Top tips for effective requirements management
CEO, The Ouellette Group
Principal, Sierra Systems
This paper reveals the top requirements management tips as collected by the authors in their roles on the original leadership team of the PMI Requirements Management Community of Practice.
The purpose of the paper is to divulge the result of a review of requirements management practices using experiences gained during two years of monthly webinars delivered to the community and results from a survey sent to over 18,000 community subscribers and other professionals
This article addresses top project and requirements management challenges and seven keys to requirements management success.
Deliver project success more frequently with smarter and tighter management of requirements. Focus on the seven success keys to improve project performance and yield higher business value through involving the right people, setting the right expectations, increasing quality, managing change, and building in timely approvals.
It is no surprise that requirements are a critical key to success for any project. We have all heard the statistics of challenged projects, as measured by the triple constraint. And they most often fall short because of requirements that are missing, misinterpreted, misunderstood, or mistaken. And yet, with all the focus on the critical importance of managing scope on projects and clearly defining the requirements, projects still have challenges in this area. When you check the Internet, look at conference topics, and see the seminars and workshops offered. You will notice a requirements management theme. The vital importance of requirements crosses project methodologies, whether agile or traditional. It also crosses industries, whether financial, manufacturing, construction, energy, telecom, or others.
We have had the opportunity to work with the Requirements Management Community of Practice over the past several years. As well, over the years we have worked with thousands of project practitioners across the globe. We decided to ask this expansive community their top project challenges, their top requirements managements challenges, and key success factors they recommend for managing requirements on projects.
Top Project Challenges
Let's start with the top project challenges. Our respondents cited several reasons for project failure, and we have captured the top five, in priority order:
- Schedule, budget, and scope (requirements) are met fully but provide little business value;
- Business/customers/users say they want an agile project but still want a fixed price;
- Too many defects are found during user-acceptance testing, proving that requirements were not met, despite testing by the development/construction team;
- Interfaces and integration with other systems or data currently in operation, or with other systems being developed by other projects, are unclear or undefined;
- Expectations of the business, customers, or users are too high.
Top Requirements Management Challenges
We further constrained the question to be requirements-specific and asked what are the three biggest challenges with requirements management. In priority order, the top three responses were as follows:
- Time lag for various required approvals slows the project life cycle;
- There are too many changes;
- Business/customers/users expect budget to be static while scope increases.
These were followed by “not doing proper 'scoping in and scoping out,’” and “users/customers not knowing what they want.”
Critical Success Factors
We then asked the respondents to let us know what they felt was most important tasks to always do. In other words, what factors for managing requirements are critical toward the success of the project. Here are their top three responses:
- Ensure the right stakeholders are involved in requirements definition;
- Keep the requirements business-focused;
- Manage the triple constraint—with the added dimension of “business value.”
Seven Keys to Requirements Management Success
We rolled these together with the respondents’ final comments on “What will you always do to ensure successful requirements management?” Then, we consolidated these responses into seven keys to requirements management success:
I. Requirements must be managed to ensure true business value is achieved. While assessing and managing the triple constraint, a clear and purposeful focus must be on comprehensive requirements gathering. It is no secret that the budget, time, and scope are all important and have an impact one upon the other. The scope aspect of the project is where we drill down into requirements—also not a surprise. The focus we need to heighten is that the requirements gathered must be the right requirements that link back to the original project objectives, which in turn must support the objectives of the business. In the business analysis and project management arena, we know this as “requirements traceability.” It is a wonderful technique or tool that ensures the results of the project will indeed match up to, and support, the achievement of business objectives.
II. Involve the right people. Okay, so this is what we would call a “duh” statement. However, many of the challenges we face are because of wrong or missing stakeholders. If it is so obvious, then why is a full chapter in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) now devoted to stakeholder management? Yes it was previously embedded throughout the standard, but the identification of stakeholders, the analysis of them, the plan for communications with them, and ongoing expectations management are critical to the smooth running of a project. So, along with requirements, consider some of these questions (which may help to identify a strong core group of stakeholders for your project):
- Who are the business area subject matter experts?
