JAD for business plans and designs
by Roman Soltys, Process Improvement Institute
and Anthony Crawford, IBM Global Services


Joint Application Design (JAD) is an interactive systems design concept involving discussion groups in a workshop setting. JAD was developed by Chuck Morris of IBM Raleigh and Tony Crawford of IBM Toronto. In 1980 Tony and Chuck taught JAD in Toronto and Tony led several workshops to prove the concept. The results were encouraging and JAD became a well accepted approach in many companies. In time, JAD developed and gained general approval in the data processing industry.

Originally, JAD was designed to bring system developers and users of varying backgrounds and opinions together in a productive and creative environment. The meetings were a way of obtaining quality requirements and specifications using structure in a two-step approach providing a good alternative to traditional serial interviews by system analysts.


Several JAD themes have emerged and workshop techniques have undergone a number of transformations. The following diagram illustrates the general trend for variations in facilitation and workshop structures.


As JAD attained popularity in the 80's, group facilitation and workshop techniques were also gaining momentum. Some dealt specifically with "storming, norming and forming" aspects of group dynamics and evolved into conflict management, brainstorming sessions and motivational meetings. In more technical workshops, people focused on computer analysis and applied sophisticated tools in the process of gathering business requirements. These evolved as CASE tools developed into Rapid Application Development and other Development Methodology driven techniques.

Applied well, JAD can appear relatively effortless. Lacking understanding, observers and participants might overlook the various elements required to make JAD successful. Facilitators used parts of the agenda they liked and applied them in other settings. For some, JAD was used unstructured with blank flip charts in a brainstorming session. Large Post-it notes and placement exercises assisted this approach. CASE technology workshops were also claimed as JAD.

People would refer to almost any kind of meeting as a JAD. Eventually the differences became clearer as each adopted a brand name indicating the preferred technique and a following of practitioners. Examples emerged in 4RAM, Forum, Focus, Fusion, Wisdom, Breakthrough, The Method, RAD, JID, JIT, JED, BPR to name a few. Crawford differentiates his approach as Classic JAD.


The intent of JAD is to create a productive workshop environment where business people can convert concerns and issues into action plans and designs for implementation. The approach overcomes many misunderstandings that may exist across various business units and creates an air of cooperation and coordination in development activities. Essentially, JAD is the bridge for the gap between people and technology.

The power of JAD lies in its structure for analysis. It is best applied when you anticipate the discussion topics and organize material in a way that allows good analysis to occur naturally. In this way, you can lead team ideas toward a business design solution and document team decisions in the meeting.

The power of JAD-structured analysis is that it allows both business and systems participants to evaluate the issues of the day and design an optimum solution. Naturally, technology will be involved in many solutions, but a surprising number of solutions relate directly to procedures, tasks and general improvements to operations.


Several interests will be present in any group and there is a tendency for specialist language. Invariably, the language of business will be the best approach to discuss work plans and designs. It allows the direct expression of issues and overcomes most anxieties by quickly identifying and solving problems. The role of facilitation is required using an organized structure that promotes progress throughout the meeting while it diffuses any distracting arguments through the demonstration of results.

Team members don't need special skills to contribute and worries quickly evaporate as the document becomes the focus of debate. Facilitation supports the process and draws on participants' natural talents and knowledge of things they feel are important to talk about. Since people are always "ready" to discuss issues, it's important the facilitator is well prepared and capable of capturing the imagination of the group.


With workshop-ready materials and people eager for discussion, you will need your wits and something to write with. A pen will do. This, along with a dynamic team document, promotes "the power of the pen" for group memory. You can use it to illustrate and reinforce the decisions that emerge from discussion providing the best acknowledgment of contributions and participation.

In this way, workshop discussion is guided, but not dictated.. The team document starts out as a blank template which is updated as knowledge and structure is defined throughout the workshop. During the preparation stage, you can add content and structure from information gathered through interviews or orientation meetings. In this way, an agenda emerges for the workshop.


A prepared analysis technique and a draft document should respond to the desired outcome and implementation methodology. It also needs to cater to the character of the organization, team members, discussion content and work styles of those involved. Ultimately, it must be geared to project developers in order for them to move forward and implement the result. This has been misinterpreted by the industry to mean that the document "is the agenda."

In reality, a good JAD document only contains an intuitive agenda that demonstrates flexibility and allows for group dynamics and content variations. While the document is not THE agenda, a reasonable agenda is contained within, along with other mechanisms intended for group dynamics.

The best approach is to update the document immediately and review the results in the meeting. After discussion, these group materials can be printed and distributed as team handouts. This allows the team to stay on topic and gain confidence in your workshop technique. Results become the stress management tool allowing the team and the facilitator to remain focused on the issues. Everybody can enjoy the meeting for its purpose... a good practical solution and the prospect of easy implementation.


Some industry techniques focus on dealing with conflict in groups as a way of obtaining results -- this interpreting and managing feelings can be referred to as "the soft stuff". The "hard stuff" is establishing a good analysis technique which evidently results in effective action plans or business designs and systems requirements.

While the hard stuff can be a difficult thing to achieve, soft issues can often be more difficult and detract from thoughtful solutions. In this event, the "soft stuff" becomes the "hard stuff". To counteract this, an effective facilitator must continue to focus on the positive aspects of people working together and seeing results.


In the evolution of structured meetings, people have expressed the desire to improve and speed up the process. Efforts have been made by facilitation practitioners and consulting groups to eliminate steps and automate as much as possible -- even thinking.

Experience shows there is a natural pace and learning curve for workshop activities. A JAD meeting undergoes a similar process with feelings based on the stages of "Denial, Modification and Acceptance". Successful management of this phenomenon is predicated on time for analysis and reflection facilitated by the demonstration of results.

Automation may support some workshop activities but learning and acceptance can be adversely affected when inappropriate tools drive the pace. Failure is more likely when progress outpaces the ability to absorb and accept proposed solutions sometimes becoming forceful and risking cooperation and the "buy-in" factor. Participants play along in fear of appearing to be "difficult" or, at worst, "stupid".

An effective facilitator increases the pace as ideas emerge and people discover what they want to do allowing them to become prepared for automation... all in good time.


At some point, technology may add value to workshop activities as a development tool but never as the primary focus for the workshop. No matter how fascinating, technology should not replace the agenda nor be a distraction to results. While it need not be a hands-on experience for participants, the facilitator wants to ensure that the team does not judge a proposed solution in terms of the technology used in a workshop.

Whatever the technology, common business language will remain easier to understand than technical systems jargon. However, technology has an ability to point out logical anomalies or the need for data at critical points and the group should be free to discuss these implications without being distracted from the business objectives.


Successful JADs can incorporate a variety of techniques for business analysis. Crawford calls it Business Engineering with Design in Mind. These include high level vision and goals, business planning, requirements, process design, workflow analysis and procedure specifications design.


JAD is an excellent process and has been proven over time. Its widespread use is due to its ability to provide good results and practical solutions.

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