Solid and clearly understood requirements are one of the pillars of project success. But how do we get there? Today I’m going to talk about how your team can prepare for and successfully facilitate a requirements gathering session that will give your team (and the customer) the shared knowledge of what the scope of your project is all about.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Preparation is the one thing that anyone can do regardless of skill or knowledge level. Understanding the agenda of the meeting and preparing your questions in a way that can be easily conveyed, understood and answered is one of the keys to running a successful requirements gathering session. At this point in the project, you should have a high level understanding of what the project is to achieve and this knowledge should arm you with enough information to know what you don’t know (or at least be aware that you don’t know what you don’t know). A pointed set of questions geared at filling in the gaps in scope understanding is a great place to start. Taking knowledge from past projects of a similar nature to help provide guidance to your customer to answer is nice to do but one must be careful not to ‘lead the witness’ so to speak in terms of filling in ideas on behalf of the customer. Having a detailed agenda and informing the customer of the knowledge areas that need to be represented are two great ways to prepare for your session.
Get Answers to Your Questions
The entire purpose of the requirements gathering session is to get answers to your (and possibly the customer’s) questions. As you go through your agenda, you should be getting the answers you need to help frame up the detailed requirements for your project. There may be outlying questions that can’t be answered by anyone in the room but those should be the exception, not the norm. If you find that most of your question are going unanswered it means that the knowledge (or commitment) is not in the room and that then becomes a project management and/or sponsorship problem. One technique that I’ve used in the past is to simply project the list of questions that I have on the screen and type out the responses online as the customer provides the answers. This way everyone is seeing what notes are being taken and can immediately revise the wording or ask for changes before becoming committed. It’s ok to come out of a session with a few outstanding items to be answered but the bulk of your questions should be addressed at the conclusion of the session(s).
Don’t Stifle Valuable Conversation
A very difficult job during facilitation is the management of sidebar conversations that may or may not add value to the overall discussion. Talking about the weekend, the upcoming golf tournament may not be valuable to the purpose of the meeting however when the conversations deviate from the initial question answered to perhaps a feature that, while possibly not in scope of the project, could add value to the overall offering – which is why you’re there in the first place! It’s important that you come away with a big-picture understanding and by exploring some of these side conversations you just may uncover a hidden gem that the customer may not have known have existed that will add value to the business.
Recap, Summarize and Publish
As with any meeting, it’s vital that the discussions are documented and published for review by the attendees. It’s important that these notes be published as soon as conveniently possible by the recorder so that conversations that are still fresh in memory can be reconciled to the notes so that the written accounts of the meeting actually reflect the discussions and decisions made.
Requirements gathering sessions are the lifeblood of extracting knowledge from stakeholders into the minds of your project team. When run effectively they provide the entire project group (stakeholders and team members) with a common understanding of the problem that the project is trying to solve as well as a vision of what the solution can potentially offer them in terms of business value.
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