At the very beginning of a project, you need to identify who has an interest in the system and who will be using the system. We often overlook the org chart as a very simple starting point on a project. However, it is a model that can be used to identify the stakeholders and users of your system. If you have an org chart for your entire company, you can rigorously look at each block on the chart to decide whether it represents a stakeholder, user group or both.
If your system is an internal IT system, all of the possible users are somewhere on that org chart. Therefore, by using it as your starting point, you can simply select your users from the chart. If you have external users, there are still going to be stakeholders on the org chart who represent the user populations externally, and identifying those representatives within the org chart will help you find their counterparts outside the organization.
On one particular project that touched many different parts of the organization, we used the org chart as our basis for identifying all the user groups. We plastered the walls with all of the sections of an org chart. Our project sponsor came through the room, and for each section of the org chart, he could easily either “X” through it or “*” it for us as a group we needed to talk to. From that, we could quickly focus our conversations with each part of the org and determine if they indeed were users or had some stakeholder-level interest in the project.
The org chart itself is not necessarily a useful model to include in the final requirements document, but rather a tool to help find the users and stakeholders. Once you have used your org chart to identify users and stakeholders, you should be able to form a concrete stakeholder list for requirements session interviews and sign-offs and an actor list to use to identify use cases and user profiles. One word of caution in taking the step from the org chart to user groups to actor list – there may not be a one-to-one mapping of user group to actor, as often an actor may cross various organizational roles or vice versa.
The main issue with org charts is that many organizations do not have an org chart ready to use. If you have to create one yourself, the model still works, but now much of your energy is spent on ensuring you have the right org chart. This can be a useful activity to do, however you probably would not think of this activity as “creating an org chart” but rather just identifying the users.
As a final note, this model does not really help you identify any system actors. Later, we will talk about system context diagrams and data models to facilitate this.