How to Get Started with Requirements Gathering

Have you ever wondered why project management seems so hard? Or why when you finally deliver a project, it has slipped in time and cost or even had to reduce the scope of what was originally planned?

Just like in the image above, delivering projects isn’t easy, and you are not alone in this feeling.  According to PMI (the Project Management Institute) and other metrics monitoring organizations like Gartner and the Standish Group, almost 85% of all projects experience difficulty delivering projects on time or within budget. And of that 85%, 90% of those had to reduce scope.

Some of this is the nature of both the work, tackling the unknown unknowns and the known unknowns, but we also need to understand that we are working with human systems (people).  However, in many cases, this is due to the lack of using sound project management methodologies.

A critical area that will help you improve your project delivery is the requirements gathering process. Imagine that if someone came to you and asked you to build an airplane in your backyard. You might have a lot of guesswork to do as you went along. Understanding the requirements will allow you to give reasonable estimates, evaluate the best solutions and options to deliver, and might just keep you from building a 747 vs. hand-thrown balsa wood glider.

At Advisicon, our experience as technology architects and consultants in building organizations’ project delivery culture has shown that you need to blend both good tools with practical methodology.

I won’t cover all the techniques, tools, and approaches in this blog, but I wanted to highlight some of the most important ones to help you in large projects and even simple personal ones.

Key Approaches to Successful Requirements Gathering:

Requirements gathering requires a process that is sometimes iterative. If you are doing a more agile implementation, these requirements may be undergoing review and prioritization weekly in your sprint planning or retrospectives.

Regardless, requirements elicitation and validation happens through a project lifecycle. Whether from a Waterfall lifecycle or in an agile process found in System or Software Development Lifecycles (SDLC’s).

A key is establishing your requirements process that can be implemented as you elicit, document, validate and manage the requirements as seen here (in the Requirements Process Lifecycle).

Identify Business Goals and Objectives:

One of the first steps to get started is identifying your overall business or organizational goals that your project will deliver against. These will help you align with the overarching mission of the company, agency, or organization.

In some cases, you will have requirements that will surface that do not align. You definitely don’t want to spend time on these or their resolution.

Identify your Stakeholders:

Your next step should be identifying your stakeholders. They may have different levels of input or only need to be informed. Identifying all your stakeholders allows you to get buy-in and deputize them to help prioritize and surface requirements that you might otherwise miss. No one wants to be surprised to find out about a delivered project, and their input was important, but they were left out.

You may even want to map your stakeholders to the business goals as different stakeholders may have competing priorities. Your CFO’s priorities may be very different from the HR Department’s goals.

Get to the Requirement at All Costs:

Ensure that you get to the real requirement vs. a proposed solution to what will deliver the requirement. Be discerning and learn how to differentiate between a “Solution” vs. a “Requirement.”  The question, “what of value does this give requirement provide?” will help you quickly identify what is “solving” a requirement vs. what “Is” the requirement.

In gathering your requirements, learn these four key things:

1. Create a requirements record. Document and organize the requirement and important information around what that requirement is and what it looks like if successfully delivered. What the requirement is not, any priorities potentially related or dependent requirements.

2. Ask Triplet Questioning. This is a great tip/tool to help you continue to drill into a stakeholder’s request and find the core of what they are looking for.

    1. What is your requirement?
    2. What does that give you of value?
    3. Which value is most important?

3. Apply a requirements completion test. A good requirements completion test is to ask the stakeholder this question, “If we could deliver this requirement with any solution, would you be satisfied?” This allows them to start thinking of ways that wouldn’t work, ultimately helping you identify a better solution.
In fact, I usually try and think of solutions that would deliver the requirement but would be wrong, and I ask the stakeholder, “what about doing it this way.” A good requirement should have a few solutions, and in some cases, some or all should be acceptable if you have gotten to the core of what the requirement is.

4. Always validate the requirements with your stakeholders. Even if it is just keeping them informed, ensure that you provide them the ability to review, tune and help you surface other related requirements as you go on this journey

If you follow these steps, you will be unlocking what the industry professionals and the best project managers use, regardless of methodology.

Requirements Gathering Best Practices:

So, we’ve discussed how vital requirement gathering is. It is the key to increasing any project’s success and establishing trust and an excellent report with your stakeholders.

Let’s recap those key things you really should not miss when starting requirements gathering.  Remember, this is a journey of discovery. There may be many possible solutions to your requirements, but only a fully defined requirement will help you and your stakeholders select the right solution.

  1. Identify the Business Goals and Objectives:
  2. Identify your stakeholders:
  3. In gathering your requirements, apply these 4 tools:
    1. Requirements record
    2. Triplet questioning
    3. Requirements completion test
    4. Validate with stakeholders

I hope this helps you on your journey to delivering better projects. Feel free to reach out with questions or for a brainstorming session to point you in the right direction. We look forward to hearing from you on how this helped you and if you have other suggestions for blogs and webinars!

Additional Requirements Gathering resources for you:

Here are some additional supporting and more in-depth tools, methodology, and videos for you:

Mastering Requirements Gathering Management Webinar

Get yourself a Project Requirements Gathering Process Flowchart and Managing Requirements Through the Project Management Lifecycle Flowchart.

If you want Requirements Gathering training for you and your team check out our training options.

Other Project Management and technical webinars on Advisicon Academy. Become a member to earn free PDUs.