Implement First, Ask Questions Later (or Not at All)

Companies used to spend years clarifying business requirements before they would even think of launching new software. Today, cheaper cloud-based apps mean that implementation decisions are made on the fly — and there’s no going back.

Reading Time: 7 min 



An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
More in this series
Permissions and PDF

Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg nicely summarized a modern philosophy about technology innovation when he spoke about the need to “move fast and break things.” Increasingly, that same mindset appears to drive how companies implement new technologies as well. And this phenomenon stretches beyond Silicon Valley.

For decades, companies required their IT teams to identify, model, and validate business requirements before writing a line of code or adopting a new technology platform, product, or service. Today, that approach seems almost quaint. Companies no longer build giant flowcharts, analyze tasks, or model business requirements in advance of deploying new technology. They just pilot and adopt — often before they have a clear idea of the business problem they’re trying to solve. Once, this launch-first mentality would have been considered heresy. Yet it has become the norm, driven by the accelerating pace of technology change, the fear of losing market share to disruptive new players, and the ease with which new technologies can be implemented through cloud-based delivery. This is a challenging environment, particularly for tradition-bound organizations. But it’s the new reality and CIOs must adapt, or they risk permanently falling behind the competition.

As part of a larger study on changes in technology implementation, my team spent two years collecting survey and interview data about the evolving relationship between business and technology. We talked to people in business roles and technology roles at companies across a range of industries. The most significant finding was the rapid death of detailed requirements analysis and modeling. Among survey respondents, 71% believed that technology can be deployed without a specific problem in mind. Just one-third said they have a clearly defined process for the adoption of emerging technology. Perhaps most surprising, half of the respondents described their pilot initiatives — small-scale, low-cost, rapid testing of new technology — as “purely experimental,” with no requirements analysis at all.

We heard a consistent theme. As one business process manager at a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company put it, “We’ve abandoned the strict ‘requirements-first, technology-second’ adoption process, whatever that really means. Why? Because we want to stay agile and competitive and want to leverage new technologies. Gathering requirements takes forever and hasn’t made our past projects more successful.



An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
More in this series

Reprint #:


More Like This

Add a comment

You must to post a comment.

First time here? Sign up for a free account: Comment on articles and get access to many more articles.

Comments (2)
Adrian Wake
Another thought provoking read but it feels like a view for cash rich, larger enterprises.  I agree that the formal business requirements gathering process does not necessary lead to better outcomes but an observation I've made is while many business believe they have completed a thorough needs analysis they often lack alignment and focus against the customer and business value they are trying to increase.  While this process could definitely be streamlined regardless, the poor start inevitably leads to disappointment post implementation, particularly after the usual benefit erosion that takes place during the design and build phases.  Traditional issues aside, what I'd be interested in hearing about the survey findings is: 1) how successful have these businesses against the key drivers (cost, competitiveness, etc.)?;  2) what are the factors the successful businesses identify as must-have capability - I'm assuming there is an inherent set of skills or cultural and the switch to this approach has challenges at all levels?  Thanks for the article....
Geuko Bosker
Interesting read that raises two separate thoughts. First, how  and where is the survey performed. Background: In daily life I see a lot of differences across the globe in the way companies react to emerging technologies and the adoption in organisations. And this is not only between regions or continents but even betweem neighbouring countries. I would expect a story like this to be true for North America but almost the opposite in countries like Russia, Germany or Japan.  Second, this approach would almost immediately result in siloed data unless well governed. And siloed data is killing for your data management, especially if you look at privacy and data protection regulation like GDPR. Interesting study to see how organisations will handle this. It may not impact your ROI but it will surely impact your TCO if not managed properly. Let alone the brandname damage it might result in. Again a topic with a big cultural aspect as this is looked at differently across countries.