You have probably seen people point fingers of blame at each other upon completion of unsuccessful projects, and all in the name of unclear project requirements. After all the dust settles, one or both parties may feel shortchanged or unhappy. And understandably so because it can be quite challenging to adequately address the needs of a project. But thankfully, there is a mechanism you can put in place to alleviate the hurdle – project requirements gathering.
Imagine you are the project manager taking the lead on an electrical installation project of a building. The scope covers service utilization voltage that should be supplied to the building, and you have to put into account the electric load usage growth with particular attention to the possibility of additional appliances such as air conditioning, electronic communication equipment, electric heating, and electric data processing.
With that information handy, you will have to figure out how to incorporate a few resources to make that happen. From things like the budget and labor involved to the facilitation, you will need to address all these issues beforehand – which is what the project requirements gathering process is all about. That said, let’s get into the fundamentals of an effective project requirements gathering process, how it works, and why it is important.
But First, What Is Requirements Gathering?
Requirements gathering refers to the process of exploring, researching, and documenting all the requirements of a particular project. Mostly done during stakeholder meetings, this process is staged at the beginning of a project. But surprisingly, research has found out that over 70 percent of failed projects are due to a lack of thorough requirements gathering. The scope of an effective project requirements gathering and management process should answer the following key questions:
- What is the ultimate goal in understanding the project requirements?
- What is the timeline of the project?
- Are there any risks involved in the process of requirements gathering? And if so, what are the mitigating factors to put in place?
- Who are the parties to be involved in the overall project?
Importance Of The Requirements Gathering Process
Ever been on a project before? What risks did you run into? Are there any resources you ran out of? Did you have a budgetary mishap? And if you run into all the aforementioned three shortcomings, what impact did that have on your overall project goals?
One thing for sure is that if you set project scope, budget, and deadlines, adequate identification and preparation of resources has to be taken care of at the outset. Failure to plan for all these aspects will impact your project, which might ultimately lead to delayed, incomplete, or failed projects. The requirements gathering process aims to keep your schedule on track, help you monitor progress, and as well prevent the project from incurring overrun costs.
Step By Step To Effective Project Requirements Gathering Process
This process is best served if you, taking the lead as project manager, compares the approved requirements versus what the project is meant to deliver. The groundwork of a project is laid once the purpose, goals, and general expectations of the project have been established. This initiates the requirements gathering process that encompasses the articulation of appropriate resources, expertise, tools, and techniques that will ensure you achieve your project deliverables.
So, how do you gather project requirements in the requirements gathering phase of a project in the most effective way? A typical requirements gathering process comprises several key steps, namely:
- Assign a proper project communication model
- Identify all the key project stakeholders
- Conduct a requirements interview with stakeholders
- Document all requirements elicitation activities
- Share your requirements documentation with stakeholders
- Get the shareholders’ approval
- List all your assumptions about requirements
- Map out the requirements on the project timeline
- Keep reviewing your requirement documentation
Step 1: Assign A Proper Project Communication Model
First and foremost, put in place an appointee who is going to be responsible for all communication flow related to the project. Make them understand the importance of this role because a breakdown in a proper communication can stall your project. Therefore, make them be the central source as well as the go-to individual for all communications and updates with regards to the project.
Step 2: Identify All The Key Project Stakeholders
The second step in the requirements gathering process is to identify all potential stakeholders who will, in one way or the other, impact or be impacted by the outcome of the project. Once all stakeholders have been identified through stakeholder analysis, it is vital to plan a meeting with them where you can deliberate all matters regarding the project, and all that would be based on each stakeholder’s potential contribution to the project.
Stakeholders can either be external or internal to the organization. But either way, stakeholder analysis will help you uncover the skillset, technique, or tools that can create a gap in your resource pool needed to deliver on the project. The typical stakeholder meeting can include:
- Departmental managers.
- Manufacturers and business partners.
- Team leads.
- Board members.
Overall, stakeholders will serve as the backbone to the progress of your project. And by doing so, they will brainstorm, carry out analysis, and approve or deny project updates.
Step 3: Conduct A Requirements Gathering With Stakeholders
Next up, get a meeting with your stakeholders to gather the project requirements. And by doing so, have them respond to questions such as:
- What do you think we can do to upgrade this product and have it do what it isn’t doing right now?
- What prompted your interest in this project in the first place?
- What functionalities would you require to use this product?
- What specific features would you like to see in this product?
- Do you have any concerns with regard to our project process?
Here are some commonly used requirements gathering techniques;
A focus group consists of a gathering of people who are representative of the users or customers of a product. Such group is used by a researcher in gathering data on challenges, needs, features and general feedback on the said products. A focus group is a managed process with specific participants.
