Scope Definition – Alternatives Identification

November 1, 2009
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Tools help in defining scope well, include product analysis and alternatives identification techniques. Product analysis techniques apply to projects that have a product, not a service or a result, to be delivered at the end of the project. Alternatives identification is mainly for identifying alternate methods of achieving same results.

Product Analysis

Product analysis involves breaking down of high level descriptions into concrete deliverables. Typically the techniques include product breakdown, requirements analysis, systems engineering, systems analysis, value engineering and value analysis.

Product breakdown is creating a structure that can depict the product completely in terms of its components and sub systems. It is a hierarchical tree like structure showing the product at the top or the root of the tree and then sub-systems on branches from the root. This continues to the depth required for discussions/ decision making or down to individual components that cannot be broken down further. Product descriptions and product flow charts are additional outputs.

Systems engineering involves the use of engineering (a methodical and accurate) disciplines that can be applied to building systems. Systems Engineering focuses on analyzing and eliciting customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle. Documenting the requirements, then proceeding with design synthesis and system validation completes the cycle. The process has two parts a Systems Engineering Technical Process, and a management Process.

Analysis literally means taking things apart. In case of systems analysis it means identifying various systems working as parts that interact to create the larger system. Systems analysis helps with the system engineering. It is "an explicit formal inquiry carried out to help someone, the decision maker, identify a better course of action and make a better decision”.

Requirements analysis in the systems engineering context is an activity that determines the needs or conditions to meet for a new product or a modified product is to be developed. Clear cut requirements are essential for projects. They need to be so clear that they are actionable, measureable as well as testable. They should be directly linked to a clearly identified business need. The level of detail needs to be sufficient for carrying out system design.

Value engineering (VE) is a set of techniques you would use to increase the “value” of the products or services. Value is a function of functionality/performance and cost. Enhancing functionality/performance versus reducing costs enhances value. Basic functions are preserved despite pursuing value improvements. Value analysis (VA) is analyses where reductions of costs can be made or functionality improved to increase value. Component cost reduction helps improving value. The analysis directly contributes to value engineering.

Alternatives Identification

It is essentially an ideas generation process. It is followed by validating of the ideas that suggests alternative that are effective for any given approach. Thus all the techniques that apply to idea generation such as brain-storming, lateral thinking and pair-wise comparisons are applicable to this process.

Essential part of the brain-storming process is to suspend judgment of generated ideas at first and generate as many ideas as possible. The idea generation process can be in a meeting like setting where people sit around a table and contribute to idea generation. Depending on how well the session is conducted there is always a risk of the session being dominated by some one. It is also usually hard to keep people from reacting immediately to any idea offered. An alternate method is to create ideas individually and then submit the list. A follow up meeting of the contributors then prunes the generated ideas down to ones worth trying.

Lateral thinking is trying to generate ideas by analogy in different areas. The process is essentially the same as suggested by Edward DeBono and you concentrate on generating ideas first rather than judging them. In his “Six thinking Hats” process he suggests the idea generation be focused by trying to think in one specific aspect. Positive aspects only, negative aspects only, looking at growth aspects and so on lets one to look at various areas, one at a time, and a team should be able to generate a set of all round ideas.

Pair-wise comparison generally refers to any process of comparing entities in pairs. This lets you decide which alternative should be preferred. Alternatives can be compared one to one and given 1 point for a win over the other alternatives and a half point for a tie. The Alternative with the highest score among the candidates wins as the preferred alternative.

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