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16 October 2005

Strategic Needs Analysis

Strategic Needs Analysis (SNA) is a pre-design activity that usually uses a workshop setting to focus stakeholder involvement in proposing and identifying a range of strategic options for the proposed project.

SNA is a tool that can assist a project team from avoiding the problems associated with assuming they know the client’s problems. There is an assumption with SNA that the client, or the workshop participants know the problem and the business environment well. There is a challenge in relation to SNA; many business representatives to SNA meetings do not know the problem well. The project must ensure that the issues are well analysed to ensure that the appropriate needs are identified. The SNA participants should avoid designing solutions as much as possible, although naturally knowing the relevant constraints become a part of articulating the business needs. SNA statements are the foundation of the quality and success measures for the project.

The benefits that projects bring should be aligned with a business/organisation’s strategic needs. Ensuring that a project checks it’s intentions against the strategic needs of the sponsor or organisation gives the project a top line set of objectives that all subsequent work can be checked back against.

I think this, along with Sponsor buy in and effective people change management are the most important quality activities that a project can run. I like to use the Requirements Traceability Matrix to track requirements right from the SNA session to ensure that all elements of specifications, design and delivery align with the businesses’ needs.

Not all sponsors and organizations have a clear strategy, but still need to run projects to meet market demands. For example a banking business may be in the middle of re-assessing it’s plans for the future – maybe even exiting the industry, but still needs to run compliance projects to enable them to stay in business for the short term. This suggests that strategy is multi levelled and the project’s place in the organisation may align to the strategic needs of a business unit rather than the organisation as a whole. I see this in practice with capital review boards, which address projects at different financial expenditure levels.

This is a great and reasonably simple exercise that should be run at the beginning of each project. It can also be used to develop relationships with all the main stakeholders. It can also be used to check whether the project should even be run. And to determine whether you as a project manager want to run it. The strategic needs can also be sued to baseline the project’s objectives and to ensure that the project activities stay aligned to its purpose.

If a project is not aligned with the business’ strategy it will likely fail regardless of how well it is run as it can end up having no ownership by most stakeholders. I briefly worked on a project where the objectives were not aligned to the business strategy and over the first few months it became very obvious that none of the general managers, except the sponsor GM, wanted the project. And the project wouldn’t be killed. The PM delivered the project above all success criteria (i.e. early, cheaper, higher quality) and the project was still a failure, as the business did not take up the new service.

Source: Stakeholder Management during Project Inception: Strategic Needs Analysis by Jim Smith, and Peter E. D. Love, Journal of Architectural Engineering, Vol. 10, No. 1, March 2004, pp. 22-33)