We have all been there. A new project kicks off and we are trying to gather requirements but the stakeholders don’t seem to have time or you can’t get people together. Other times you hear “well you know what I want”. Really? I have lived and heard this story too many times to count, and over the years I have come up with some unique ways to get the much-needed requirements out of them.
When you search the internet, many places will tell you of the common ways to gather requirements. Many of these I have used and often with varied success. These include:
- In person interviews with individuals: this is great but can be time consuming. Also, how many times have you been in a meeting and forgotten something important only to never relay that information?
- Group interviews: this can also be time consuming and the make-up of the groups would be important.
- Requirements gathering sessions that you facilitate: for large projects this can be daunting trying to get everyone in a room and on the phone at the same time. Often this requires more than one session so can still be time consuming.
- Joint Application Development: similar to standard requirements gathering sessions, these can be time consuming as normally people do not leave the session until the objective has been met.
- Questionnaires and surveys: these can easily get buried down in people’s emails, and many responses are not received.
- Prototyping: this is a way to gather minimal requirements, provide a prototype which drives more requirements. This continues until the product meets the needs of the stakeholders. This can also be very time consuming.
- Utilizing use cases: use cases are important regardless of which technique you use and should be incorporated. This helps you understand how it should work from the user perspective.
- Shadow people on their jobs: sometimes following people around will show you things that a person in that role may not have thought of…especially if it is second nature to them.
- Holding brainstorming sessions:
Many of these can be time consuming and depending on whether the project is facing a deadline, can also be a detriment. There are some other ways though that I have instituted over the past that have been successful for me. The biggest challenges we face are the “unknown unknowns” but there are some ways to try to get past some of that.
Sticky-Notes: During one project, none of the above proved to be successful individually, and often times I would have to go back and redo some of them. Because of this I came up with an idea to give a pad of sticky notes to every stakeholder and end user and asked them to simply write it down on a sticky note as it comes to them. Whether it be a want, need, process change, anything… This way as they were working through the day and something just “came up”, they had a venue to communicate it to me. Throughout the week I would swing by and pick any new requirements up and compile them for the project team. This proved very helpful for several reasons. Whether you are interviewing people, in a meeting, sending questionnaires, how many times are things forgotten? Often it is forgotten because they are not “living the moment” when that need arises. This method can be used throughout the project to where even if the main requirements are completed if they “live the moment” and write that down, it can identify the “unknown unknowns” quicker before it’s too late. This was a way to give them an immediate and simple form of communication without having to worry about a document, email, trying to catch me on the phone, or forgetting about it waiting on the next meeting.
Dry erase board: Another way is to keep a dry erase board dedicated to requirements. This board could be written on, or have sticky notes pasted on it. With this, any stakeholders or project team members could quickly just come by and add something to the board.
Applications: Using an application can give the ability to quickly add requirements to a backlog. Whether the application is a SharePoint list, Jira, Clarity Requirements, Rally or others, this can give instant access to stakeholders and project team members to quickly access and enter something new. Even using applications like Skype where they can simply Skype you what they are thinking at the moment they are thinking it is something that can be done. Even if you don’t answer the Skype, you will still get it.
The key message here is think outside the box. Don’t limit yourself to how or when you gather requirements. Make sure your stakeholders have multiple venues to communicate them to you and keep that door open. Overcoming the challenge of missing requirements can be daunting but utilizing some simple tricks can help you do that.
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Author, Speaker, Project / Program / PMO Thought Leader
Over 20 years project management experience with a passion for helping organizations grow their PMO, their project managers, and their teams. My passion has taken me to the pursuit of a Doctor of Education, as I enjoy seeing the proverbial light bulb come on. I am a believer in continuous growth and improvement, and believe that an organizations culture and environment is what drives the growth of PMOs and all areas, and not the other way around.