How do I determine what business or system impacts our solution will have?

Knowing the storm is coming can be unsettling if you don't know anything about the storm. Likewise not knowing the potential impact of a solution can be unsettling. How do I determine what business or system impacts our solution will have?
Understanding how a solution will impact the business and its systems will help you evaluate the solution and prepare for a successful implementation. A time-tested tool for determining the immediate effects, long-term consequences, and final value of a solution is an impact analysis. Follow these steps to conduct an efficient, illuminating impact analysis:
  1. Put the proposed solution in context. Whether you're analyzing the system context or the business context of a solution, a context diagram is a good place to start. It gives you an easy-to-understand view of all the entities that interact with the system or solution. It also gives you a tool to methodically evaluate every business area and process that touches the system and functional area that is the primary focus of your project. With a list or visual diagram of the business areas and systems that interact with the system or functional team at the core of your project, you can begin to determine which areas and systems will be impacted by the change.
  2. Ask the experts. Maybe you already have the knowledge to understand the impacts of a solution, but it's more likely that you'll need input. A good first step is to talk to the owner of the business area, or consult a subject matter expert. To evaluate the impact on systems, consult the technical expert for each system. Meet with each of the experts you've identified and show them the context diagram, or as much of it as you've completed so far. Explain what you already know about the solution, and ask for their thoughts on how the solution will impact the business area or system for which they're the experts. (Be sure to ask about positive and negative impacts.)
  3. Be thorough. Don't stop after looking at a few areas, or just the ones you think are critical. Important impacts can happen in any area affected by a project. So be sure to consult areas throughout the organization. It's possible that some areas won't be impacted by the transition to the solution, but some are sure to be, and it's important to understand the impacts as early as possible.
  4. Pull it together. Pull the information you've gathered into a summary document everyone can use to make informed decisions and start preparing for the solution. If you're comparing solutions, highlight the impacts shared by all of the options and the impacts that are unique to each solution, so changes can be managed accordingly.

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