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Top-Down or Bottom-Up Requirements Gathering?

What's better?

When it comes to eliciting and documenting business requirements, there are two fundamental approaches often used. The “top-down” approach has business analysts focus on business processes, end user requirements, and desired results. The data required to support end user applications and customer experiences is in turn determined and sourced with the help of the information technology department. In the “bottom-up” approach, business analysts inventory and profile all the source data a set of stakeholders may wish to include in their solution. By understanding the data, we can both elicit and infer requirements for its use. When it comes to a customer relationship marketing solution, which is the better approach? The answer, of course, is both.

A typical CRM solution will provide a holistic view of a company’s customers as well as their interactions and associate attributes. It will serve as a platform for generating data-driven campaigns, business intelligence, and analytics. In the top-down approach to requirements gathering, it is important we understand who the customer is and what touchpoints they have with the company. We interview stakeholders to understand campaign strategy and tactics as well as programs and communication plans. What outbound and inbound channels are leveraged? How is segmentation accomplished? How are offers determined? What goes in to selecting the appropriate creative? For business intelligence, we need to understand the key measures and performance indicators that drive campaign strategy and measure success. How do we determine if a campaign is a success? What customer segments are performing well? How is corporate measuring the marketing department?

In addition to requirements for how the solution will be leveraged, we need to understand the top-down processes that generate data for the solution. How do customers make purchases? Is there a loyalty program and how do customers interact with it? How are marketing and channel preferences collected and managed? Finally, we will want to know the requirements for where else the wealth of first-party data will be leveraged. Will the data be made anonymous and uploaded to a data management platform? Will the data be synched with a data services provider for the purpose of securing prospect cookies through a customer look-alike model? Will the data be leveraged in a real-time decision orchestration application?

For the bottom-up approach, we ask a company for all the source data they wish to see represented in a CRM solution. We inventory source feed layout information and profile sample files in order to better understand the available data. We review the feeds and data with subject matter experts, making sure we understand the underlying source of the data, what it represents, and whether or not is has gone through any pre-processing before it is sent to us.

As a final step in requirements gathering, a gap analysis between the knowledge gleaned from the top-down and the bottom-up approach is conducted. Knowing all the end user processes and customer experiences, we make sure we have identified and can expect all the data necessary to support the solution. If data is missing, we know we need to locate it. Conversely, a thorough understanding of the source data may elicit an overlooked business process or a customer experience that is not fully understood. In this case, follow up discussions with key stakeholders are clearly merited.

By combining both the top-down and bottom-up approaches in our requirements elicitation and documentation process, we ensure a complete and thorough analysis of all the processes and data to be included in a successful CRM solution. The result is a solid CRM solution that will serve as the foundation for present-day data-driven marketing needs, as well as serve as an extensible platform for future expansion and use.

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