Arguably, one of the most important phases of a project — getting everyone on the same page – occurs during the requirements meeting(s). The meeting with staff to develop the project requirements is the culmination of the initial effort to create a project charter, scope, schedule and budget. The work of deciding how to get from nothing to accomplishing project goals happens through the process of the requirements meeting.
Now I am not talking about the “high level requirements” that organizations use to get a project approved (And unfortunately sometimes sent out for bid). This level of requirements is more for bounding and high level scoping – not useful if you are trying to actually define a set of tasks or detail out the what and how of the project. High level requirements are great for preparation.
We used to joke – sometimes with more than a smidgen of truth – that the project manager would tell developers to begin coding, while he or she went off to find out the project requirements. However, having been dipped in the sacred waters of the “Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge,” we know now that collecting requirements falls under the process of Project Scope Management, as part of developing the Project Management Plan.
Preparing for the Requirements Meeting
Clearly defining the detailed tasks needed to complete modules, add functionality, or build a system begins with the vision of the project’s outcome, tempered by the reality of time and budget. Next, the top-level objectives that drive the requirements are defined through a process that involves all stakeholders – clients, users, senior management, organizational strategist and key project staff.
Assuming that the organization has not already documented the high level requirements, you can use several tools and techniques to gather objectives and top-level requirements. I have found that “scenarios of use” and “use-cases” work best with most stakeholders because they help crystallize vague objectives into understandable activities. Process maps, flow charts and decision trees can be used effectively with developers.
The project manager’s goal in conducting these pre-requirements meetings is to create a coherent list of high-level requirements that will be presented to the development staff to create the detailed project requirements.
Running the Requirements Meeting
First off, let me warn the new project manager that the requirement meeting is rarely a single event. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, multiple meetings should be anticipated. Before the meeting, provide all attendees with the information distilled from the interviews with users, customers and other stakeholders including comments from the scenarios. If your project has a Concept of Operations, that should be added to the pre-meeting review materials.
Break the meeting up logically using either the project work breakdown structure or development modules. Make sure everyone is comfortable, has available linked communications, notepads or sticky notes and a projector, whiteboard or electronic white board to capture ideas and decisions. Then, like Alice in Wonderland, begin at the beginning, continue through to the end, and stop.
Unlike Alice, though, project managers should plan to iterate at least once more through all steps to assess and integrate the impact of later decisions on initial ones. PMBOK suggests applying group process optimization techniques such as facilitation, group decision-making, and breaking up into small groups with timed feedback requirements. The requirement’s meeting is done when everyone understands what the detailed requirement are and how meeting each detailed requirement integrates toward a task and deliverable in the WBS. Developers should have a general idea of how to approach each task and understand the operating environment for both coding and execution. They also know how success will be tested.
The result of the requirement’s meeting is a document, a requirements management plan and a requirement traceability matrix. The requirements document should be dated and versioned, as updates may occur based on change requests or risks realized during execution. Now you have a baseline of scope for the project!
While no two projects are the same size or complexity, they all have “scope” and requirements as a common element. You may have to tailor the steps or process to fit your project size, but don’t short change this critical step when doing
a project. Many a PM has been wounded in battle because they didn’t take the time to get the requirements right!