Visualizing requirements vs. scope

During the course of a strategy engagement a few years ago, Gord and I drew a diagram on the whiteboard that illustrates how business and user requirements intersect to form the scope (and possibly the roadmap) for a project. The diagram proved useful in explaining where requirements went after being gathered and also the opportunities available to clients once armed with the requirements that their users and customers desired from their user experience.

This diagram has since been used countless times in everything from proposals to client presentations. It has also appeared on our website since November 2010 without explanation. Internally we call it the “Football diagram” as it is much shorter phrase than “Business and User Requirements vs. Scope Diagram” and its shape resembles the uprights used in American football.

The Venn diagram

A typical strategy or user experience engagement with a client will include activities centred on two key focuses: understanding the organization or business and their needs, and understanding the users or customers and their needs. Business research might include workshops, stakeholder interviews, reviewing internal documentation, or other methods. User/Customer research might include customer interviews, interviews with front line staff that know the customers, call centre listen-ins, observational research, web analytics analysis, surveys or other methods. The result of all this research are two piles of findings: findings about the organization or business, usually in the form of strategy and requirements documents; and findings about the user/customer, usually in the form of personas and user requirements.

In any given instance there will be some (hopefully a lot) of commonalities between the two piles – needs or wants that the client and their customers have in common. There will also be some areas where the business and user needs do not overlap.

Our diagram, therefore, starts as a simple Venn diagram of overlapping circles:

Customer Requirements vs. Business Requirements

Business Compromise and Seducible Moments

Obviously, the overlap between business and user requirements is the sweet place to be. Everybody wants the same thing. Everyone leaves satisfied. “Fast one-touch service” might be an example. We facetiously call this the “Maximum Value” position after those little starbursts used to inspire your purchase on ecommerce sites.

There are, however, two grey areas on either side of the Maximum Value position where lines must be drawn both in the sand and in the diagram.

There will be certain business requirements that arise (perhaps inspired by some think-out-of-the-box workshop brainstorming) that will never be cost effective, or will cost the business market share and thus the business will never implement. By the same token, there will be user requirements that come up that the business will never honour (“free shipping on everything!”). These positions are defined by the two vertical lines in the diagram, the “Will Do / Won’t Do” lines.

Customer requirements and business requirements venn diagram

The “Won’t Do” positions chop the two circles to eliminate requirements on the outside that won’t be implemented in the foreseeable future.

The “Will Do” area, of course includes the sweet spot, the Maximum Value position. But you’ll notice that it includes more than just the sweet spot.

There may be some customer desires or needs that lie just outside the needs of the organization (outside Maximum Value) but won’t cause too much harm, grief, or effort so as to be outside the “Won’t Do” line. Some of these may be justified to include in scope to differentiate from competitors, build loyalty or retention, or increase word of mouth business. We call these “Business Compromise” requirements.

Likewise, there may be instances where the users may be swayed into performing an additional task that wasn’t part of their goal but helps the business out (“Sign up for our credit card”). Placement of these requirements within an online experience is crucial because if they present a barrier to the user goal then the customer may be lost altogether. Rather, the site needs to identify where the opportunities to suggest these secondary tasks are best received. User Interface Engineering principal Jared Spool calls these opportunities “Seducible Moments”. Thus, we call the area between Maximum Value and the Will Do line, the “Seducible Moments exploited” position.

Venn diagram showing business and customer requirements, with maximum value and roadmap requirements in overlap

Time and Money

The final constraint on any set of requirements is time and money. Some features are more feasible than others, have dependencies on a forthcoming version of a system, cost more, or have lower priority or less return. These types of features or requirements get set aside for later releases or future iterations.

We therefore complete our diagram to incorporate time, phases of the project, or priorities. A horizontal line divides the whole diagram in half with items above the line being in scope and those below the line being held for future consideration or as part of a phased roadmap.

This horizontal line completes the distinctive H shape in the centre of the diagram, which inspired the “Football” diagram moniker.

Items under the Time line, but within the Will Do lines will be in scope at some later date.

Venn diagram showing business and customer requirements, with maximum value and roadmap requirements in overlap

Uses as a tool

The Requirements vs. Scope diagram helps us filter our research for clients. Requirements that are identified during analysis need to end up within one of the areas in this diagram. The diagram itself serves as a great discussion tool in determining with clients where their boundaries are in terms of Will Do and Won’t Do requirements. The diagram also helps clarify the biggest opportunities for an organization in terms of where the most overlap between the client and their customers is.

At OpenRoad we look to the football diagram to help us wrap our heads around the mountain of data and requirements that we find ourselves buried under after conducting the research. It has served us well and won’t leave the repertoire anytime soon.