- Who will use the end product, service, or result of the project?
- Who will pay for the work on the project?
- Who understands the current environment, infrastructure, and architecture?
- Who will be impacted by process improvement or automation?
- Who else should be involved?
III. Have the right expectations. Be realistic about what can be delivered. Hard truth, honest estimates, feasible deliverables, and realistic timeframes are all crucial to proper expectations. The theme that came to the forefront was an implication that fixed price project budgets could be managed with an agile methodology. Now, we are not saying that this is impossible; but for some reason, the cost of the work to satisfy the product backlog often exceeds the fixed price budget. So the reconciliation of the backlog is vitally important, driving requirements through user stories, budget, and timeline. Here it is again— the triple constraint. This must be managed regardless of the methodology used for your project.
IV. Quality in requirements is as important or even more important than quality in the product. The focus on quality tends to diminish when the timeline is critical. Quality, resources, and risk are additional project requirements that should be managed along with the triple constraint. Think about the best practices in gathering and documenting requirements, and then validating that the right requirements are documented—whether traditional or agile. Then add to these the appropriate flavors of modeling, whether use case, process, or data modeling. Ensure quality by verification techniques such as desk checking, walk throughs, peer reviews, and inspections.
V. Consider the integration and interface points of other projects. Take a look at the project from a high-level view—think outside the project. What other organizational areas will be touched by the results of your project? When we receive data from another workstream or set of projects. Do we change, transform, or use data that is then passed on to be used by other projects or workstreams? Consider all interfaces and possible integration points. Doing this should be part of the initial requirements gathering discussions. Identifying these key interface and integration points will be reflected in the systems integration testing and will mitigate the risk of integration surprises in the production environment.
VI. Facilitate timely client approvals. Lack of timely approvals of requirements is always an issue. Here are a few reasons for this:
- Stakeholders are busy people.
- They do not view requirements sign off as a priority.
- They may have not participated throughout requirements collection and so are disengaged at approval time.
As a good BA or PM, it is our responsibility to manage this risk. So we wanted to share some of the techniques that have worked. One is simple and straightforward—plan for the sign off. Schedule the time into the analysis portion of the project, and make it a key milestone on which the project reports. This calls visibility to the importance of this sign off/approval milestone. Another is to identify the signatory up front and communicate with him/her in a mode in which they will respond. If they are more auditory, tell them the sign off is coming in two weeks, for example. If they prefer things in writing, then perhaps email will work. Executives may want “sound bites” as updates. Learn what communication method they prefer, and then communicate that way to get the results needed for your projects.
VII. Changes to requirements can completely alter the nature of a project. Again we see the importance of the triple constraints with this topic. We already saw how schedules are impacted as a result of changes to the requirements. Budgets must be revisited too. No matter how great or small a change to requirements seems, it must be considered against the budget of the project. Remember in the agile project where the budget was fixed? This can greatly impact the capability of the project to deliver on the expectations of the requirements. Remember the key of traceability throughout the project? This, too, is key to help manage the changes and to ensure that they serve the project well and support the business objectives. A strong change management process will mitigate the risk that changing requirements will not bring value to the business. The change process should ensure the proper levels of requirements, authorities for sign off, communication, and documentation of the changes so that all requisite stakeholders are involved.
If you can focus on three or four of these seven success keys, your project is sure to improve. So be confident there is business value, involve the right people, set the right expectations, remember quality, consider interface/integration points, plan in timely approvals, and manage change. Sounds simple, right? So let's go and manage requirements a little bit smarter and tighter and deliver project success more frequently.
Cheers to Better Requirements!
© 2014, Beth Ouellete PMP, PgMP, Michael Frenette PMP
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings, Phoenix, Arizona