You and your team decide you’re going to purchase a treat to send to one of your team members for her birthday, and you’re in charge of picking it out.
You settled on a tin of gourmet cookies and made the purchase. But now, someone has mentioned that your team member doesn’t eat gluten. Sigh. You’re back to the drawing board. Next, you order a delicious, gluten-free chocolate cake. But then? You find out that your team member doesn’t like chocolate — she much prefers carrot cake.
Here we go again. You need to order yet another treat.
Getting frustrated (and stress-eating all of those extra treats)? We don’t blame you. This is one of many examples of when effective requirements gathering doesn’t take place.
What is requirements gathering in project management?
Requirements gathering is the process of determining what your projects need to achieve and what needs to be created to make that happen.
You’re probably familiar with the fact that everybody has their own common project assumptions about what a project should include. Through requirements gathering, you collect insights from a project’s stakeholders to get an adequate grasp on how a project should work — before you start the work.
Project requirements are generally split into two categories:
- Business requirements: What the project should do. You’ll also hear these referred to as “functional requirements.”
- Technical requirements: How your project will fulfill business requirements. You’ll also hear these referred to as “nonfunctional requirements.”
Let’s add some clarity with a work-related example. Imagine your team is responsible for building a new job application portal for your company. Through the requirements gathering process, you’d connect with different stakeholders — the leadership team, the human resources team, etc. — to understand everything your application portal should include:
- Business requirement: Candidates can apply for positions directly through the portal.
- Technical requirement: A confirmation email will be sent to the candidate immediately after an application has been received.
Think of requirements gathering as your chance to collect all the different pieces to include so that your finished project not only meets expectations but surpasses them.
Why is requirements gathering important?
Requirement gathering and analysis might sound like an unnecessary formality, especially when you and your team are eager to sink your teeth into the project.
However, getting a handle on a project’s requirements is a crucial step for several reasons. Here’s what can happen when you don’t take the time to understand them:
Projects fall short of expectations: If you don’t know what you’re working toward, it’s pretty hard to achieve it. 47% of unmet project goals tie back to poor requirements management.
- Scope creep becomes a problem: When everybody is on the same page about requirements, you reduce the risk of project scope ballooning throughout the project process.
- Rework leads to wasted time: Imagine that you were 75% of the way through your job portal project when suddenly it comes to light that the portal should also have the option to assign test projects to candidates. Now you need to go back, undo a lot of your hard work, and incorporate that important feature. Had you known that requirement upfront, you could’ve built it into your project plan and timeline.
- Team members become frustrated: Confusion, irritation, and even resentment can run rampant on your team. People become increasingly discouraged when projects keep missing the mark due to poorly written and tracked requirements.
Combine all of these, and you have the most frightening risk of all: project failure. Poorly managed project requirements are one of the primary causes of project failure.
What is the requirements gathering process?
Gathering project requirements can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be overly complicated — especially if you break it down into three steps.
Step #1: Solicit requirements from stakeholders
Start by identifying the project’s stakeholders and understanding what they think the project needs to address or include.
For example, perhaps the leadership team thinks your job portal should include videos and information about your culture, and the human resources team wants to track every touchpoint with a candidate. These are all important things to take into consideration as you create your project plan.
This is one of the trickiest steps of the requirements gathering process, and it can sometimes feel like pulling teeth. However, there are many different tools you can use to collect this information in a targeted and helpful way, including:
- User stories and understanding splitting user stories techniques
- Brainstorming sessions
- Process diagramming
- One-on-one meetings
Step #2: Documenting requirements
Once you’ve gathered your project requirements, you need to document them in a concise and well-organized document.
This document ensures accountability and gives everybody a single source of information about your project’s goals. Don’t worry — we’ll dig into what a project requirements document should look like a little later.
Step #3: Confirming understanding of requirements
Once your project requirements are documented, don’t assume that everybody has a shared understanding.
Instead, share those documented requirements with all of the project's stakeholders to ensure everybody is on the same page before the project begins. If anything was skipped or misunderstood, it’s better to know now.
What are the challenges of requirements gathering?
The formula for the requirements gathering process is fairly straightforward. However, many teams run into roadblocks when trying to understand a project’s requirements. These can include (but aren’t limited to):
- Loss of focus on the project goal: Here’s where scope creep comes into play. It’s tempting for people to come up with all sorts of ideas and feature requests, so you need to be mindful of whether or not they contribute to your overarching project goal.
- Unstructured collection approach: It’s smart to put together a documented approach for gathering requirements. This makes the process more manageable for you and more predictable for project stakeholders.
- Changing circumstances: People change their minds. A feature that seemed non-negotiable at the beginning might not feel as pressing a little later. Plus, it’s not just people who are fickle — circumstances are too. For example, maybe your team was working in-office when you started the job portal. Now that remote work is the norm, your portal might need different functionality.
