Requirements Management and the Role of Project Managers
When staff or customers have endured the use of an outdated or poorly designed system to accomplish their tasks, the prospect of having a new and improved system creates excitement and high anticipation; however, this excitement can quickly turn to disappointment and frustration if the new system does not do what they thought or wanted it to do. Their disappointment is typically expressed with questions such as “Why didn’t they talk to the people who have to use this system, first?” The unintended result is often a loss of morale and/or business.
Skilled Project Managers avoid this common problem by utilizing an effective requirements management methodology. Requirements management is defined as the identification, documentation, analysis, prioritizing, control and approval of the specific requirements of a project (e.g. new system, program or product). Don’t make the mistake of assuming that informal discussions and feedback alone, are all that’s necessary to determine the specific project requirements. A Project Manager or an experienced Business Analyst can lead your team through the process of effective requirements gathering.
Check out this clip from Dilbert.com:
Make sure that your Project Manager is well versed in the following requirements management processes:
Planning – A Requirements Management Plan describes how each phase of requirements gathering process will occur. We recommend developing and sharing the plan document to minimize confusion and ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page.
Identification – Requirements identification begins with identifying ALL the stakeholders and then learning their system needs. Project Managers use their skill and judgment to determine the most appropriate method to obtain this information such as one-on-one interviews, focus groups, questionnaires or ‘use cases.’ It is also important to identify early-on what type of requirements will be gathered – e.g. business requirements, user requirements, and system requirements.
Documentation – If the business requirements and their approval are not clearly documented with sufficient detail, you will be relying on memory and perceptions. We all know how dangerous that can be. I have found it priceless to document all requirements and apply a unique ID number to each one so that it can be easily referenced and traced throughout the process. Using a process flow chart or diagram to demonstrate various “use cases” can be extremely helpful in thinking through a process and mapping out how the user will interact with the new process or system. It also helps to demonstrate the “benefit” of the new process/system.
Analysis – Sometimes stakeholders have unrealistic expectations for any new system. Since every project has a budget and other constraints, careful analysis must be performed to determine the cost, relevance, dependencies and resources required to achieve each requirement.
Prioritizing – The data generated from the analysis phase will help to prioritize requirements. Project Managers should always ensure that the prioritization and associated approval of requirements is documented. One step that’s often missed during this phase is communicating with stakeholders to set their expectations. If this doesn’t happen they will be left wondering why their particular ‘requirements’ were not implemented.
Control – Just when you think you’re done with requirements identification and have obtained the approvals, some requirements may need to change. Given the constraints like budget and time, how will your Project Manager handle or control changing requirements? This is important for you to know.
Approval – The Project Manager’s role is to know who has the final say on all project requirements and to document every approval in writing.
Seasoned Project Managers (whether collecting requirements or managing a team that is) are able to overcome obstacles associated with requirements gathering and will serve as a liaison between the end users and the team that develops the new system, product or program.
“Without requirements, there is no way to validate a program design; that is, no way to logically connect the program to the customer’s desires.”
– Benjamin L. Kovitz –
Chrystal Richardson is Managing Partner of CE Wilson Consulting, a project management and business efficiency consulting firm that has managed projects for technology, mining, medical and manufacturing clients since 2001.