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Mae Angeline

Best Practices for Requirements Gathering in Project Management

Don't be caught out by moving goalposts! Build the practice of requirements gathering into your project management process, and save yourself future hassle.

Keeping track of everything you need to deliver a successful project can be challenging at the best of times. And, needless to say, this challenge is intensified if you're managing a project that involves several layers of complexity and multiple stakeholders, each with a different idea of what "good" looks like.

This is where an effective requirements-gathering process comes in. By understanding the project's requirements early on, project and department managers may be able to improve the process, smoothly execute the project, deliver quality output efficiently, cut costs, and reduce project risks.

But how exactly do you bring all this information together – and how do you make sure you've not missed anything? In this guide, we'll review the best practices for requirements gathering, and help you identify requirement-gathering techniques that can aid your project.

What is 'requirements gathering' in project management?

Requirements gathering, also called 'requirements elicitation', is the part of the project planning phase where you gather requirements from interested parties to guide you before the commencement of the project. What project are you trying to create? Why are you doing this? What would count as success when you're done?

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), there are two main types of requirements in the project process:

  • Business requirements, or functional requirements, are the requirements based on what the organization should be able to achieve after completing the project
  • Technical requirements, or nonfunctional requirements, are the requirements that answer how the organization will achieve or resolve the project needs

Functional requirements are always closely related to what the project needs to achieve. However, some nonfunctional requirements in project management aren't so closely related to the concerns of the key stakeholders, and may be overlooked. These may include audit, security, reporting, and information requirements.

The benefits of gathering requirements

While the requirements gathering process may take time and energy, it sets your project up for success that you might not otherwise achieve. Here are some of the benefits:

Higher chances the clients will get what they want

One of the ultimate goals of your project should be to give clients what they need. And because some may find it hard to do it themselves, you're the one to help them. Requirements gathering involves researching extensively and involving clients in project planning, so that you're really clear on what's needed. With the appropriate project requirements, there's a higher chance the stakeholders will get what they want.

Lower chances of failed projects

No project lacks challenges. But with requirements gathering established as part of the project intake process, you get to reduce possible inadequacies, and so increase the chances of your project's success. 

By understanding up front what direction you're taking and what you'll need to achieve your goals, you'll be better positioned to handle project risks that you'll encounter. This reduces the risk of project failure.

The team will understand what to work on

It can be frustrating to work on a project you don't understand. What are its objectives? What are the reporting requirements? The answers will help your team members have a clear picture of what to do and the expected project outcomes. Then, your team can give stakeholders what they're looking for.

Reduced cost of the project, as issues are identified earlier

As a project manager, working to fix errors in your project could drive the cost up – and risk going over the budget. Instead, identifying project requirements up front will help you capture crucial elements and issues before the project begins. Thus, you'll prevent unnecessary project costs that could stall your project.

Requirements gathering challenges

Unfortunately, requirements gathering comes with its own set of challenges that you need to bear in mind. Here are the three top obstacles that sabotage the effectiveness of resource gathering.

Finding the right stakeholders

To thoroughly compile requirements from all aspects of a project, it's vital to identify the right stakeholders to consult with. If you limit your circle too small, you're likely to miss some crucial project elements, which could render your requirement gathering process futile.

One good approach is to involve people from every team involved in the project. Go beyond the obvious participants. Consider holding multiple meetings to ensure you hear all perspectives.

Understanding stakeholder needs

Your stakeholders' needs should be the driving factor in the requirement-gathering phase, but unfortunately we sometimes realize only too late that we're not on the same page. This could be because of some unspoken expectations that don't emerge until later, or inaccurate assumptions on one or both sides.

As much as you think you know your client's deep-rooted needs, go further and ask specific requirements-gathering questions to give the much-needed answers. Rephrase queries if you have any uncertainty, to ensure your understandings are similar. You may have to update your findings on stakeholders' needs several times during this process.

If the stakeholders have questions related project requirements gathering, address them to help them understand the project better and provide you with the most accurate information.

Planning for change

After all the effort of the requirements-gathering process, you may be inclined to carve your list in stone so that there's no excuse for any more changes. However, you need to plan to be flexible enough to make changes to your project.

Whether to accommodate important details you might have left out in the initial phase of the project lifecycle, or to respond to technical obstacles as they arise, the ability to change your project requirements and adapt along the way is a key skill.

Best practices for requirements gathering

Requirements management involves team members and stakeholders in every step of the requirements-gathering process. The goal is to ensure the project will deliver the desired results. We've listed eight simple steps to follow for requirements gathering:

Determine the right participants

Before you dive into the requirements-gathering process, identify your project's stakeholders. Research all the relevant participants and include them, so that their requirements are taken into account during the process. 

