7 Steps to Successful Requirements Gathering
To help ensure a successful project, it’s important to effectively gather requirements
and set project goals. This should be the practice for every project that is tackled,
regardless of size and impact. The key is not just knowing what you are building, but
also knowing why.
What happens if you skip this step?
Gathering requirements doesn’t always happen at the very beginning of the project.
Sometimes it will happen as each project moves along and during each cycle. However,
some may feel very confident they have a handle on things and skip it altogether,
resulting in confusion and missteps along the way that cost time and money.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your process is smooth and effective
and facilitates developing a project that meets all needs.
Establish Goals and Objectives Early
Everyone goes into a project probably thinking they have a pretty solid idea of what
the outcomes are going to be. The project wouldn’t be being done if no one knew what
it was, right? But there’s more to it than just “kind of” knowing. Start with what
you think the parameters of the project should be, then begin to get sign-offs from
stakeholders. Without these goals and objectives, you begin with no framework which
will harm future processes and decisions because the foundation is missing.
Part of understanding the requirements of a projects means knowing who are the
individuals necessary to make the project successful. If there is a specific
department or customer for whom the project has been created, they are the stakeholders.
There may also be company executives or other project sponsors who will be accountable
in this role. The project team members will be the skill-specific experts who can help
with identifying resources, time and budgets necessary to complete the project.
Document Every Requirement Transparently
You may be nodding along understandingly in meetings with stakeholders because you
have a pretty good grasp of the project that lies ahead. But what about when you have
to describe it to company executives? Or talk to another department who isn’t as
well-versed in the technology? Like Accounting? Do not expect that all the nuances
of your project are going to fit in a one-paragraph summary email later in the day.
Take detailed notes in every meeting. Understand how the notes show how the requirements
overlap and interact. Then make sure the entire project team—stakeholders, customers,
project team, executives—is given access to the notes. This fosters a sense of buy-in
for all involved and will prevent landmines in the future.
Prioritize Your Product Features
It’s easy to have project requirements elicitation seem like Christmas to stakeholders.
If you open the door, everyone will walk in with everything they want your project to
do or fix. Don’t automatically take the negative stand. Some of the requests might
reveal some good information or illuminate assumptions that are incorrect about the
project path. But in the end, the project manager’s role is to prioritize those
requirements which are within the project scope and will deliver the functionality
required. And do all that within the resource, time and budget conditions that are
set. Keep that wish-list around because if you’re super successful with fulfilling
the initial requirements, you might be able to fulfill a few!
When you think you have it all…you probably don’t. That’s where the approval process
comes in. Every stakeholder can see the prioritization of requirements and ensure
that the project is meeting the end-user needs. Then implementation can begin.
Be OK With Having Missed Something
Even with all this prep work and conversations, you might find as you get involved
that something got missed. It’s not cause for alarm. It happens. For projects that
are particularly large, it’s almost expected. And even if you think you did,
priorities might shift based on business environment and needs. Requirements won’t
ever be static. You will be actively managing your requirements from the beginning
to the end of the project. Stopping to re-evaluate periodically won’t be as difficult
if you do this work up front.
Project software or budgeting materials can help a manager keep track of the progress.
It’s not necessary but having some organizational system for tracking the resources,
teamwork and timelines will be essential to ensure that all requirements are being met.
Ways to Do Requirements Gathering
There are several effective ways to elicit information that will define the requirements
of a project. Here are some ways to do this:
Questionnaires: If you need to ask multiple people the same questions and they aren’t
collocated, this is an excellent tool. They issue with this is that it is passive and
you are at the mercy of your respondents to complete the questionnaire and return it
to you. And you will need to make sure the questionnaire is thorough. You don’t want
to have to go back and get clarification if your question didn’t get the answers you
Case Scenarios: This is creating a model description of how you think you and your
team will complete the project. Case scenarios can include a list of the team members,
resources, budget and timeline. It can provide an overview or more detailed steps of
how the project will progress. If your stakeholders are fuzzy on their direction,
this might be a good tool to jumpstart the conversation and provide clarity.
Mind Mapping: This is visual brainstorming which consists of laying out any and all
requirements, processes and eventualities of a project. From the main project bubble
in the center, smaller bubbles branch out which include resources, team requirements,
budget and timing issues, obstacles and anything else germane to project completion.
From there the mind map can be distilled into a workable outline.
Prototyping: You may have to “begin with the end in mind” as Steven Covey says.
Stakeholders may know something isn’t working but not how to find the solution.
Giving them some possible deliverables may help them figure out what the “fix”
they need really is and what they do and don’t want. From there the list of
requirements will flow more smoothly.
This may seem like a lot of work to do before you even begin day one of your project
. But it will be some of the best work you do to ensure the project is successful for
you and your stakeholders.