Front-end loading with facilitated joint application development techniques


Walter A.Viali, CQA, PMP

This paper addresses the use of Joint Application Development (JAD) techniques to significantly improve the process of gathering requirements from customers in the front-end loading phase of a project. JAD is defined as “a structured meeting, conducted by a neutral facilitator, designed to extract high-quality information from the meeting participants, using a compressed timeframe and a workshop environment to enhance the process.” It is important to note that JAD strongly complements, but does not replace, analytical methodologies, which are still very much needed to produce high-quality systems.

Projects Continue to Fail

Unfortunately, projects continue to fail at an alarming rate and industry continues to do very little to aggressively change this trend. The models, techniques and tools for improving the way business is done in I.T., are available to everyone, yet very little progress has been made in the past several years, with the exception of a few enlightened organizations.

As the size of projects increases, so do the risk and cost factors. Huge cost overruns and questionable implementation approaches are encountered every day. Yet, all the emphasis is on getting systems up and running faster and faster, cutting all conceivable corners and frustrating everyone involved, from the customer to the developers, to I.T. management, all busy fighting fires from all directions.

The “Chaos Report”

The Standish Group tells us that in the United States, we spend more than $250 billion each year on IT application development for approximately 175,000 projects. The average cost of a development project for a large company is $2,322,000; for a medium company, it is $1,331,000; and for a small company, it is $434,000.

The Standish Group research shows that a staggering 31.1% of projects will be canceled before they ever get completed. Further results indicate 52.7% of projects will cost 189% of their original estimates. In the larger companies, only 9% of projects come in on time and on budget. Projects completed by the largest American companies have only approximately 42% of the features and functions that were originally proposed.

We need to take a serious look at the way we do business in I.T. and realize that we can no longer postpone getting our house in order. Ironically, project success criteria are well known. The Standish Group found that the three major reasons a project will succeed are user involvement, executive management support, and a clear statement of requirements. There are other success criteria, but with these three elements in place, the chances of success are much greater. Without them, chance of failure increases dramatically.

Some Strategies for Improvement

A set of processes is therefore needed to guarantee that project success criteria will be satisfied in our approach to application development and enhancement. Mechanisms will also have to be put in place to ensure that this set of processes can be continuously improved.


The most effective approach for the continuous improvement of internal practices is provided by the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model (SEI CMM). The effective use of the SEI CMM, and of benchmarking techniques coordinated by an internal Project Office, can make the difference between a viable internal I.T. infrastructure for project delivery and the inevitable outsourcing of I.T. functions, which are viewed as too expensive and of questionable value. This is perhaps one of the reasons that Process and Project Management have become one of the top ten priorities of American CIOs for the next five years!

The Importance of Certification

We cannot, however, implement advanced application delivery practices effectively, unless there is a program to deal with the lack of awareness of these methods at all levels of the I.T. organization. It is impossible to create commitment and dedication to improving our practices, if the majority of the players have not gained an appreciation for the way it should be, as opposed to the way it really is! Many of these players, even at the highest levels of the I.T. hierarchy, lack the necessary knowledge to make more inspired decisions on the way an I.T. organization should really be managed. The adoption of certification programs, such as PMI's Project Management Professional (PMP®) Certification, can go a long way in creating the needed awareness, in an organization, on what it really takes to manage projects effectively.

Front-End Loading and Facilitation

Finally, projects continue to fail because of poor front-end loading techniques. At a time when increased customer involvement in I.T. projects has become synonymous with greater probabilities of project success, we seem to drift into an even more impersonal world of e-mail, phone mail, paged mail and electronic forums, which lead to even more misunderstandings and lack of communication.

Joint Application Development (JAD) is the most effective technique for dealing with project communication issues. Before the quality movement turned everyone into a problem-solving facilitator, JAD was used with enormous success in all aspects of project development, especially in the front-end loading phase of a new project. JAD has also been used to drive I.T. strategies from business strategies and achieve the Business/I.T. alignment, which has been so elusive for many companies. JAD is not only the catalyst for improving our front-end loading activities in a project, but it is also the best mechanism to satisfy a primary business need: People talking to people!

Joint Application Development

Since the objective remains to get the job done faster and cheaper, in our continuously accelerating business environment, we need to resort to methodologies, tools and techniques that will allow for faster application development and enhancement by streamlining effective processes and not bypass them altogether.

Since 1980, facilitation has been used for every aspect of business and community development. In I.T., JAD has been employed from strategic planning to project planning, from detailed process design to system acceptance testing.

Communication Techniques

JAD is effective because it is based on communication tools, structured techniques, defined roles, structured agendas and an overall effective process. Most of all, JAD works because it focuses on people, not technology.

