Poor Requirements Put PMs in a Pickle

Poor requirements can put project managers in a pickle.

Misunderstandings cause problems in our everyday lives and in our projects.

Imagine this situation: My wife asks me to pick up pickles from the grocery store. I arrive home and put the pickles on the kitchen counter.

My wife says, “Oh no! We need sweet pickles, not dill pickles.”iStock_000007803228XSmall

Communications breakdowns happen. For simple things like pickles, it is not a big deal. However, the miscommunications and misunderstandings of project requirements, which often increase over time, may put PMs in serious trouble.

Why Good Requirements Matter

Good requirements position your project for success. The benefits include:

  • Accelerates project delivery.
  • Reduces errors.
  • Improves estimates.
  • Improves communications.
  • Reduces cost.
  • Improves morale.

“Believe it or not, investing more effort in developing the requirements can actually accelerate software development.” – Karl Wiegers (Tweet This!)

Understanding your customer’s needs or requirements is critical for all projects.

How to Give More Attention to Requirements

PMs do not intentionally miss the boat with requirements. PMs get busy and miss requirements due to inattention. Here is a checklist to jog your memory, improve your focus, and mitigate requirement risks:

  • Do you have a requirements management plan? The PM should define their approach to requirements analysis. How will you elicit, analyze, document, and validate requirements? How will you manage requirement changes? How will you trace requirements?
  • Do you have a team member with strong requirements analysis skills?
  • Have you identified stakeholders for the requirements process? If you suspect there are unspoken requirements, be proactive to engage the individuals who have yet to speak up.
  • Are the requirements unambiguous? Clarify the requirements.
  • Are you allowing stakeholders to venture outside the scope of the project (i.e., scope creep)?
  • Are you allowing stakeholders to specify requirements for product and service features likely to never be used?
  • Are you conducting assumption analysis on requirements? Imagine your project team assumes incorrectly the software being developed will run on another operating system with no changes. It is best to test these assumptions during the requirements process.
  • Are you prioritizing requirements? If you had to cut some of the requirements, which ones would go first?
  • Are you modeling requirements, preferably using more than one modeling tool?
  • Are you validating requirements? Review the requirements with your team in an effort to find defects or errors and correct them early. These defects are much more costly to correct later in the project.
  • Are you baselining the requirements? At some point, you and the team must sign off on the requirements and agree the requirements are good enough.
  • Are you managing changes to the requirements? Consider using version control for your requirements.

Use this checklist on a current or upcoming project. Seek to understand and meet the requirements as efficiently as possible. Improvements in the requirements process can significantly improve your chance for project success.

Questions: This is not an exhaustive list. What other questions would you add?

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