Gail is a PMP Charterholder and currently works as Director of Continuing Professional Development.
What Are Project Requirements?
Imagine that you're building your dream house. You've purchased the land, hired the architect, and secured your construction crew. That's a good place to start, but without your blueprint, your dream house will remain just that: a dream. Your blueprint gives the architect, contractor, electrician, plumber, and anyone involved in the build, a clear idea of what needs to be done to finish the house. This plan provides them with the requirements needed to complete their jobs.
Project requirements are conditions or tasks that must be completed to ensure the success or completion of the project. They provide a clear picture of the work that needs to be done. They're meant to align the project's resources with the objectives of the organization. The benefits of effectively gathering project requirements include cost reduction, higher project success rates, more effective change management, and improved communication among stakeholders.
Project requirements can be categorized into three main categories: business, solution, and stakeholder requirements.
Business requirements are the high-level needs of the business. They address what's required and why the project is happening. Getting back to our house example, a business requirement might include, 'build an eco-friendly house with high-efficiency solar panels that will reduce carbon emissions and reduce environmental impact.' This is the starting point of the project and provides guidance for the other types of requirements. It's imperative that these requirements are communicated clearly and early on.
Solution requirements, which include both functional and non-functional requirements, are the specific features and characteristics of the product or service that meet all requirements, both business and stakeholder. Functional requirements describe something that a product or service is required to do. Non-functional requirements describe how a system is supposed to function. A functional requirement for your solar panel is to 'convert light into electricity,' while the non-functional requirement is to 'produce this electricity at an efficiency rate of 20%.'
A stakeholder is anyone who has an interest in the product or service that's being produced or provided. They may be internal stakeholders (employees) or external stakeholders (customers, regulators, or suppliers). Every individual stakeholder has specific needs or requirements that they want to be fulfilled. Each of these needs must be balanced during the course of the project. Often times, stakeholders have competing needs, which can impact the schedule, budget, and scope of the project if not managed effectively. Suppose, as the owner of the house, you decide that you want repurposed composite wood for the exterior of your house. However, after your builder has placed the order, you discover that your Home Owners Association only allows for stucco and brick exteriors. This change will have a knock-on effect in terms of pricing, materials and design and will ultimately slow down the project.
When a stakeholder happens to be your customer, you need to ensure that you're eliciting their exact requirements in order to deliver on your product or service. If the right questions are not asked using the right method, you will not meet customer needs and, in the end, the project will have failed.
Requirement Gathering Methods
There are several different ways to collect requirements that vary depending on the type and complexity of the project. There are advantages and drawbacks to each method. It's best to use a combination of these techniques and avoid taking shortcuts when it comes to collecting project requirements. The success of the project is directly related to how well requirements are communicated, documented, and carried out. A best practice is to ensure that you're including as many stakeholders as possible.
- Surveys & Questionnaires: Surveys are a series of questions given to a sample population. Surveys work best when you need to collect responses in a timely manner.
- Interviews: Interviews are either formal or informal face-to-face meetings used to gather information from a person. Questions are asked by the interviewer and answers are provided by the interviewee.
- Focus Groups: Focus groups are diverse groups of individuals who discuss a predetermined topic. They are led by a facilitator.
- Facilitated Workshops: Facilitated workshops are led by an impartial facilitator with the aim of reaching an agreed upon goal or outcome.
- Prototyping: Prototyping , most commonly used in systems development, is a method of getting feedback about a working model (prototype) before actually building it.
- Benchmarking: Benchmarking involves comparing your own business practices against the 'gold standard' or the benchmark in order to improve performance.
- Observations: Gathering requirements through observation involves watching how a person carries out tasks and processes in their working environment. It's also known as 'job shadowing.'
- Brainstorming Session: Brainstorming is a group creativity technique that involves getting ideas from the group in a relaxed and informal setting.
- Document Analysis: Document analysis is a research method that examines organization artifacts and other text documents to gather information about a certain topic.
With all the available gathering techniques, we often assume that soliciting customer requirements is an easy task. After all, you just need to ask them what they want from a product. The reality is that although customers think they know what they want in a product, they often have a hard time communicating it. When gathering customer requirements, it's a good idea to provide them with your own set of requirements to guide them. Let them know your limitations and parameters right from the start so they don't face disappointment later on in the project. Also, be sure to check for understanding and provide clarity through the process.
Requirements Traceability Matrix
A Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM) is a document that organizes all project requirements in grid form. This tool ensures that each requirement is covered and adds value to the overall project. It allows you to know where each requirement came from and where they're going. It also ensures that any changes to scope are addressed as they occur. Each RTM should include items such as ID, description, business need, deliverable, risk, stakeholder and status.
Let's review. All projects are in response to some type of need (business requirements). The need is solved by providing the right type of functionality (solution requirements) by the people who have some type of interest in the project (stakeholder requirements). Taking the time to use the right tools and techniques, such as the Requirements Traceability Matrix and Requirements Gathering Techniques, can be the difference between living in your dream house, or just dreaming about it.
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