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Reduce Project Risk in the Requirements Process

~ By John Reiling

Business people gathered around a table for a brainstorming meeting

Gathering and managing requirements are important challenges in project management. Projects succeed or fail due to poor requirements at any time throughout the project lifecycle. The continuously evolving baseline of requirements needs to be managed effectively. The project manager needs to assess and understand the uniqueness of the requirements gathering process for his/her individual project.

Two Points of Focus Around Requirements Gathering

Preliminary scope statements are the beginning of the requirements gathering process. They are high level and are designed to initiate progressive elaboration, where that preliminary scope statement is expanded into the detail that makes up the complete requirements baseline. The project manager must get his/her hands around how that progressive elaboration process will take place as part of the project. Two points of focus can help:

  1. Requirements Definition
  2. Requirements Management

Requirements Definition

This refers to the details that make up the actual requirements, or description of the product of the project. The key is to understand the reason for the project: the underlying problem to be solved or opportunity to be seized. It entails "discovering" the underlying problem or opportunity. This involves distinguishing what might be symptoms and possible solutions.

Often someone might state something like "What I need is a…" The individual is acutely aware of a problem and often focuses on a narrow set of possible solutions, mistakenly stating the problem as one of these solutions. The PM or Requirements Analyst needs to gain control of the conversation and by engaging stakeholders and to identify the root causes. Once the root cause is identified, many problems become very simple. Other situations may be more complex, may demand co-ordination among stakeholders, will require collaboration to discover and document the Requirements Definition.

Requirements Management

This refers to the configuration management needed to manage an expanding and changing set of details that make up that Requirements Definition. Usually in the beginning of the project, there may be little apparent need for sophisticated Requirements Management. Often it can be assumed that there will be a need, or that need will become apparent as the project unfolds.

Here are four key inputs to the important challenge of Requirements Management:

  1. Number of stakeholders and how widespread
  2. Number of people on team and how widespread
  3. Size of project in $
  4. Complexity of the product of the project

The more the project requirements are elaborated, the greater need to organise Requirements Definitions for each part of the project. The more parts, and the more in depth the definitions, the greater is the need for a more sophisticated Requirements Management system.

Putting Together Requirements Definition and Requirements Management

Here is what can be done to effectively manage the requirements process on any project:

  1. Identify ALL stakeholders. Develop categories for types of stakeholders, such as users, support, interfacing in certain areas, managers affected by the project, and more. Make sure that all areas that the project will touch are represented by a stakeholder.
  2. Determine a communications strategy for engaging with your stakeholders. You will need to build bridges to the stakeholders, and will ideally be able to establish at least one face-to-face meeting with each stakeholder, and ideally at least one face-to-face meeting among all stakeholders.
  3. Develop a list of questions, organised around various facets of the problem to be solved by the project. This list should provide clarification to both you and the stakeholders on the issues to be addressed. Make sure they address a clear understanding of the problem, as opposed to specifying a solution. Thoroughly vet the questions within the team and with the project sponsors.
  4. Determine how much time will be needed, in terms of both sessions and overall duration, for the project requirements gathering. Develop a schedule for meetings and other engagements as developed through your communications strategy.
  5. Do initial requirements gathering by obtaining answers to the questions you have developed. Whether by survey, face-to-face meetings, online meetings, or one-on-one meetings, you will need to establish a set of raw data addressing your questions.
  6. Document answers to the questions in an initial requirements document draft. Review this thoroughly with all key stakeholder representatives and revise accordingly. Make sure all stakeholders buy in to these answers.
  7. Move into JAD sessions - Joint Application Design/Development. This is where you will likely engage developers also, and some iterative solution development will take place. One of the keys to this process is that you will be able to show stakeholders what is possible. You will also be able to put something concrete out there that will provide a greater point of focus to "smoke out" remaining requirements and clarify understanding.
  8. Get formal sign-off from all major stakeholder groups. This is an important process, as it forces some attention by the stakeholders to assure there are no hidden doubts or caveats.

The Requirements Definition is the continuous process of fleshing out and refining the baseline description of the product of the project. Requirements Management is how the flow information in these steps is organised and configuration managed.


John Reiling, PMP/MBA, has managed projects in a variety of industries and understands the importance of clear requirements. Numerous courses on the topic of requirements are available for PDUs and PMP Prep on John's web site, Project Management Training Online, www.pmtrainingonline.com. See John's related articles on Requirements at www.pmcrunch.com


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