Typical communication tools that make JAD sessions successful are: group dynamics, facilitation, visual aids, concentrated exchanges and consensus-based decisions. Understanding group dynamics (“forming, storming, norming, performing”) is essential to becoming an effective JAD session leader. It is important for the JAD session leader to bring the meeting participants to work as a team in the shortest period of time possible. The objective is to overcome personal bias, hidden agendas and the normal reticence that is encountered early on in the session with most participants. “Breaking the ice” quickly is vital and should be the immediate goal in the early phase of every JAD session.

By the same token, facilitation means to effectively elicit relevant information from the meeting participants in a concise manner and in the shortest time possible, given the obvious time pressures of a JAD session and the structured nature of these meetings. Visual aids typically consist of diagrams and models to support the facilitation process, the exchange of ideas and the generation of viable deliverables and solutions. Once the session leader has managed to “break the ice” among the meeting participants, the discussion will become more focused. This will lead to concentrated exchanges of information among the session participants and, ultimately, to consensus-based decisions.

Structured Techniques

JAD sessions also employ structured techniques, such as brainstorming, basic iteration of functions, process design, data flow diagramming, data modeling, object modeling with UML (Uniform Modeling Language) and a number of planning models. Brainstorming is used to list the possible system functions to be addressed by the project. The basic iteration technique is used to define and prioritize these functions, eliminate redundancy and identify associated inputs and outputs. Process design and data flow diagramming techniques are then used to adequately structure functional requirements, while data modeling techniques are employed to build fully attributed entity relationship diagrams to support the system functions. With the advent of object-oriented analysis and design, object modeling can also be performed during JAD sessions, using the Uniform Modeling Language approach. Planning models are typically used to develop work breakdown structures and project networks. JAD has been used very effectively to develop complete project plans containing the required information prescribed by the Knowledge Areas of PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

JAD Roles

Essential to the success of JAD sessions, is a clear definition of the roles of all the players involved in these structured meetings. These roles typically include the session leader, the scribe, the executive sponsor, the project manager, the participants and the observers. The session leader is the ultimate critical success factor in a JAD session. This unique individual must be experienced and well versed in the communication and technical aspects of leading sessions. The session leader relies on the scribe to faithfully capture on a PC the information that is normally recorded on flipcharts, throughout the session, by the session leader or by breakout groups. The scribe will typically print and copy the available documentation, for all the meeting participants, at predefined points in the meeting and at the end of the session for a final review of the overall meeting results. The executive sponsor will normally kick off a JAD session and provide the needed motivation for getting the job done in the limited time available. It is not uncommon for the executive sponsor of the effort at hand to participate in the closing steps of the session and ensure that the meeting's objectives were adequately met. Undoubtedly, a good facilitator requires the support of a group of participants who are eager to solve the problem being addressed and are also willing to work as a team for as many hours as are required to achieve success by the end of the session. Participants are those people who have a clear stake in the issues being discussed and possess the knowledge to adequately address the subject of the session. Furthermore, they should be empowered to make all the needed decisions during the course of the meeting. Observers, on the other hand, are people who are only partially impacted by the solutions being developed during the session. They may also be individuals interested in observing the JAD process. Observers will normally sit at the back of the room and will typically not be involved in the discussion that takes place during the JAD session.

The JAD Agenda

Another essential ingredient, for a successful JAD, is the session agenda. The agenda provides the needed structure for the meeting and is to be rigorously followed, to ensure that all items are addressed and all planned deliverables are produced. The following is a typical agenda outline for a JAD session:

  • Introduction
  • Review Purpose, Scope, Objectives
  • Ground Rules
  • Executive Sponsor Kickoff
  • I.T. Perspective
  • [Session Approach]
  • Review Issues
  • Review Design
  • Evaluate Workshop

This structured agenda allows the JAD session leader to set the stage for the meeting very quickly and take control of the meeting. The introduction step allows the JAD session leader to explain the agenda and have the participants list their expectations (which will be validated at the end of the session). By reviewing the purpose, scope and objectives of the meeting, the JAD session leader ensures that every participant is comfortable with the planned direction for the meeting. Ground rules establish a basic code of conduct, which allows the facilitator to keep the session on track at all times. The executive sponsor kickoff is designed to provide additional support for the objectives of the meeting, while the I.T. perspective gives the project manager, or I.T. director, an opportunity to place the session in the context of the overall automation activities of the organization. The session approach, the most important aspect of the meeting agenda, is discussed in greater detail below.

During the JAD session, it is normal to identify issues that cannot be readily resolved. All issues (also called open items) are recorded for further action. At the end of the meeting, the facilitator will review each issue and assign it to the most appropriate meeting participant for resolution (or to coordinate its resolution) before the next scheduled JAD. Also at the end of the meeting, a complete set of the information recorded by the scribe is made available to the participants for a final review of the session's deliverables. This is a fundamentally important step in the JAD session, as it ensures that everyone is in agreement with the results of the workshop before leaving the meeting. A formal evaluation of the workshop, performed by the participants, is the final step in the JAD session and typically provides excellent feedback to the JAD facilitator, so that improvements and adjustments can be continuously made to the process.

