What is it?
Requirements for a project need to be mined, compiled, analysed, negotiated, specified, validated, tracked, and updated during the life of a project. All of this has to take place within a controlled environment so that;
- All stakeholders know exactly what is to be delivered by the project team.
- There is governance placed around the authorising of changing requirements.
- The solution can be supported into the future. i.e. new personnel can read the requirements and get a FULL understanding of the system intent.
- Each requirement can be traced back to a specific commercial outcome.
What can it look like?
The method of requirements delivery will vary from project to project normally based on project complexity. As well as complexity the level or type of requirements management can vary for risk, cost or political purposes. Here are some common project requirement configurations across simple, standard and complex project categories;
Each organisation may use different document titles however the purpose and content should be very similar. Some organisations may also use a version system on each of the documents. The core concept here is that collectively all requirements are trapped and documented.
The Commercial Imperative?
The requirements delivery for a project is directly related to the projects commercial outcomes. Every requirement delivered should exist in one of the requirements documents and each of the requirements should have an associated commercial cost (even if it is $0). A problem we see too often is project teams failing to document $0 changes. Whilst they may think that this is saving time on admin they are actually causing the following potential problems;
- Future support engineers may not be able to understand what was delivered by reviewing the documentation.
- They miss the opportunity to show the client what value add they have delivered [especially if there were multiple “no-charge” changes.
- Having a change made to the deliverable without the appropriate authorities knowledge or approval.
This diagram shows the accumulation of cost [or revenue if you are a service provider] that should attach to the requirements.
What happens when we get it WRONG?
Research tells us that approximately 50% of projects have a frustrated delivery and approximately 25% of projects have a complete failure to deliver. Poor requirements management is a major contributor to both of these outcomes.
Failure to manage requirements can lead to any or all of the following NEGATIVE outcomes;
- Stakeholders feel they have lost control of the project and withdraw support.
- Unneeded requirements can be delivered.
- Critical requirements can be missed.
- Forward support of the solution can be costly and time consuming.
- The project can experience poor commercial outcomes.
- Loss of reputation from delivering a poor outcome.
The good news is that with proper planning and care any organisation can become good at project requirements management. See our other blog posts for additional related information;
At FileBound we would love to hear any thoughts you have around this subject matter. Have we missed anything? Have you noticed similar outcomes?
Chief Executive Officer
When thinking about or being tasked with capturing a customer’s detailed requirements, beyond the high-level Business requirements … for me, it’s hard not to immediately draw mental pictures of that well referenced tree swing analogy. For those not familiar with the analogy it simply points out that without proper requirement definition a customer looking for a tree swing could have any of the swings in the illustration delivered to them.
Purposely jumping off the tree swing for a moment… and focusing on software solution marketplace with its vast product range with a plethora of configurations, outcomes and customer experiences, it has never been more important to queue up those powerhouse discovery questions to ensure that you have accurately and clearly understood both the functional and non-functional requirements of your customer. If we do this we avoid delivering the wrong outcome for the client.
A functional requirement typically describes the behaviour (such as automated workflow) or presentation of a configured component that meets the specific needs of the customer, whereas a non-functional requirement describes the systems operation… such as a Web Servers Availability etc.
My Top DO’s and DON’T on Producing Great Requirements Documents
|DO||Have a sound understanding of the customers high-level Business Requirements prior to meeting with them to perform the deeper dive discovery.|
|DON’T||Ask a series of unnecessary/repetitive questions where the information has already been provided in advance. This opens your ‘incompetence account’ with the customer and doesn’t build the necessary rapport or credibility for downstream engagements which are required to deliver success.|
|DO||Schedule a Discovery Session with all applicable stakeholders, communicating in advance a structured approach with an agenda or at a minimum a simple email to highlight discussion points for the Discovery session.|
|DON’T||Avoid the inclusion of the IT Manager and/or Senior IT Representative in your Discovery session.|
|DO||Use the phone wherever possible to help qualify any gaps in understanding of the customer’s requirements. Verbal communications result in far fewer misinterpretations of conveyed information over those which can occur in a series of detailed emails.|
|DON’T||Fill the Requirements document with verbose, non-specific or redundant content (e.g. marketing content) that doesn’t help define or qualify the customers’ requirements for review and approval.|
|DO||Use a very good healthy balance of quality images, screenshots and diagrams to present your clean understanding of the customer requirements in your proposed technology. Microsoft Visio is my go to application of choice.|
|DON’T||Make wild and nonsensical assumptions, when they can be solved with a short call or a qualifying email.|
|DO||Document the specific non-functional requirements for success even if they are requirements for the client to deliver on. IE IT landscape changes needed, additional staff training needed etc|
|DO||Scale the length and depth of Requirements detail with respect to the level of complexity of the solution delivered. See Solution Complexity to Requirement Detail Chart below.|
Using the Correct Weight Approach
Following on from my last ‘DO’ recommendation, Requirement documents should contain the appropriate weight of detail/content to be classed as an ‘efficient document’. Obviously producing an overly wordy document for a small, yet simple project can frustrate many customers as they struggle to digest all of the details. On the flip side unconsciously leaving a lot of important detail out OR left only to verbal references will effectively leave the gate WIDE open for assumptions to be made on all sides. Poorer outcomes are consistently achieved when this lack of detail and specification exists within the documentation.
Solution Complexity to Requirement Detail Chart
Hopefully some of these quick tips will help you produce superior requirements documents for your projects.
Professional Services Director
The Ellby Group (FileBound Australia Pty Ltd and Upflow Pty Ltd)