Many of us are familiar with the phrase, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” While project failures are blamed on everything from budget shortfalls to technology issues and scope creep, around 70% of project failures can be attributed to poor requirements management.
The requirements management process consists of gathering, recording, and evaluating project requirements. A requirements gathering checklist is used early in the process and helps ensure that you have considered every aspect of what is needed to successfully launch a project.
Think of it this way: You want to remodel your kitchen and are discussing options with your general contractor. They will ask you questions pertaining to how you want to use the space, what your budget is, and how long you’re willing to wait for renovations to be completed. Your answers to these questions inform the project’s requirements, ensuring that the contractor can provide an accurate scope of the project’s cost and timeline.
But what would happen if the contractor didn’t thoroughly assess your requirements? The remodel project might fail because there is not a clear understanding of what you (the client) expect in terms of cost, duration, and functionality. The same can be said for every other project or service.
In this article, we will look at the importance of capturing project requirements from key stakeholders, how to use a checklist to help ensure successful outcomes, and best practices for requirements gathering.
What is requirements gathering?
Project requirements are the conditions or capabilities the project must deliver to be successful. For example, project conditions include budgets, compliance requirements, contract terms, and timelines. Capabilities are the characteristics, features, and functions the project must deliver. These requirements are the foundation of the project and gathering all of them is essential to project success.
Business analysts, product owners, and project managers use requirements gathering to define important considerations relating to the project’s scope, deliverables, and goals, including but not limited to:
- Who will work on this project?
- What is the project goal or objective?
- What pain point does the project address?
- How does the project team define success?
- What is the budget?
- What is the timeline and associated milestones?
- What constraints might put the project at risk?
The requirements gathering process includes input from both the project team and key project stakeholders. This may include business partners, board members, department heads, manufacturers, customers, and any other individuals that take interest in the project at hand.
Identifying these stakeholders is a key part of the requirements gathering process, as they help project leaders brainstorm, analyze, and approve project requirements. This includes the triangle of constraints that govern any given project: timeline, budget, and scope.
Stakeholders approve project requests, budgets, and timelines, so documenting their requirements is an essential component of effective project management. Without transparent documentation, project teams could run into unforeseen roadblocks, miss important deadlines, run out of resources, and other issues that lead to project failure. Requirements gathering is a collaborative exercise, which ensures that everyone shares common project expectations.
Using a checklist to drive successful outcomes
Requirements gathering elicits information from internal and external stakeholders to identify crucial project elements and guide strategic plans. There are several techniques for requirements gathering, including interviews, questionnaires, surveys, document analysis, brainstorming, and mind mapping.
But how to make sense of the pile of notes taken, questions answered, documents analyzed, and everything in between? A requirements checklist helps synthesize information from these multiple sources into an easily understood visual layout.
This checklist documents all conversations and research relevant to the project and its objectives. It can also be used to prioritize stakeholder requirements based on available resources, timelines, and overall project objectives.
Clients and stakeholders may have conflicting priorities, differences in opinion, or unrealistic expectations—all of which can be remediated through proper requirements management. Perhaps most importantly, requirements checklists help control scope creep, which is often the result of stakeholders changing requirements.
From a software update to new products and more, every project has certain requirements to be successful. A requirements gathering checklist ensures that project teams are equipped with all the information they need to deliver an optimal solution.
Best practices for capturing project requirements
The requirements gathering process enables teams to more effectively mitigate project risks, reduce overall project costs, increase stakeholder satisfaction, prevent scope creep, produce better quality deliverables, and minimize the overall risk of project failure.
However, projects don’t fail just because people skip requirements gathering—there are key challenges and issues that can hinder the requirements gathering process. Oftentimes, project stakeholders don’t have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish. They may know they have an issue to address or an opportunity to act upon but might not know exactly how the project should progress. In other instances, they may have hidden pain points, unstated goals, or assumptions that impact project requirements.
This is precisely why it is so important for project managers and their teams to use the right tools and best practices when gathering project requirements from key stakeholders. A requirements gathering checklist serves as a point of reference for the project, setting clear expectations for project teams, clients, and stakeholders.
The following best practices can help ensure an effective requirements collection process:
Find the hidden stakeholders. Projects often have hidden stakeholders—individuals who are not decision makers but whose opinions impact project requirements. For example, end users of a product or service have their own problems and requirements that the client might not be able to identify.
Align requirements with goals and objectives. Each identified requirement should help meet a project objective and fulfill a goal. When gathering stakeholder requirements, be clear and transparent when it comes to distinguishing goals from wishes. For example, you can prioritize features with priority markers such as “must have,” “high priority,” and “nice to have.”
Document all requirements. Requirements documentation takes many forms, such as spreadsheets, visual diagrams, and checklist templates. Ensure that documents can be easily navigated and understood by the project team, and prioritize formats that enable collaboration between internal and external stakeholders.
Expect change. Even the best requirements gathering checklist can be upended by changing plans and priorities. Allocating time in the project’s schedule for requirement management enables teams to adjust, add, or remove requirements as objectives change and develop.
How to use MindManager to assist the requirements gathering process
MindManager® is a powerful mind mapping tool for enhancing the quality and accuracy of the requirements gathering process. It features a wide array of templates for developing a customized requirements checklist.
For example, teams can use MindManager’s matrix diagram template to create a stakeholder analysis map. Stakeholder analysis maps identify which stakeholders are most important when it comes to organizing and managing requirements. Stakeholders with a high level of interest and influence need to be managed closely, as their feedback is critical for effective decision-making. However, stakeholders with limited interest and influence do not need that same level of attention.
To break down broad stakeholder expectations into defined project requirements, teams can use MindManager’s concept map templates. These are visually similar to mind maps but with the added benefits of additional context and connections between pieces of information.
MindManager makes it easy to collaborate on the requirements gathering process using cross-platform co-editing. This streamlines requirements collection and ensures that all stakeholders are accounted for, including those not at the same physical location.
In addition to a comprehensive collection of built-in templates, teams using MindManager can further define project requirements by assigning priority markers, resources, key dates, and other important information.Discover how MindManager enhances the requirements gathering process.