2 Keys to Reduce Project Risk in the Requirements Process

Jul 19 10:18 2008 John Reiling Print This Article

Gathering and managing requirements are important challenges in project management. Most projects succeed or fail based upon the quality of the project requirements. The Project Manager needs to assess and understand the uniqueness of the requirements gathering process for his/her individual project.

Gathering and managing requirements are important challenges in project management. Most projects succeed or fail based upon the quality of the project requirements. Projects can fail due to poor requirements at the beginning,Guest Posting or at any time throughout the lifecycle if the continuously evolving baseline of requirements is not managed effectively. Projects are like snowflakes; no single project is exactly the same as another. The Project Manager needs to assess and understand the uniqueness of the requirements gathering process for his/her individual project.

2 Points of Focus Around Requirements Gathering

Preliminary scope statements are the beginning of the requirements gathering process. They are high level and are designed to initiate progressive elaboration, where that preliminary scope statement is expanded into the detail that makes up the complete requirements baseline. The Project Manager must get his/her hands around how that progressive elaboration process will take place as part of the project. 2 points of focus can help: Requirements Definition and Requirements Management.

Requirements Definition

Requirements Definition refers to the details that make up the actual requirements, or description of the product of the project. The key is to understand the reason for the project: the underlying problem to be solved or opportunity to be seized. It entails "discovering" the underlying problem or opportunity. This involves distinguishing what might be symptoms and possible solutions.

Often someone might state something like "What I need is a ..." The individual is acutely aware of a problem and often focuses on a narrow set of possible solutions, mistakenly stating the problem as one of these solutions. The PM or Requirements Analyst needs to gain control of the conversation and by engaging stakeholders and to identify the root causes. Once the root cause is identified, many problems become very simple. Other situations may be more complex, may demand coordination among stakeholders, will require collaboration to discover and document the Requirements Definition.

Requirements Management

Requirements Management refers to the configuration management needed to manage an expanding and changing set of details that make up that Requirements Definition. Usually in the beginning of the project, there may be little apparent need for sophisticated Requirements Management. Often it can be assumed that there will be a need, or that need will become apparent as the project unfolds.

Here are 4 key inputs to the important challenge of Requirements Management:

1. # of stakeholders and how widespread

2. # of people on team and how widespread

3. Size of project - $

4. Complexity of the product of the project

The more the project requirements are elaborated, the greater need organize Requirements Definitions for each part of the project. The more parts, and the more in depth the definitions, the greater is the need for a more sophisticated Requirements Management system.

Putting Together Requirements Definition and Requirements Management

Here is what can be done to effectively manage the requirements process on any project:

1. Identify ALL stakeholders. Develop categories for types of stakeholders, such as users, support, interfacing in certain areas, managers affected by the project, and more. Make sure that all areas that the project will touch are represented by a stakeholder.

2. Determine a communications strategy for engaging with your stakeholders. You will need to build bridges to the stakeholders, and will ideally be able to establish at least one face-to-face meeting with each stakeholder, and ideally at least one face-to-face meeting among all stakeholders.

3. Develop a list of questions, organized around various facets of the problem to be solved by the project. This list should provide clarification to both you and the stakeholders on the issues to be addressed. Make sure they address a clear understanding of the problem, as opposed to specifying a solution. Thoroughly vet the questions within the team and with the project sponsor(s).

4. Determine how much time will be needed, in terms of both sessions and overall duration, for the project requirements gathering. Develop a schedule for meetings and other engagements as developed through your communications strategy.

5. Do initial requirements gathering by obtaining answers to the questions you have developed. Whether by survey, face-to-face meetings, online meetings, or one-on-one meetings, you will need to establish a set of raw data addressing your questions.

6. Document answers to the questions in an initial requirements document draft. Review this thoroughly with all key stakeholder representatives and revise accordingly. Make sure all stakeholders buy in to these answers.

7. Move into JAD sessions - Joint Application Design/Development. This is where you will likely engage developers also, and some iterative solution development will take place. One of the keys to this process is that you will be able to show stakeholders what is possible. You will also be able to put something concrete out there that will provide a greater point of focus to "smoke out" remaining requirements and clarify understanding.

8. Get formal signoff from all major stakeholder groups. This is an important process, as it forces some attention by the stakeholders to assure there are no hidden doubts or caveats.

The Requirements Definition is the continuous process of fleshing out and refining the baseline description of the product of the project. Requirements Management is how the flow information in these steps is organized and configuration managed.

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About Article Author

John Reiling
John Reiling

John Reiling, PMP, has managed project requirements in many situations. John's web site Project Management Training Online provides online courses on "requirements" for PDUs and PMP Prep. Also see John's post "Requirements Process: Requirements Management versus Requirements Definition" at PMcrunch.com.

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