Session Approaches

While the agenda above is used for most facilitated meetings, the actual session approach will vary, depending on the task at hand. There are session approaches available for just about any problem situation. Some of the approaches most commonly used address strategic business planning, business systems planning, business reengineering, project scope definition, project requirements definition, information modeling, project planning, acceptance testing and walkthroughs (or peer reviews).

The session approach for a strategic business planning session will typically consist of the following steps:

  • Define Vision and Mission of activity
  • Define Guiding Principles
  • Analyze current situation
  • Analyze competitive situation
  • Define Objectives and Goals
  • Develop Business Strategies
  • Define Critical Success Factors
  • Design programs and resources
  • Describe support organization
  • Define follow-on activities

Once business strategies have been defined, a follow-on JAD session will typically be held to derive system strategies and plans. Project slates are identified using a business systems planning approach. This approach normally includes the following steps:

• Review Vision and Mission of the activity

• Review business strategies and critical success factors

• For each business strategy:

• Define new automation requirements: Entities and Processes

• Describe constraints to the new requirements: Schedules, cost, resources

• Prioritize the new requirements

Another more comprehensive approach that addresses business and systems strategies is facilitated business reengineering. This type of effort actually consists of a number of JAD sessions that have to be conducted to produce all the planned deliverables. The business reengineering approach normally includes these major components:

  • Phase I—Vision

    • Customer requirements

    • Management Vision

  • Phase II—“What” Phase

    • Functional Model

    • Information Model

  • Phase III—“How” Phase

    • Conceptual Design

    • Organization Design

    • Detailed Design

At the project level, JAD can be used very effectively to produce standard deliverables across the organization and support the front-end loading phase of each project. A scope definition approach contains the following steps:

  • Define System Objectives
  • Define Major Outputs
  • Define Major Inputs
  • Identify System Events

    Context Diagram

  • Information Analysis

    • Entity Relationship Model

  • Major System Functions

    • Essential or Zero-level Diagram

  • Confirm System Objectives

The project scope definition session is followed by a number of requirements definition sessions. This number is usually determined by how many high-level functions are identified in the project scope definition JAD. Each high-level function is analyzed to the lowest level of detail, which includes needed data stores, inputs, outputs, screens, reports and functional specifications. The entity relationship model developed in the project scope definition session is also fully attributed in the follow-on requirements definition sessions.

JAD and Project Management

Once the project scope has been thoroughly defined, the JAD technique can be used to formulate a project plan. There are several session approaches for project planning, depending on which project planning aspects require greater emphasis. One project planning session approach includes the following steps:

  • Describe Current Situation
  • Define Success Measures
  • Define Project Strategy
  • Define the Project Tasks
  • Identify Roles and Responsibilities
  • Build a Precedence/Dependency Chart
  • Review the Plan
  • Next Steps

A variation of this project planning approach that has been used successfully in the past includes these steps:

• Identify Work Breakdown Structure

• Identify Content of each Deliverable

• Perform Risk Analysis

• Develop Contingency Plans and Priorities based on Risk Analysis

• Produce Gantt Chart

• Produce Critical Path Diagram

Additional session approaches for project planning have been increasingly aligned with the PMI Knowledge Areas. The objective has been to conduct JAD sessions to reach consensus on all the planning components advocated by A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), such as communication planning, procurement planning, quality planning, etc.

The JAD Phases

The overall JAD process consists of three phases: preparation, the workshop, review and resolve. An experienced JAD session leader will spend a substantial amount of time in the preparation phase of the JAD process. The primary objective of the preparation phase is to gain a clear understanding of the scope of the JAD effort at hand. The facilitator will identify the executive sponsor for the upcoming session and will interview all the selected meeting participants. The necessary commitment is secured from the executive sponsor and all those involved in the JAD session. It is important for the executive sponsor, and the meeting participants, to gain an appreciation of the effort required to produce a valid set of deliverables in a very compressed timeframe where little distraction can be allowed. Participants will have to be available for the duration of the meeting with, possibly, no interruptions of any kind in the process. This is why the JAD session leader will typically conduct an overview of the JAD process for the participants and the executive sponsor. During this overview, the facilitator will explain the ground rules for the meeting, the fast-paced approach that will be employed and the type of deliverables that will be produced in the time allocated for the session.

