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Requirements Gathering 101

By Duncan Haughey, PMP
Business analyst holding out a requirements document

Requirements gathering is an essential part of any project and project management. Understanding fully what a project will deliver is critical to its success. This may sound like common sense, but surprisingly it's an area that is often given far too little attention.

Many projects start with the barest headline list of requirements, only to find later the customers' needs have not been properly understood.

One-way to avoid this problem is by producing a statement of requirements. This document is a guide to the main requirements of the project. It provides:

  • A succinct requirement specification for management purposes.
  • A statement of key objectives - a "cardinal points" specification.
  • A description of the environment in which the system will work.
  • Background information and references to other relevant material.
  • Information on major design constraints.

The contents of the statement of requirements should be stable or change relatively slowly.

Once you have created your statement of requirements, ensure the customer and all other stakeholders sign-up to it and understand that this and only this will be delivered.

Finally, ensure you have cross-referenced the requirements in the statement of requirements with those in the project definition report to ensure there is no mismatch.

10 Rules for Successful Requirements Gathering

To be successful at requirements gathering and to give your project an increased likelihood of success follow these rules:

  1. Don't assume you know what the customer wants, ask.
  2. Involve the users from the start.
  3. Define and agree the scope of the project.
  4. Ensure requirements are specific, realistic and measurable.
  5. Gain clarity if there is any doubt.
  6. Create a clear, concise and thorough requirements document and share it with the customer.
  7. Confirm your understanding of the requirements with the customer (play them back).
  8. Avoid talking technology or solutions until the requirements are fully understood.
  9. Get the requirements agreed with the stakeholders before the project starts.
  10. Create a prototype if necessary to confirm or refine the customers' requirements.

Common Mistakes

  • Basing a solution on complex or cutting edge technology and then discovering that it cannot easily be rolled out to the 'real world'.
  • Not prioritising the User Requirements, for example 'must have', 'should have', 'could have' and 'would have,' known as the MoSCoW principle.
  • Not enough consultation with real users and practitioners.
  • Solving the 'problem' before you know what it is.
  • Lacking a clear understanding and making assumptions rather than asking.

Requirements gathering is about creating a clear, concise and agreed set of customer requirements that allow you to provide exactly what they are looking for.

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Comments (2)

Nice Description of Requirements Gathering
A nice description of requirements gathering. At the same time, the statement of requirements is not enough to ensure success of the project.

Stakeholders need to be taken thru a set of requirements starting from the product capabilities, quality and the ability to be embedded into the existing enterprise infrastructure. As for baselining of the gathered requirements, well, the only high-level requirements are stable, more granular requirements will become stable after having the product design completed. Here it is possible to get the full support of stakeholders and their sign-off.

And a question to Duncan: how does the statement align with the PR2 context?
#1 - Dalex - Friday 4th January 2013 - 20:14
Requirements Gathering and PRINCE2
PRINCE2 doesn't provide any guidance for requirements gathering. Requirement gathering is part of Business Analysis and goes through the following stages:

- Requirements Gathering
- Requirements Elicitation
- Requirements Management Plan
- Requirements Analysis
- Requirements Traceability
- Change Control

Within the PRINCE2 framework, your requirements approach and requirements will be defined during the initiation phase with the following pm artefacts feeding into it:

- Project Approach
- Business Case
- Communications Plan

The requirements feed into the following pm artefacts used during the execution phase:

- Work Packages
- Configuration Items
- Product Description
- Product Flow Diagram

The requirements analysis might be carried out by the Project Manager or for larger projects a Business Analyst.
#2 - Duncan Haughey - Saturday 5th January 2013 - 10:46
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Information Icon Stages of a Project

Projects are divided into six stages:

  1. Definition.
  2. Initiation.
  3. Planning.
  4. Execution.
  5. Monitoring & Control.
  6. Closure.

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