The requirements gathering process isn’t without its hiccups, but it’s still well worth your time and effort to ensure you deliver successful projects.
Are there best practices for requirement gathering techniques?
Let’s talk about the bulk of the process: actually gathering the requirements. As we mentioned in the previous section, this can feel challenging.
Fortunately, there are a few tips you can put into play to collect and understand a project’s requirements in a way that’s both efficient and effective.
1. Reinforce the project goal
All of your project requirements have this in common: they’re in support of your broader project goal. So, make sure that you reiterate this objective every time you discuss requirements.
Sticking with our job application portal example, what’s your primary goal in launching that portal? Do you want to:
- Improve your candidate experience?
- Increase your application rate?
- Streamline your internal hiring processes?
Knowing your core goal will give you the context you need to understand which requirements should take priority — and which may need to be postponed.
2. Focus on the right stakeholders
You want to ensure you connect with enough people to have a well-rounded view of your project’s requirements. But opening it up to everybody can be both overwhelming and confusing.
When it comes to requirements gathering, stay focused on a project’s key stakeholders. Who are the people or teams who will be directly impacted by this project? Those are the people you should be talking to.
3. Leave enough time
Requirements gathering won't be a quick task, and it likely won't be a one-time event. Stakeholders will think of things they forgot to mention, and you’ll think of questions you forgot to ask.
For that reason, make sure you build in enough time for the requirements gathering process. That will give you the breathing room you need to do a thorough job, without feeling squeezed for time.
4. Summarize and confirm your understanding
Assumptions can be dangerous, especially when it comes to project requirements. You might think you know what a stakeholder or team is requesting, only to find out you were on the wrong path when you’ve already sunk hours into the project.
It never hurts to confirm your understanding. When somebody mentions a requirement, summarize what they’ve shared with you. This is an important element of active listening, which is helpful in a variety of contexts — including requirements gathering. This quick summary gives them the opportunity to confirm your direction or correct you before you’ve started.
Even if you do everything you can to gather requirements as accurately as possible, surprises and miscommunications can still happen. That’s why an Agile approach (or Agile requirements gathering) can be so helpful, as it gives you regular intervals to reassess and make any necessary adjustments.
5. Remember that requirements gathering is an iterative process
Even the most thorough requirements gathering process will miss something along the way, with stakeholders and team members often remembering needs later on down the line. Remember to build in time throughout your project lifecycle for ongoing requirements gathering and management. If using an Agile approach, you may start with a top-level understanding of requirements, preparing the top-priority requirements for Sprint 1, and leaving the rest in the backlog for the next release session. However you manage your project, don't be afraid to continually reassess and reconfirm requirements.
Top tips for writing a requirements document
Project requirement documents can range from concise one-pagers to lengthy records. In its most basic form, your requirements document should include:
- Project name
- Project goal
- Scope statement
- Business requirements
- Technical requirements
But, what else should you know to fill it in successfully? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Avoid jargon
This document isn’t just about recording your requirements. It should also give you a tool to effectively manage them. To make that possible, the requirements need to be crystal clear. Avoid jargon, acronyms, and other complex phrasing, and state things as plainly as possible.
2. Use a formatted template
Creating a template for your requirements document saves time and ensures your information is organized and easy to digest. Additionally, it’s a predictable framework that stakeholders can get comfortable with, which makes it easier for them to review and provide feedback.
3. Ensure each requirement is testable
Every time you add a new requirement to your document, ask yourself how it can be verified once completed, and include this scenario in the requirement's description. This will help everyone who reads the document, whether they are stakeholders, engineers, or other team members, understand exactly what is needed from this requirement and how it will help the project in question.
4. Avoid vague terminology
Customers or stakeholders may often allow vagueness to creep into a requirements document in order for it to remain fluid and open to interpretation. However, it's important to avoid this if you want to avoid arguments over the true meaning of the requirements (and higher costs) further down the line. Be specific with your definitions, and don't allow room for interpretation errors. Describe exactly what your requirements need to fulfill, use active language (rather than passive), and avoid vague or useless adjectives.
5. Invite others to review the document
Speaking of feedback, keep in mind that requirements gathering isn’t something that you do alone — plenty of others are involved in the process. They shouldn’t just play an active part when gathering the requirements but reviewing them too. Share your document with them so that they can provide feedback and confirm that everybody has the right understanding.
Are there requirement-gathering tools available?
From mind maps or process diagrams to surveys or user stories, there’s no shortage of tools you can use to gather better product requirements.
On the technology side, there’s also plenty of software that can take the pain and pressure out of collecting requirements. For example, a collaborative work management platform like Wrike will help you:
- Establish your project framework
- Set priorities for each requirement
- Boost transparency throughout the project
- Keep communication centralized
That means you’ll know exactly what’s required of a project and have the visibility you need to ensure you’re checking those boxes.
Ready to get a solid handle on requirements and push more winning projects across the finish line? Start your free trial of Wrike today.