offering||succeeds and thrives in the marketplace||market share|
|growth||expanded offerings||increase offering breadth and variety||offerings introduced (per year)|
|profitability||profitable offering||nets profits for a business unit||total revenues - total cost of sales|
When included, requirements specifications tend to focus on several of key technical qualities. The following lists provide a representative sample of these desirable qualities organized by their area of focus.
|intelligibility||intelligible requirements||understood by all stakeholders and developers||requirements normalization index, fog index|
|cohesion||cohesive requirements||identifies the features needed for a single purpose||theme + goals + feature set|
|completeness||complete requirements||identifies features needed by all viewpoints||viewpoints + goals + feature sets, ...|
|comprehension||comprehensive requirements||covers the problem domain adequately||requirements v. domain vocabulary sizes|
|sufficiency||sufficient requirements||identifies features needed by a single viewpoint||viewpoint + goal(s) + feature set|
|cohesion||cohesive design||satisfies the needs of a single purpose or objective||objective + feature set|
|compatibility||compatible design||integrates easily with legacy systems||relevant systems, coverage|
|compliance||compliant design||conforms to standards||relevant standards, tests, coverage|
|extensibility||extensible design||easy to add new services and features||novel services w/o fundamental changes|
|flexibility||flexible design||supports alternate configurations||products delivered using common architecture|
|independence||independent design||minimizes the coupling (dependencies) between elements||connections between elements|
|maturity||mature design||well used against projected product life||expected lifetime v. duration of use|
|measurability||measurable design||composed of countable elements / incidents||size = population, length, functionality, volume|
|modularity||modular design||architecture composed of clearly distinct components||distinct components, interfaces, protocols|
|primitiveness||primitive design||ratio of primitive behavior to total behavior||primitives / methods|
|reusability||reusable design||designed for use in multiple contexts||occasions + locations of usage|
|similarity||similar designs||degree of match between design components||structural, functional, behavioral, purposive|
|simplicity||simple (complex) design||minimizes effort needed to understand a solution||layers + elements v. connections + states|
|stability||stable (volatile) design||minimizes the likelihood of change||change probability v. exposure|
|adaptability||adaptable software||changes easily||cost per function point, ...|
|correctness||correct software||exhibits few (if any) defects||defect rate, defect density|
|maintainability||maintainable software||easy to repair||repair costs, cycle times|
|affordability||affordable service||minimizes usage costs||usage costs|
|availability||available service||maximizes opportunities for use (locations v. time)||touchpoints, outages (incidents, duration)|
|efficiency||efficient service||minimizes resources used||time (cpu), space (RAM, disk), connections|
|effectiveness||effective service||enhances business activities||improvement percentage + adoption curve|
|speed||quick service||minimizes time to obtain result(s)||request / response cycle time|
|relevance||relevant service||satisfies business needs (current or future)||business needs satisfied, threats averted|
|reliability||reliable service||assures proper function||function v. fault reportage|
|measurability||measurable service||exposes relevant internal states and metrics||instruments and their measures|
|robustness||robust service||handles exceptions gracefully||faults detected v. handled|
|safety||safe service||protects human life and property||lives impacted (+/-)|
|scalability||scalable service||handles increased use gracefully||hits v. request / response cycle time|
|security||secure service||prevents unauthorized usage||security threats, breaches|
|trust||trustable service||protects information privacy + integrity||cryptographic strength|
|usability||usable service||easy to learn||average learning curve|
|usefulness||useful service||obviates human effort||effort / cost saved|
|verifiability||verifiable service||provides evidence of commission||evidence types and strengths|
|cleanliness||clean process||minimizes product defects||sigma level|
|efficiency||efficient process||minimizes resources consumed||labor hours, budget dollars, ...|
|feasibility||feasible process||can be built with available resources||size + effort v. resources + schedule|
|speed||quick process||minimizes cycle time||cycle time|
|productivity||productive process||maximizes unit of output per unit of input||products produced per unit of input|
|stability||stable process||minimizes variations between instances of a process||variations between process instances|
|risk||sure (risky) process||minimizes the risk(s) associated with project completion||probable impact of a risk on a result|
|timeliness||timely process||delivered on schedule (when needed)||slackness, promptness, slippage|
|maturity||mature process||capable of continuous process improvement||improvements achieved, maturity level|
|repeatability||repeatable process||able to produce consistent results||project successes v. failures|
|definition||defined process||uses documented processes to produce results||actual process conformance percentage|
|manageability||managed process||uses process and product measures to guide and improve results||predicted v. actual results|
|optimization||optimizing process||introduces process innovations to improve product quality||sigma level increase percentage|