Solutions development is the process of determining the best way of satisfying requirements.
A simple requirements management process produces a clear set of baselined stakeholder requirements. A more sophisticated value management approach produces a baseline that includes ideas for alternative functionality that would be acceptable to stakeholders. Either way the baseline requirements do not explain how to meet the requirements.
Solutions development explores the options for how to meet requirements and then implements the best solution. In broad terms, solutions development comprises the three steps shown in figure 3.11.
Figure 3.11: Solutions development process
Evaluation and selection looks at all the ideas and assesses how well they will perform against stated criteria such as reduced capital cost, speed of delivery or level of risk. Techniques such as value for money ratios, value trees and value engineering can be used to help select the best value options.
Some options may call for innovation. Strategies to exploit innovation include:
- prototyping – exploring the innovation offline, for example by ‘technology demonstrator‘ projects or ‘rapid applications development’;
- the use of modelling, simulation and synthetic environments;
- phased implementation of new technology.
The emerging solution is subject to periodic reviews and ultimately results in the issue of a specification that can be used to build a detailed business case. In some cases, the detailed specification will only cover the early stages of development, with later stages being refined as the work proceeds. The development of value-improving proposals can occur at any stage of delivering a project or programme.A key idea from systems engineering is the progressive testing of the emerging products against the expectations laid down in the specification and requirements. ‘Verification’ is the term used to ensure that the solution is being built right; ‘validation’ is the term used to ensure that the right product is being built. Validation is against requirements; verification is against specifications.
A project is concerned with delivering a tangible output. In a traditional project this will be described in a specification that is part of the project management plan. It is approved at the end of the definition phase and its components articulated in a product breakdown structure (PBS).
Where there needs to be flexibility in the specification and an opportunity to refine the solution regularly, an Agile approach is more appropriate. In Agile projects a solution may be described mainly in terms of its functionality, with technical specifications being developed during short delivery stages known as sprints. Each sprint is typically two to six weeks long.
The specified solution for a programme is usually referred to as the ‘blueprint’. This describes all aspects of the organisation as it will appear and operate once the programme is complete. This could include organisational structures, business processes, physical infrastructure and information requirements.
Each project within the programme is aimed at delivering an aspect of the blueprint. In most cases the degree of detail in the blueprint will leave ample space for project teams to consider alternative solutions at the project level.
The programme management team coordinate project solutions and identify solution elements. These are elements such as common components and technology platforms that are transferable between projects. The compatibility of solutions proposed by different projects also needs to be checked at programme level.
Developing a solution is very much a project or programme responsibility. The portfolio management team may wish to set guidelines about innovation and risk that constrain the types of solution that can be considered. Where value management is applied, this may involve setting criteria for the evaluation and selection of functionality across the entire portfolio, or for categories of projects and programmes within the portfolio.
Where innovation is the norm, the portfolio must seek to maximise the advantage of successful innovation by seeking to apply it in all relevant parts of the portfolio.