Don’t Fail the Project Before it Starts: Requirements Gathering to the Rescue
Written by: Megan Tormey
A project can be completed on time, on scope, and on budget and not be successful. Success is only achieved when the project achieves the outcome it set out to achieve. For example, the project developed a program that moves the organization forward. The project implemented a technology system that creates efficiencies or enables new functionality. In essence, a project is only successful if it addresses the problem initially brought forward. You know, the problem the project team was built to solve in the first place.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Not always. “How could a project manager or team reach the conclusion of the project and not achieve success,” you ask? It is quite easy to do, and it starts from the very beginning of the project’s development. The problem either wasn’t defined correctly, or scope creep occurred. Yes, there are several small adjustments that could be made along the way to course correct. However, the team has to be astute, regularly reevaluating any ideas that come up against the requirements the solution needs to achieve. Testing may show that a desired technology solution will not actually work with existing systems. Leadership may not approve of the direction the project has to take (increased cost or resources, or a significant impact to customers). These changes may be the best way to solve the needs set out in the requirements gathering process, but the leader may worry about administrative approval or constituency support. However, these things can be avoided from the beginning.
Requirements (along with scope) should be the yardstick project teams review each meeting. Requirements become the foundation and the guideline of the project and should define the deliverable. Without regular consideration, projects could easily deviate into tangential areas (solving problems that were not part of this project) or can twist over time resulting in a project delivering outcomes that align to the goal, in theory, but miss the mark practically.
When you launch or participate in your next project, consider the guidance below to ensure you define and meet the requirements.
Requirements Gathering is perhaps one of the most critical elements of a project. It will ensure that the project team:
● Knows what the true problem is that they are trying to solve.
● Digs deeper to determine if the problem identified is the root cause or merely a symptom of a larger issue. Solving for a symptom is like putting a band-aid on a broken bone.
● Gathers all the elements of the problem they are trying to solve, or outcomes that the new program or initiative is tasked to achieve. These are the true requirements. Everything needs to be outlined in this meeting or the project could head down the wrong path.
● Gathers everyone that is connected or impacted to the solution to gain all perspectives and not just one sides perspective
Requirements Gathering Meeting
A requirement gathering meeting can be conducted in a number of ways. It depends on the organizational culture, the type of problem or opportunity that they are trying to address. However, there are some basic guidelines that should be followed to ensure optimal efficiency.
● Agreement on the purpose of the meeting.
● Allow open mindedness – open discussion, brainstorming.
● Ensure that you hear all perspectives and needs especially from other departments impacted by the project (even on the fringes) a missed requirement could be disastrous for a project.
Leadership is either part of the meeting or a summary of the results is provided to them shortly after to gain their approval to move forward on the outcomes identified. If they are unwilling to support the outcomes at that point, there is no need to move forward with the project. It may be for a good reason, but a team should not spend time spinning its wheels on a project that will not go anywhere. It is better to add it do a future project list or a known issues list and be held until the leadership or organization is ready to move forward fully.
Regular assessment of the requirements throughout the project will keep the team aligned toward the needs or problems the outcome needs to address.
● Make the requirements visible and easily accessible.
○ Include them in the Project Charter and Project Plan.
○ List them on the project agendas to serve as a reminder.
○ Create a separate page with the requirements that can be printed, passed out, and hung up in the project area or team members’ workspaces.
● Schedule regular reviews of the requirements.
○ Encourage questions about the requirements, multiple times, to ensure the team fully understands them.
○ Clarify any uncertainties about what the requirements are or mean.
○ Ask each team member if what they are working on will help address the need or solve the problem.
○ If any changes need to be made to the deliverable, compare it to the requirements to ensure it will still be pertinent.
● Be open to questions and feedback
○ Moving forward full speed ahead without allowing any questions, clarification, or uncertainty will certainly spell doom. A Project Manager has to be available and open to team members thoughts, concerns, and ideas.
○ Remember, the team is better when working together, not alone in silos.
Following these guidelines of requirements gathering and assessment will exponentially increase the likelihood of project success.
Megan Tormey, Revolutionary HR Consultant and Strategic Partner