Everything You Need to Know About Gathering Project Requirements on Smartsheet, September 20, 2002.
What Are Project Requirements?
Project requirements are the necessary conditions and functions that you must include for a project to be considered complete. Project closure can only happen when you meet customer and stakeholder needs.
Project requirements may be business or technical requirements. Business requirements include the high-level business needs the project must achieve, while technical requirements define how the project will fulfill the business needs.
Alan Zucker, the Founding Principal of Project Management Essentials, shares how project requirements fit into the project management plan: “The project management plan is a comprehensive document that guides the planning and execution of the project. One of the sections in the project management plan is the project requirements management plan, which explicitly describes how requirements will be analyzed, documented, and managed. Components of the plan include how requirements will be collected and prioritized; how changes to requirements will be analyzed, reviewed, and approved; and the process and tools for tracing requirements through the design, development, and quality assurance processes.”
“We want to use processes and practices aligned to the type of project and organization,” says Zucker. “Managing requirements for constructing an office building, road, or sewage treatment plant will differ from a software project. And for software projects, life-critical applications will have different needs than a tool used by a few dozen people.”
How Do You Identify and Gather Project Requirements?
Gathering project requirements is one step in the requirements management process and typically takes place at project onset. To gather requirements, talk with stakeholders, document all observations, and review the project as a team.
These seven research techniques will help you identify and gather project requirements following project initiation:
- Brainstorm: Perform internal and external research to gather as many ideas as possible to create a preliminary requirements list. This will arm you with questions when meeting with stakeholders.
- Take Inputs from the Project Charter: The project charter describes your project’s roadmap. Be sure to review this document so that your requirements remain in scope and aligned with objectives. “Requirements are the foundation for defining what is in and out of scope for the project and the technical details,” says Zucker.
- Interview Stakeholders: Ask clarifying questions to identify your stakeholders’ critical features or functionality. Talk to multiple people, as you may find that the stakeholders you initially talk to are not the decision-makers.
- Send Questionnaires: Ask stakeholders to answer a series of questions about the project needs. Doing so ensures everyone has an opportunity to submit their project requirements and that they start thinking about the project.
- Perform a Gap Analysis: Perform a gap analysis that compares the current state with the desired future state. This will help you identify areas of improvement that you can include in the project requirements.
- Observe End-Users: Watch end-users and stakeholders in action to gain insight into behaviors and preferences that you might not get from talking alone.
- Review Requirements with Stakeholders: Review all project requirements with the stakeholders before finalizing them. This ensures everyone is on the same page and comfortable with the project’s direction.
The Importance of Documenting Project Requirements
“If requirements are not documented, there is no clarity around expectations, and the likelihood of a successful project is low,” says Zucker. “Imagine asking a contractor to build a house without documenting the requirements.”
Tips for Writing Project Requirements
The primary thought to keep in mind when writing project requirements is to preserve simplicity. It’s essential that requirements are straightforward, concise, and tailored to your audience.
“The key here is merging business and technical into a common language,” says Timmerman. “At times the business may use specific terms to describe a process within the software. The business may know it as process ‘x’ while the development team knows it as process ‘y.’ This is where having a strong business analyst that can communicate in a manner that suits both the business and development team is essential. At the end of the day, we must be straightforward, so everyone understands what we mean.”
The tools you use, the people you talk to, and the process you follow are essential considerations when writing quality project requirements. Zucker shares several tips for writing requirements:
- Engage end-users: Talk with end-users to understand user requirements from their perspective.
- Use high-fidelity tools to collect and document requirements: Visual prototypes, models, and mockups provide a clear view of requirements.
- Host face-to-face meetings: Host face-to-face interactions between stakeholders, analysts, and the development team to ask questions, share designs, and gather feedback.
- Develop a process: Establish a process that accommodates requirement proposals, agreement, change management approvals, and version control. This will minimize costly delays.