Business requirements gathering: an introductory guide for sales
By: Nicholas Mistretta
Imagine that you have been selected to take the lead on a large project in your company. Perhaps you’re a sales manager, accounts manager, or maybe a project manager. Either way, it’s your responsibility to make sure this project is successful. It’s on you to do the requirements gathering – the first step to maximizing the chances of success.
In this introductory guide to requirements gathering, you can expect to learn:
- What requirements gathering is
- Who is responsible for requirements gathering?
- Why requirements gathering is important
- How to handle requirements gathering effectively
- The first step in requirements gathering – documentation
- Monitoring progress
Any time you start a new project there will be things you need, like resources – tools, supplies, and people. You’ll have to figure out a budget or adhere to a budget that’s been handed down to you. And you’ll have to estimate a timeline for the completion of this project and likely major milestones on the way to its completion.
In the simplest terms possible, business requirements gathering answers the question: what is required to successfully launch this project? Now let’s dig into some details.
What is requirements gathering?
Imagine that you’re a chef. You have to plan a wedding reception for several hundred people, and it’s up to you to figure out how to manage it successfully. From the staff that’s required to the ingredients and recipes to the myriad of supplies that will be required, it’s on you to plan all of it from beginning to end.
Requirements gathering should be the first step with every new venture or project. Ben Franklin, a pretty sharp fellow by all accounts, once famously said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” That about sums it up.
According to PMI (Project Management Institute), 70 percent of failed projects is the direct result of failing to execute this important first step successfully. That tells you that requirements gathering is undervalued and possibly underused.
Think of business requirements gathering as an exploratory process that answers questions like:
- Who will be involved in this project?
- What risks or roadblocks can we expect?
- What is the goal or how are we defining success?
- What is the timeline?
- What is the budget?
There are different types of requirements gathering – technical, legal, and so forth – but this guide isn’t going to get that specific. Just remember that you’re addressing every need from start to finish – the research, the planning, the documentation, and the monitoring.
Who is responsible for business requirements gathering?
The short answer is it depends. It depends on the industry and it depends on the project. Remember our wedding reception example? The chef was responsible for requirements gathering in that scenario.
The responsibility of requirements gathering can fall on many people:
- Business analysts
- Data analysts
- Systems analysts
- Subject matter experts
If the project plan is too large for any one person to manage alone, could you see a project manager overseeing everyone on the list above, essentially managing other managers? I know that to answer this question with it depends feels like a cop out, but it really does depend on several factors, as every project is different in size, scope, and objectives.
Why is requirements gathering important?
Let’s use our chef and her wedding reception example again to illustrate. What if she didn’t factor in the number of guests or the experience levels of the servers or bartenders? What if she didn’t get any information on food allergies that she’d be required to work around? That could literally be a fatal mistake.
You simply cannot make it up as you go.
Here’s what happens if you don’t take requirements gathering seriously or discount it entirely:
- You run into unforeseen risks or roadblocks
- You run out of resources or use the wrong resources for the project
- You soar past the budget
- You miss crucial deadlines
- Ultimately, the project fails
Documenting requirements gathering serves two more purposes, besides all of the above:
- It serves as a point of reference that details the evolution of the project, all the moving parts necessary for its success, and outlines the implementation of the project.
- It serves as a blueprint for your clients or stakeholders (whoever is pulling the strings) and sets clear expectations. These folks certainly don’t want to hear excuses why the budget needs to be increased halfway through the project.
Requirements gathering documentation should answer these questions: who, what, when, where, and why.
How to handle requirements gathering effectively
The next two articles in this series will get into specifics on requirements gathering tools and techniques and the process of requirements gathering, including a step-by-step guide. But for now, let’s take a look at what it means to manage business requirements gathering effectively.
First, someone has to be the project leader – one person, not two, not many. One person has to be in charge. It’s an important role that requires good leadership skills as well as project management knowledge and skills. There’s an old saying in football – if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none.
Everyone on the team must know who is in charge and why this role is important for the success of the project. They need to know that they can come to you with updates and any concerns or issues that arise along the way.
Second, who is selecting the project manager? Those people represent the key stakeholders in this project. They are responsible for choosing a project leader and the project leader will have to answer to them from beginning to end.
Key stakeholders can be business partners, manufacturers, board members, or department managers. These people will be involved in brainstorming, analyzing, approving requests from the project leader, and approving a budget and timeline. They will expect updates throughout. And the last thing they want to hear about is missed deadlines or increasing budgets.
For our chef, her key stakeholder – if you know anything about weddings – will be the mother of the bride (sometimes the groom), and her expectations are high. As will be her involvement, to the dismay of our chef.
Documentation – the first step for requirements gathering
If you are the project leader, you’ll want to begin the requirements gathering process by starting at the top and working your way down. This means interviewing key stakeholders and asking them questions that include:
- What about this project interested you enough to get involved?
- What are your goals or wish list for this project?
- What are your expectations?
- What are your concerns?
Depending on the industry and project, you will probably have to include other questions, but this is a good place to begin.
Write every answer down from each key stakeholder. You cannot begin to lead or assign roles or tasks until you fully understand the scope of the project and what those above you have to say. The answers you get will allow you to create a roadmap – how you get from the beginning to the end with as few speed bumps as possible.
Your requirements gathering plan must be actionable, measurable, and quantifiable. It should include these four key aspects
- Create your timeline. You need to establish deadlines for each phase of the project. Some parts of the project will be dependent on the completion of other tasks. Our chef can’t begin cooking till she has the right ingredients.
- Assemble your team. Who’s available and who has the expertise and skills necessary for the project. You’re looking for specialists – people who are great in their role.
- Figure out the risks. What risks could impact the project? What are the specific risks when it comes to scope, budget, and time?
- Outline goals for each of these key areas. What are your timeline goals, your scope goals, and your budget goals?
Once completed, you go back to your key stakeholders for approval.
Once you get the approval of the requirements you presented to your key stakeholders, you’ll put it into your timeline and project process. The requirements gathering plan will now be set.
Now it’s time to find ways to measure and track each stage of the project, each team, and every task. This will ensure that your plan stays on point and keeps risks and blunders to a minimum
The data you collect will go up the food chain. Stakeholders will expect progress reports at specific intervals. They’ll want to make sure that you’re meeting the goals that were agreed upon – scope, time, and budget.
If our chef realizes at the last minute that the weather report has turned for the worse, prompting an outdoor wedding to be brought indoors, the mother of the bride will expect to see and approve a new plan. Most of us will always have someone to answer to, and that’s certainly true when it comes to requirements gathering.
In the next article, we’ll peel back the curtain a bit more and provide you with some information on the tools and techniques necessary to ensure a successful requirements gathering process.