What requirements-gathering techniques can you use to identify stakeholders? Use interviews, questionnaires, or even focus group discussions. Through these requirements-gathering tools, you'll be able to establish whether that audience is right for your project.

Stakeholders will help you deliberate on resources and project requirements that you'll need to have a successful project. Source for their support throughout the project requirements process and keep them in the know of the project's progress.

Here are some possible participants to consider:

  • End users
  • Decision makers
  • Customer care
  • Sales personnel
  • Marketers
  • Developers

Identify project goals and objectives

The next step is to identify the purpose of the project. Use requirements-gathering techniques, including questionnaires, brainstorming, and workshops, to survey stakeholders' perspectives on what they want. Look over the responses and requirements, and streamline them in a way that each target achieves a specific objective.

Articulating project objectives and goals in this way helps you be clear on the purpose of the work, and orient your team too. You all need to be on the same page for the project to be successful. You don't want to use resources to work on a project whose objectives don't address stakeholders' needs.

Meet with stakeholders

The next step is to dig deeper into the needs of your stakeholders, which is best conducted in a stakeholder meeting.

This is the opportunity to discuss in more detail the requirements the project aims to satisfy. Hold brainstorming sessions to discuss what they need and why. Encourage sharing as many ideas as possible and ensure you are all on the same page.

As you do this, discuss the resources and timelines that would be needed to achieve these results. Manage your stakeholder expectations and ensure they are on the same level of understanding as you.

Note down the requirements

Write down every detail you've discussed with the stakeholders and document all requirements in consensus. Write at every step of the requirements-gathering process, as these notes will provide the information you need when planning the project, for managing changes along the way, and for reflecting back on how the project evolved during its life cycle.

Your notes should include all the requirements you've identified from:

  • Participants suggestions
  • Participants comments
  • Responses to interviews and questionnaires

As well as collating the requirements, consider using a database to keep all information on the project in one place. This way, any team member can refer to the well-organized document and stay on track, and stakeholders can review the document whenever necessary.

Get confirmation of the requirements

After documenting all the requirements, it's best practice to share them with all interested parties. This serves as an extra check that there haven't been any misunderstandings. By sharing, you're making sure you're all reading from the same script, and reduce the chances of future disagreements.

You could use a prototyping tool to create a model for testing your requirements. This is an excellent chance to see what the entire project will look like, as well as identify which requirements might infringe on each other.

Prioritize the requirements

In any project, some requirements are dealbreakers, and others have some flexibility. This means you need to prioritize which requirements form the project's goals at the core, and which will be great to achieve if possible.

One of the biggest requirements for most projects is to meet a fixed budget, challenging you to employ effective project management to maximize the results you can achieve. So when you prioritize the requirements, you're working to ensure that the limited available budget will achieve objectives and make the project successful.  

That doesn't mean there will be no challenges along the way. New needs may arise as the project grows, or setbacks might threaten the project timeline. You mayhave to reevaluate which need is more critical or even replace existing ones. For example, you may have to remove a few features and requirements to ensure the project is on track for its completion date.

Delegate roles during the requirements-gathering process

After obtaining stakeholder approval and confirming the project's exact requirements, you can assign roles and responsibilities. Who is available? What are their skills? Are they competent to handle the tasks? Go through the list of team members and delegate roles appropriately. With responsibilities come ownership and commitment to achieve the project goal and objectives within the project timeline. 

Before assigning, have a brainstorming meeting with team members involved in the project to understand their feelings on the roles. Explain what the responsibilities entail and their role in the project's success. You could include each person's duties in the requirements document to make the assignment transparent.

Check and evaluate the project progress

Requirements gathering doesn't stop once the stakeholders have approved the requirements and implementation is ongoing. You need to keep track of the project's progress and changes in requirements, to counter risks that can slow down the project or make it fail. 

How do you monitor progress? There are various monitoring tools and methods, like status reports and relevant metrics for project managers. The monitoring report will help you report project progress to the stakeholders, keep your operations within the budget, and provide more accurate feedback to the project team.

How can you simplify requirements-gathering?

Utilizing efficient project management software like Runn is a game-changer for project managers who want to streamline the requirements-gathering process and launch into the project initiation phase fully-prepared. Technical and business needs that involve the management of your project resources can be visualized easily, and adjusted according to changes.

Runn's overview saves you from scribbled post-its and never-ending spreadsheets, allowing you to view project resource requirements and model tentative plans alongside schedules, budgets, and allocations to forecast future team capacity and availability for optimal success. With the help of Runn, you can perform the requirements-gathering processes more efficiently, minimize risks, and lead your team to a successful project execution.

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