The Family BA: prioritizing requirements for the tax season

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Spring might not come fast this year in Eastern Canada (it was still -25°C in the morning this week), but April usually means it’s the return of the Tax season! After preparing our tax reports this year, I realized that many of the activities we were performing as a family were requiring Business Analysis skills & techniques. How so?

Since we were getting a nice tax refund this year (woohoo!), we had to figure out what we would do with it. Everyone in the house had their ideas to spend this. Since we were having a hard winter, we knew that our next electricity bill would be higher than usual; it would therefore be a good idea to prioritize this. On the other hand, our water heater reached its 12th anniversary, meaning it would have to be replaced sooner than later to prevent a basement flooding.

A part of the refund would also go to our investing accounts (retirement savings accounts, education savings plans, etc.), but everyone agreed that we should also keep some of it for our summer vacations. In the end, we clearly had more requirements than what we could afford with our tax refund!

After a good brainstorm session, we came to an agreement on how to spend our tax refund in order to fulfill everyone needs. What does this have to do with business analysis? It’s all summarized in one task of the BABoK: Prioritizing requirements. Let’s take a closer look at this task to understand how you can perform BA tasks at home.

The Prioritizing requirements task is part of the Requirements Analysis Knowledge Area, and is defined in the BABoK as:

A decision process used to determine the relative importance of requirements […] based on their relative value, risk, difficulty of implementation, or on other criteria.

Various inputs are required to perform this task. Using different criteria & techniques, the Business Analyst can work with stakeholders in order to create a list of prioritized requirements.

Prioritizing requirements: inputs & stakeholders

In order to prioritize our family requirements so that we can spend our tax refund properly, we used many inputs, just like we would do with business requirements. Our “business case” was quite simple: improving our family well-being. Our requirements list came out of our Family Budget & Forecast, and from our family projects list, which we both maintain on a regular basis to make things easier when we have free money and/or time to spend.

As for the stakeholders, it was quite easy to figure out who has to be involved in the prioritization exercise 🙂

Prioritizing requirements: criteria & techniques

We used a variation on the MoSCoW & budgeting techniques to prioritize our requirements. “Must” requirements, such as the water heater replacement or the electricity bill, were immediately prioritized without much discussion, considering the family risk associated to not prioritizing them.

“Should” requirements led to more discussion around the table. Because of their value for the whole family, funding our next summer vacations was easily prioritized. We also prioritized investing in various savings accounts to increase our well-being in the long run (retirement, education plan, etc). Some funds were also allowed to our new car, which we didn’t have the choice to replace since our lease was coming to an end.

Replacing the kitchen set, installing the basement ceiling or building a new shed are examples of “could” requirements that were not prioritized, mainly because they were difficult to implement, ie requiring too much funds at this time considering all other requirements.

With the remaining funds, we chose to fund various smaller “would” requirements, such as a nice dinner at the sushi restaurant, or keeping funds for new bikes for the kids (since they don’t stop growing 🙂 ).

Just as you would have done in any organization, we prioritized our requirements using various criteria.

Prioritizing requirements: outputs

After this prioritization exercise, we had a clearer view of what we could do with our tax refund, and what would have to wait. Our list of prioritized requirements was materialized by splitting funds in various categories in our Family Budget & Forecast, for which we use You Need a Budget, an amazing tool to manage your day-to-day financial life.

Side note: You Need a Budget is really a fantastic tool (and an amazing methodology) to manage your family budget. If you want to give it a try, just follow this link, which will give you a 10% discount if you buy the software.

When working on a project, your prioritized requirements would probably take the form of an Excel file (or any requirements management tool you use), which would become the foundation of your project to implement the required solution.

Next step: implement the requirements!

Once they are prioritized, requirements are easier to implement since everyone agrees with them. When something unexpected happens, it also makes it easier to decide whether to keep, remove or postpone a specific requirement since the decision can be taken by understanding the big picture.

When you look at it, the same thinking applies to our family requirements. Our most important requirements now being funded, we know exactly what can be (and cannot be) done. Should something unexpected happen (ex: new glasses for one of our girls), it would be easy to decide to change our priorities (ex: drop the sushi dinner) to deal with this new requirement.

Since the next logical step is to implement requirements, I will have to end this post here; I have money to spend :-). Before leaving, don’t forget to sign-up for future posts on this blog using the form below!

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Image credits: 401(K) 2012@ flickr.com

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By Eric Provost

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Eric Provost

Making sense out of chaos as a BA & UX specialist

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