Interviews help in gathering information about users’ expectations, tastes, preferences, goals, etc.
Brainstorming is primarily used to get as many ideas as possible from group of people. Such ideas may entail solutions to challenges, remedies to conflicts, etc.
By observing users, one can identify a process flow, steps, pain points and windows for improvement in a project.
In this approach, you gather preliminary requirements that you use to build a prototype. You show this to the client, who then gives you additional requirements. You tweak the initial creation and cycle back with the client again. This repetitive process continues until the product meets the client’s specifications and usability.
When collecting information from many people, a challenge of budget and time may arise. In such a case, a survey or questionnaire can be used. The survey can force users to select from choices already provided.
Workshops can be very effective for gathering requirements. This technique applies collaboration in an effective manner especially when domain-model artifacts such as activity diagrams are created.
Step 4: Document All Requirements Elicitation Activities
It doesn’t hurt to leave any stones unturned when it comes to a project’s major and minor details. Get yourself a notebook and document everything. This does not only help in decision-making but also creates an easily accessible repository where team leaders can obtain future references from.
Moreover, writing down everything at the requirements gathering phase can help you reflect on project accomplishments, fixtures introduced and as well help manage stakeholder expectations. Besides, documentation will offer a framework that guides future decision-making that will serve to keep your project on the right track till completion. That’s why you have to record detailed notes during your stakeholder interviews to get a grasp on the all-important things. And while at it, remember to:
- Be an active listener – when it comes to listening, making someone feel heard is quite a precious and rare quality. Listening to someone does not only involve what they say but also what they don’t say or how they say it with regards to their body language. Active listening is a quality that could help you tell from the body language what your stakeholders are convinced of and what they aren’t. remember that whatever is said by word of mouth isn’t the whole story. Instead, pay attention to the non-verbal cues that expose important strategy points and unstated goals.
- Elicit business requirements, not tools – if you are offering a service, for instance, focus on gathering project requirements that fulfill the needs of your stakeholders, not what your specific tools of service delivery can do. This way, it can be easier to adjust the product to suit the needs of the users who, let’s face it, are the key stakeholders. And to achieve that, your line of questioning on requirements should be about the ‘What’ and not the ‘How.’
Step 5: List All Your Assumptions About Requirements
As if often the case, your line of thinking would be to assume you understand the trivial things and make mental assumptions. As obvious as it might seem, simple requirements that you assume can delay or stall the progress of your project. And as they say, the devil is in the details. But you can catch him if you inquire all about your assumptions and clear everything up.
Step 6: Share Your Requirements Documentation With Stakeholders
It is vital that all your stakeholders be on the same page with you concerning your project requirements. This helps them buy into your project, and as well act as overseers into the progress of the project. Being transparent with your stakeholders keep away statements like, “Hey, we agreed to have tool X, but it is not here. So, what happened?
Step 7: Get Stakeholders Approval
Step 8: Map Out The Requirements On The Project Timeline
Once all the requirements have been gathered, documented and all the goals and exceptions are clear, create a measurable, quantifiable, and actionable requirements management plan to get the ball rolling. During this stage, you will establish the following:
- The timeline of your project – create a clear and actionable timeline and then map out your project requirements.
- Determine the risks that you might run into in the course of the project requirements gathering process. And as always, the risks are often bound by three aspects, namely; the project scope, budget, and timeline – all of which can be impacted by sick days, workplace accidents, or holidays.
- Make it clear who your team members would be – organize your team members to work on specific areas based on their specialty.
With that in mind, you will have the luxury to map out all your project requirements based on its timeline. Thereafter, you can present it to the stakeholders for approval.
Step 9: Keep Reviewing Your Requirement Documentation Throughout The Project
As they say, man is to error, and even the top-notch project requirements gatherer always has a chance to miss something or even make petty mistakes. During the initial and closing meetings, you bet that you or some of the stakeholders forget to ask or mention important details. And once such important details pop up later during the process, you might need to review specific aspects of the process or even alter your priorities.
Either way, there should be no cause for alarm because you can always plan ahead of time and ensure nothing major derails your requirements gathering process.
The Bottom Line
The requirements gathering process refers to the exploratory researching and documentation of all the requirements of a particular project. Mostly done during stakeholder meetings, this process is staged at the beginning of a project to determine the dynamics involved in the process of incorporating skills, technics, time, and human capital into accumulating the requisite resources aimed at undertaking a project to completion.
The dynamics of the requirements gathering process are bound by three key aspects; time, budget, and scope. But when it comes to execution, the single-most-important quality to include in your methodology is prioritization. Once all goals and expectations have been set and the groundwork approved, stakeholders will mention everything they want and what they can impact the project with. But to be a successful requirements gatherer, it is vital to have the eventual product in mind and then document all information based on priority.