No one will argue how critical it is for project requirements to be documented early and correctly. They form the foundation upon which the solution is built and form the project baseline, as well as its definition of success. You have a lot riding on properly defined requirements throughout the project, so it’s best to dive in and get it right the first time.
Having had my share of hits and misses during the years I’ve spent in project management, I finally distilled my process down to a logical three-step process. It’s not that this process is new for me, it’s simply that while each customer is different in many ways, there exists three common traits to every project which, if approached correctly, help get things off to a solid start.
As always, it helps to have a powerful project management tool like Viewpath at your disposal.
So here’s my three-step process…
1. Get all necessary materials from the client account manager. Unless the new project is the result of add-on work from an existing customer, the project information, statement of work and any high-level requirements most likely came from the sales person or account manager who closed the deal. That person also has a significant amount of “soft data” such as informal requirements, estimates, maybe some report mockups, a rough idea of schedule sensitivities, etc. Get all of this hard and soft information as quickly as possible so you have a solid data set to form the basis of your draft schedule prior to project kickoff.
2. Conduct a formal project kickoff meeting so everyone is on the same page. Lead a formal kickoff session with the project sponsor and the key stakeholders on both sides. At the outset, it’s best to limit the number of stakeholders present to allow for a more productive session. Once concluded, you should be able to leave the meeting having filled in any gaps in the draft project plan, a mutually agreed upon definition of project success, and a better sense of the overall timeline and budget. Again, never assume you have all the data or that what the customer has shared will remain static. Change is the name of the game in project management and a good project manager understands this, and remains flexible while remaining within the bounds of the core project constraints.
3. Remain vigilant to changes but flexible in your approach. Finally, once the project plan is established, understand changes are an inevitable part of a project. As such, it’s important to view these with a critical eye in light of time and budget constraints, but to also remain flexible in how you approach these issues. You can almost always find a way to get what the client wants and still drive the project forward under the initial set of constraints. This is where getting a firm baseline established – based on both hard and soft data - helps. Understanding your swim lane allows you flexibility in how the project is ultimately brought to a successful conclusion.
Good, detailed requirements are the lifeblood of the project. Set expectations early with the customer, take the time to have a detailed project kickoff discussion where you can hammer out necessary details and plan for next steps. And follow up with some detailed sessions focusing on getting requirements right – and with proper detail – so you can move forward with the project confident you have what you need to develop the right solution.