Having gained a better understanding of the effort at hand, the JAD session leader will then perform a risk assessment for the overall engagement and will develop an overall JAD sessions plan, when multiple workshops are required. Finally, the facilitator will focus on the logistics for the meeting. Typically, JAD sessions are held off site, where little interruption in the process can be expected. A large meeting room with a u-shaped table will be secured. The u-shaped table allows all participants to see one another and allows the facilitator to move from side to side to keep the discussion focused, limit side conversations and be as visible as possible. Flipcharts will be placed in the front of the room, facing the u-shaped table, and will be used to record the information elicited from the participants. A table on the side of the room will be available for the session scribe to record the elicited information on a PC. If observers will be in the meeting, a table will be available for them at the back of the room, behind the u-shaped table. A table will also be available at the front of the room for the JAD session leader to house an overhead projector, transparencies, a laptop PC and other supplies.

The workshop is a truly unique experience. It combines the skills of the JAD session leader and of the participants. As results begin to be rapidly achieved, enthusiasm builds quickly and it allows all the players to become extremely productive. Project requirements are discussed and agreed to in a fraction of the time needed to accomplish this with a traditional serial interviewing approach. Flipcharts containing important information, to be referenced throughout the meeting, are placed on the walls around the room. Data captured in the PC, by the scribe, is printed, copied and distributed to the participants on a continuous basis. A complete set of documentation is produced and reviewed by the end of the session, to ensure that there is consensus on all the deliverables developed in the meeting.

The third phase of the JAD process is called review and resolve. Session evaluation forms are reviewed to obtain feedback on the effectiveness of the JAD session and its deliverables. Issues (or open items) will have to be resolved before the next scheduled meetings to ensure that all potential roadblocks are removed and follow-on JAD sessions can be successful. Session documentation will be reviewed and edited for publication, as needed, without modifying its actual content. Follow-up surveys are also conducted to ensure that all project stakeholders are aware of progress being made and are satisfied with the results obtained to date.

The Value of JAD

The emphasis of JAD sessions is to focus on people and not technology. In successful efforts, the participants realize that they have a clear stake in the project at hand. JAD brings people together in an effort to eliminate barriers and make the participants work as a team. The ultimate requirements for success are the commitment from the customer and I.T. management, a well-trained facilitator with technical skills and lots of facilitation experience, the availability and commitment of needed resources, as well as the proper application of the concepts and structure of the process.

JAD is a breakthrough technique and is essential for improving communication throughout the company and for improving the image of the Information Technology department. JAD is also effective in integrating the customers in automation decisions and in disseminating the use of enhanced process and project management approaches.

Improving communication throughout the company is achieved by people talking to other people! With JAD sessions, there are no misunderstood user requirements. For high-level efforts, executives welcome an effective and quick solution to Strategic Business Planning (as opposed to lengthy studies) and this is of the utmost importance, as clear business strategies are required to model the information needs and actually achieve business alignment.

JAD enhances the credibility of Information Technology departments, especially in high-level planning sessions, as using JAD for strategic business planning and business reengineering is viewed by customer executives as an endeavor which goes beyond the perceived mission of I.T. JAD session leaders are viewed as impartial solution providers and business customers and I.T. professionals will typically accept the recommendations made by the facilitators. By integrating the customers in automation decisions, the users are asked to make their own decisions about information system strategies and application development issues, while I.T. is viewed as a problem solver.

Finally, in an attempt to disseminate the use of enhanced process and project management approaches, it is the JAD session leaders who are trained in group dynamics, strategic planning, business reengineering, structured analysis and design, as well as data modeling. Thus, facilitators understand process and project management and, as powerful internal consultants, they should be primary candidates in Project Office staffing endeavors. It is thanks to their efforts, that “for each additional foot of credibility, another inch of more disciplined practices is introduced in the organization.”

Tangible JAD Benefits

The benefits of using JAD techniques in an organization are extremely well documented. A few notable examples include:

• On a major tax project, in a leading U.S. oil company, JAD sessions generated the equivalent of six months worth of project documentation in two weeks.

• A major U.S. refinery identified and prioritized 24 new and complex information systems in a two-day JAD session.

• In a large state agency, JAD brought together participants from several locations to develop specifications for a project that had been foundering for over 10 years.

• Alignment of business strategies and I.T. strategies identified the need for a major reporting project tied to a new business initiative about to be launched.


In conclusion, enlightened organizations will quickly recognize the value of JAD techniques and the benefits that can be achieved from the use of this approach, from strategic planning to system acceptance testing. A well run Project Office will do well to staff its organization with capable JAD session leaders, who will not only facilitate meetings effectively, but will also provide capable consulting, to the entire organization, on how to achieve and maintain business and I.T. alignment on an ongoing basis.


Research Paper

The Standish Group International, Inc. (1995). The Chaos Report.

Technical Report

Paulk, Mark C., Curtis, Bill, Chrissis, Mary Beth, & Weber, Charles V. (1993). Capability Maturity Model for Software, Version 1.1. Pittsburgh, PA: Software Engineering Institute.

Reference Manual

Rush, Gary. (1999). FAST Session Leader Reference Manual, Version 8.0. MG Rush Systems, Inc.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston,Texas,USA