Written by: Karen Fischbach – Pro Leaders AcademyUnderstanding Project Requirements

Requirements are a key stability and focus element of a Project.  Scope is the starting point for understanding what is included in and excluded from the project. However, the scope’s purpose is not to delve into the detail about what the solution might require -this is where developing clear and complete business or product requirements adds so much value and clarity for all involved in the project.

Think about what your client is trying to achieve.  Ask “what is the problem they are trying to solve”? As the key stakeholder of your project, the client or Business Owner has an idea of what they need. As Project Manager it is your role to extract that from them.  Then you must morph that idea into an achievable product.  How else can you end up with the right solution?

To be able to strive for more than “just a solution”, rather “the right solution”, project teams need the clear picture and details.

Clarity of requirements may be different at each stage.  From the conception of the idea, the client will be thinking about what they want their product to do, where it fits and how it will benefit the organisation and the staff and ultimately their clients.  This gives us a good start to work through the problem to solve and “sell” the idea to Executive or Boards who are looking to prioritise the projects that are the best fit for the organisation.

Tip number 1: at concept stage: the idea must be in alignment with the organisation’s goals and core business.

Presuming the project has been given the approval to go ahead (Project Brief is mandated), the next step is to gain great clarity and detail around what the client’s expectations are to enable planning.

Discussions with the client, the key stakeholders (including subject matter experts) and the end users will help everyone understand what the solution needs to function, how it should function within the organisation’s environment and systems, and what the end users will end up with and benefit from.  This becomes the interface between humans, processes and systems.  This will be detailed in the project documentation as part of the Project Management Plan or Statement of Works/Requirements or Business Requirements Specification (depending on your framework and industry).

A range of tools can be utilised to ensure teams and Project Managers consider the holistic range of activities, impacts, risks and costs.  However, this will not work if the participants involved only work on one aspect of the product.  Staff or experts from all relevant work areas need to be involved.

Workshopping the idea, development and end product can provide great details of the processes or steps involved to progress the creation of the product through its lifecycle.   This starts with getting a written statement of requirements from the client and by reviewing each component, analysing options and determining prototypes or trials required, the team starts to build the vision of the client’s product.

This directly impacts cost, risk, timing, volume production, systems and service provision.

Tip number 2:  Since the client provided the early requirements and approves the final requirements, this makes them jointly responsible for not only the outcome, but any changes, including the costs of those changes as well.

So far you can see the impact to so many of the functions of project management by having clear product requirements.  So, what are the significant benefits of writing clear specifications?

When the specifications are clearly understood:

  • It enables the best solution – the right solution, to be selected;
  • The project team, Sponsor and Project Board are all focussed on achieving the same goals;
  • There is ownership at many levels within the organisation if the end users have been part of the development of the specification and processes – even better, the development and implementation of the product;
  • The client ends up with the outcome they want and the problem they are addressing is solved.
  • The organisation retains clients and or get referrals by word of mouth.

Tip number 3: the requirements will be formed through consultation, analysis, comparison with existing processes/products and will be focussed on the end product objective. 

Lack of clarity could lead to changes in scope, design etc. and what sometimes seems like a small change can cost the client or the organisation a sizeable sum of money.  Re-work is expensive and takes time.  The credibility of the organisation is also at risk if delivering an outcome that does not match the client’s vision.