Requirements gathering is an important process in project management, without this, it is virtually impossible to successfully meet project goals. The requirements gathering process provides a team with direction that is based on the requirements a customer has identified. Here are seven steps to ensure all your project deliverables are a success and will meet customer expectations.
1. Identify all project stakeholders
The first step is identifying who your key stakeholders are and how they impact the final deliverables. It is easy to identify primary stakeholders, and all-too-easy to miss secondary or tertiary stakeholders. This is a critical step. Identify all possible stakeholders by brainstorming with sponsors, functional group leaders, and team members. Losing sight of any relevant stakeholder can cause gaps in the requirements gathering process, assumptions, related findings, and ultimately risk the project outcome altogether.
2. Ask stakeholders the right questions
Once you have identified the key stakeholders, it's important to know the types of questions to ask that will get to the core of what a stakeholder's particular expectations are for deliverables. Learning how to ask the right questions to allow you to zoom in on requirements can be a bit of an art, but it is an important one to learn. Stakeholders may not know exactly what they're looking for, and this step may take multiple iterations to flush out the answers. Identify the most appropriate requirements gathering techniques to use, as this can vary from project to project. If the right questions are not being asked it can be difficult to accurately identify the project scope.
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3. Determine the best requirements gathering techniques
There are multiple requirements gathering techniques that can be used - such as brainstorming, one-on-one interviews, focus groups, direct observation, surveys, prototyping, and reverse engineering - each of which offers specific benefits depending on the nature of the project. Each technique will have its pros and cons; make sure to evaluate each of them to identify the best solution for application. Not all techniques will be suitable for every project. It is best to use more than one technique to make sure the requirements identification is accurate by dissecting things from different angles. This reduces the chances of key details falling through the cracks.
4. Document everything
One of the things that often gets overlooked is sufficient documentation. In project management and requirements gathering, every conversation, result, error, or change must be documented. This is the only mechanism for tracing the deliverables back to the requirements. Without this, it can be highly problematic when trying to resolve the issues that will (inevitably) surface along the way, and without it, there can be uncertainty as to whether the project has been successful.
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5. Analyze the results
Once the requirements have been gathered and documented, the results will need to be carefully analyzed to confirm that the findings are accurate, complete, and/or realistic. The analysis should include the prioritization of technical, operational, functional, and implementation requirements categories. Additionally, all requirements should be prioritized based on their significance. At times stakeholders may want or believe specific deliverables or goals are attainable, yet findings indicate otherwise. Conducting an analysis allows for the opportunity to identify these types of major discrepancies, and will reduce significant stress and disappointment later.
6. Verify the results
Before jumping into the project, the last step in requirements gathering should be to verify the findings, exceptions, obstacles, feasibility, and other factors with stakeholders before proceeding with the project. This helps to eliminate uncertainty and misunderstandings after the project has been initiated and ensures all parties are on the same page.
Once the results have been verified with all stakeholders, the final step is to obtain sponsor and other stakeholder sign-off. This confirms all parties understand and accept the requirements gathering process, findings, and terms before initiating the project.
The foundational and iterative process of identifying stakeholders, asking key questions, and identifying requirements using various techniques, then documenting, analyzing, verifying, and signing off on them are critical steps at the beginning stages of project management. These critical steps provide all stakeholders with a guide to track project activities and increase the chances of meeting intended goals.
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Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contributor and co-host of the "technically speaking" segment on the Price of Business Talk Radio. She has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the US and Canada. To find out more about Moira, go to www.leadhershipgroup.com.