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Requirements Analysis: Process & Tools

Instructor: Joshua Stegmeyer
This lesson outlines the importance of requirements analysis to project management, the different types of requirements encountered and a few tools to help discover and document them.

The Value of Requirements Analysis

Imagine yourself sitting in a quiet room with about a dozen men and women looking at you, some of whom you've grown to know quite well. Their expressions range from sadness to outright anger as your news sinks in. You've just told them that the project you are leading, the one that has cost your company millions and is expected to launch in just months, needs to be cancelled.

This may sound like the kind of story told around campfires to frighten new PMs but rest assured every project manager will have a similar event happen to them at least once in their careers. There can be many reasons the rug is pulled out from under you: changes in priorities, lack of funding, even loss of staffing. However, the most treacherous and easiest to avoid is an unmet requirement. It is not uncommon for a mature project to be cancelled for no other reason than the discovery that it isn't doing what it was supposed to do.

Requirements are expectations or targets that a project is meant to fulfill at various points in its life. While it often seems simple and easy to assume requirements, that's where the treachery lies. As you begin to gather, classify, and document a project's requirements, you will realize just how disparate these requirements can be. We will explore three main types of requirements: stakeholder, product/process, and organizational.

Stakeholder Requirements

Stakeholder requirements are the expectations of the people involved in the project. Some examples could be scope, budget, timeline, communication updates, etc.

The very first step in gathering stakeholder requirements is a very thorough stakeholder analysis; it can be common to miss an important stakeholder requirement because the stakeholder herself was left off the list.

The easiest way to gather stakeholder requirements is with interviews. The process of sitting down with a stakeholder and asking them about their expectations of the project can glean a surprising amount of detailed information. It is very important to be detailed during an interview, repeating and rephrasing any key requirement before documenting it. Interviews can also be done in groups or could even begin as a less-related meeting.

All stakeholder requirements should be summarized in a project contract or charter and signed by key stakeholders.

Product or Process Requirements

Product or process requirements are the targets of the project itself. If you are developing a new product, these would be the final target requirements of your finished product. If you are completing a task, such as an installation, these would be all of the specific actions that must be completed before the project is considered finished. It is important to make these requirements as detailed and unambiguous as possible.

It's rare that a team begins with a blank sheet of paper when gathering these requirements. When gathering stakeholder requirements, product or process requirements will arise in rougher form. Also, it is wise to check for any similar projects that have been executed by the company and review their requirements as well.

Once you have the beginnings of a requirements list, it can be useful to guide the team through a brainstorming session or two to get the team to come up with as many ideas (or new requirements) as you can in that one sitting.

While brainstorming, a very useful thing to consider are use cases. Some disciplines, such as software engineering, have extremely formal processes for use cases. However, in essence, they are step-by-step thought experiments on how a product or process will be used. During this process, you will discover new requirements to meet the intended use or end-state.

It cannot be understated how important to your project documenting these requirements can be. Most PMOs and companies have very formal and detailed templates for product or process requirements. Make sure these are as complete as possible and signed by all relevant stakeholders.

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