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Requirements Gathering in Project Management: Not Enough If Not Priortized and Ranked
By Gratien Gasaba

“If you don’t know where you are going no road will take you there”.

To ensure that one is on the right road one needs to know where this road goes. But it serves for nothing if you don’t know where you are going. Assume you are in a bus station. You may be informed that bus number 1 will take the road to place A, bus number 2 to place B, bus number 3 to place C, etc. What criteria do you use to choose a right bus and to ensure you don’t get lost? The necessary and sufficient criterion is to know where you want to go. In the above illustrative particular case, if you want to go to the Place C, you will take the bus number 3 and exclude from your choice all other buses. In other words, if conductors of bus number 1 and bus number 2 try to convince you to take their respective buses, you will reply by a strong no, while to the conductor of the bus number 3 you will reply by an exclusive yes followed by your long strides toward the bus number3.

I have seen several project managers and project staffs complaining that the project beneficiaries are too inquisitive to the extent that it is impossible to know what they need. Complaints of this kind are warnings that the project is heading to failure. They signal a lack of focus. But who is responsible to clearly define and keep the project focus? What is the starting point towards what should be the real focus? Where and how can one gets information on what is needed to be done?

This article attempts to answer the above questions and highlight the importance of collecting requirements and actors involved in this exercise.

Collecting requirements is project manager centered

It is the project manager’s responsibility to ensure all stakeholders’ expectations are well collected and documented. After all, project managers are also required to manage stakeholders’ expectations as part of communication management. These expectations may be related to the project management or to the product of the project. When collected requirements are competing, the project manager is responsible to balance them. In fact, one of the most difficult challenges for project managers regarding scope management is to balance competing requirements and rank them by order of importance.

The starting point: visit the stakeholder register and the project charter or their equivalents in your organization

The project stakeholder register and the project charter are two important inputs to the collect requirements process. By screening the stakeholder register, the project manager will get information on the list of all already identified stakeholders, their main expectations and requirements as well as their respective attitudes about the project. When I come to this point I stop a while only to be surprised by how the world is full of helpful resources and inputs but what if not utilized?

At any time, to understand what the requirements of a project are, one must read the project charter which provides information on high-level project and product requirements. The project charter describes, in the business case section, the project purpose and justification. However, the information in the project charter or its equivalent is very general and need to be detailed. Before rushing into further investigation, the project manager has to know who the project stakeholders are. In fact, the project requirements are what stakeholders need from a project or in other words what must be the project and its results in the eye of stakeholders in general and the customer (or beneficiaries) in particular. In addition, some organizations may have other valuable documents that can provide information on the purpose of the project. These documents can range from recorded correspondence such formal mails, email, internal memo and minutes of meetings to more formal document such as organizations quarter or annual reports. It is advised to read these documents before the collect requirements process, because the information from these documents makes the foundation of all the questions that might be asked throughout this process. By and large, the PMBOK@ Guide suggests two inputs to the collect requirements process, notably the project charter and the stakeholder register. In my experience, I have learned that the project charter and the stakeholder register may not provide enough information, forcing the project manager to dig deep for serious requirements investigation. In some organizations for example, minutes of board of directors meetings that discussed the project, emails, quarter and annual reports or formal communications with project formulation manager may be highly important.

How to balance and rank collected requirements?

The collect requirements process may end with a huge list of requirements, some of which may be competing. It is the project manager responsibility to balance competing requirements and rank them by order of importance. The rule of thumb here is “only accept requirements that are in line with the project business case and those that contribute to the achievements of the project objectives.”

Below are ten tips to balance the competing priorities as presented by Rita Mulcahy in her 2009 PMP exam preparation, which in my view may yield sufficient results if well used.

  1. “Know that if any need conflicts with those of the customer, the customer (or beneficiary) needs take precedence;
  2. Use quality management to ensure that the project will satisfy the needs for which it was undertaken;

  3. Deal with conflicts and problems as soon as they arise;

  4. The project manager has to reject some competing interests;

  5. The project manager may need to call on management to help resolve competing interests that the project manager and the team cannot resolve on their own;

  6. Fix the project when it starts deviating from the requirements rather than changing or lowering the requirements to meet the results of the project;

  7. Work toward fair resolution of disputes that consider all stakeholders’ interests as well as the needs of the project;

  8. Use negotiation techniques to resolve disputes between stakeholders;

  9. Plan and implement effective communication;

  10. Gather, assess and integrate information into the project.”

From the above ten tips, it comes out that the project manager may receive many requirements from stakeholders, some of which may not be in line with the reason the project has been undertaken. In these particular circumstances, the project manager will need to use appropriate communication techniques to inform the stakeholders that these requests will not be included in the project. In my experience I have seen a number of project managers who do not, clearly inform stakeholders that these requests that are outside the project purpose are rejected. They do so to preserve the good relationship with stakeholders but they forget that in the end, their performance may be judged low if stakeholders who thought their expectations would be met, experience the opposite at the project closure. To succeed in collecting and documenting requirements, the golden rule is “collect all possible information, but only take into account those that enhance the achievement of the project’s raison d’être”.

As project manager, do you have project requirements prioritized and ranked by order of importance? If so, congratulations! It’s a good start. If not, beware you may not be focusing the project resources to the right end!

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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