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4 Tips for a Sustainability-driven Requirements Gathering Process
By Gratien Gasaba

A killer question about project sustainability is on its requirements. Project requirements are the cornerstone for sustainability. If the requirements gathering process does not include measures to ensure lasting solutions to problems, the opposite may occur. Analyzing requirements with focus on long term goals will increase chances for sustainability. Other important questions are those about the weight given to each sustainability dimension, how the requirement gathering process starts and tools used as well as the documentation of sustainability related acceptance criteria.

  • Tip 1: Have a sustainability checklist for each dimension

    Before the requirement gathering process starts, it is advised to have a checklist at hand. The checklist will guide the team involved in the requirement gathering process. A good sustainability driven checklist will consist of questions about how the project tackles the four sustainability dimensions. This checklist is a tool that can help those involved in the requirement gathering process to be more consistent with sustainability aspects. Without the checklist, we might have unbalanced project requirements where, for example, economic dimension is overstated at the expense of social attributes of sustainability such as local community harmony or environmental aspects such as biodiversity protection.

  • Tip 2: Get a clear statement of the weight of each sustainability dimension

    Literatures have described four dimensions of sustainability namely environmental, economic, social and political factors. Some projects are typically on environment protection; others deal with economic development or focus on the social dimension. The first task in requirement gathering is to get a clear statement on the weight of each sustainability dimension. It is the weight given to each dimension that will guide the requirements gathering process. A typical environmental project will have different requirements from social, economic or governance project. However caution must be taken about the boundaries between these dimensions. A typical environmental project may still have social, economic and political aspects. Likewise, it is not rare to have socio-economic projects that give important weight to environmental or political dimensions. It therefore makes sense to define and to describe synergies between sustainability dimensions. Clarifying the weight of each factor helps to know not only its importance but also its relevance and its desirability. It goes without saying that determining the weights of sustainability dimensions must be done with clear purpose and objectivity. The weight given to each sustainability dimension will determine the allocation of the amount of time and other resources.

  • Tip 3: Capitalize on the sphere of influence

    Debates on sustainable development deal with questions in the sphere of change, be it at the global, national or local level. The political dimension is the leverage point for environmental, economic and social change. While the environmental, social and economic dimensions are at the sphere of factors, the political dimension is at the sphere of influence. Van Lenned said in a PMI’s white paper titled The Bottom Line on Sustainability that “the only way sustainability can be embedded in organization is to make it the criteria against which all decisions are measured”.

    It is advised to design a requirements gathering process that integrates sustainability-driven decision making. It ensures that voices of proponents of sustainability have been heard and their viewpoints understood. In addition, it sets foundation for future stages where decisions will be made and it strives to ensure actors involved do not take positions that harm sustainability.

    Case in point: The Rwandan case on plastic bags

    The experience in Rwanda confirms the critical role of the political dimension of sustainability. The ban of plastic bags in Rwanda has raised the country has raised the country standards and achievements in environmental and hygiene. The involvement of the top leadership of the country in the initiation and enforcement of this policy and the promotion of environmentally friendly culture is out of debates. For example, at the international airport of Kigali, processes and criteria have been put in place to ensure polythene bags don’t enter the Rwandan territory. This project would not have reached the same result if not supported by top policy makers in the country.

  • Tip 4: Include sustainability attributes in the requirement traceability matrix

    According to the PMBOK 5th edition, the requirement traceability matrix is “a grid that links product requirements from their origin to the deliverables that satisfy them”. It is an output of collect requirement process. The requirement traceability matrix is used to track the requirements during the project implementation. In practice, the requirement traceability matrix describes requirement attributes. Organizations that have sustainability driven processes include it in the requirement traceability matrix. Depending on the project, the sustainability attributes of the requirement may take the form of level such as high, medium or low, the form of product lifecycle; or the form of sustainability dimensions such as environmental, social, economic and political factors. It is at the discretion of the organization and the project team to decide the attributes to include in the requirement traceability matrix.

Gratien Gasaba is an experienced project manager with 9 years of experience in project and program management. He has also a consulting experience in business plan development and project evaluation. Mr Gratien Gasaba has a good working experience with both national and international experts in areas of organizational capacity development, governance, health and agriculture.

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