Beginning at the End: Requirements Gathering Lessons from a Flow Chart Junkie - Part Two

Cari Stieglitz
This is the second feature of a three-part series that will examine the project management responsibilities of requirements gathering and facilitating the forward-backward methodology.

Before you begin, make sure you have a signed project charter that states the goals (you will use these to justify whether a requirement is in or out of scope) and a thorough list of who your stakeholders are. Before, during and after, make sure you are capturing requirements in the proper documents – like a Requirements Traceability Matrix. Communicate to your stakeholders and let them see the progress, for instance why something was accepted as scope and why it wasn’t included.

There are many methods of gathering requirements and the project manager needs to select the best mix of methods for the project. Pick the right mix based on the project at hand. My personal favorite mix relies on the pre-workshop survey, brainstorming sessions and the nominal technique. I will also have one-to-one interviews throughout the process – whether formal or informal. Sometimes the best information gathering session is sitting in front of that person and witnessing what they do to accomplish the activity the process is addressing.

There are many methods of gathering requirements and the project manager needs to select the best mix of methods for the project.

Pay attention to all of your stakeholders, from the quiet ones to the biggest complainers, protesters or folks with the strongest opinions either through word of mouth or the pre-workshop survey. You can learn a lot from all different types given the right avenue for communication. Give plenty of timing in between sessions to accommodate the different ways people internalize information – from the quick reactors to the deep thinkers.

Once you have determined the approach to uncovering and capturing the requirements, it is time to schedule and facilitate the requirements gathering session.

During the workshop, it is best to have a facilitator, a notes keeper, and a time keeper/parking lot administrator in the room. The facilitator concentrates on leading the session and getting the best information possible by critically asking questions. The notes keeper scribbles or types like mad to capture what is being said. The time keeper/parking lot administrator gets to call time out when the group gets off topic or is taking too long on an item. They will then write down the item on the parking lot to be addressed later or in another meeting.

The three steps are:

  • The forward pass: A list format of the process with a “who” and “action” column. We will ignore what goes wrong and how much time it takes.
  • The backward pass: Starting at the end, we will focus on the relationships between only two steps at a time. We will determine durations, pain points and issues.
  • The overall review: We will highlight the biggest issues and translate those into requirements by asking multi-level questions.

Stakeholders may not always know how to define requirements. Sometimes they may just keep offering solutions like “the contractor should email the PM directly.” The reason we want to dig into these statements is the best solution may not be one they are considering. For example, combined with other user requirements, the best solution may be for the contractor to upload the invoice to the accounting system.

During the workshop, it is best to have a facilitator, a notes keeper, and a time keeper/parking lot administrator in the room.

Instead, try to dig deeper on statements or problem solving statements by asking questions and receiving better requirements statements. Using the “contractor should email PM” statement above, asking questions like the ones listed below can lead to the better requirements:

Question Asked by FacilitatorRequirement from Stakeholder
Are there any negatives/positives to having a paper invoice? We have a recent initiative to reduce our paper use by 25% and this project needs to adhere to that.
Are there any benefits/costs to having an electronic invoice? We want to increase the use of electronic communication to document an audit trail.
Why don’t we like that it takes four days to get to the project manager? We need to decrease the overall time it takes to process invoices.
Are there implications to having the front office receive the invoice? We pay for a percentage of front office and interoffice mail staff time based on how many invoices they process for us. We want to reduce costs.

We need to decrease inefficient handling of paperwork. Adding additional people move paper around increases risk of extending the overall timeline.
Are there rules or regulations that say why we shouldn’t do this? Our financial policies state we have to have two people check the invoice before paying. We need to adhere to policies.

The requirements statements will need to be captured during or after the meeting using whatever method the Requirements Gathering Plan outlined. The final list should be sent out to the stakeholders that participated to ensure everything was captured correctly.

At the end of this exercise, we will have requirements statements that are captured, a beginning process and a procedure that documents the current process.

After the workshop, the project manager will do the following:

  • Capture the requirements statements and verify them against project goals/business case.
  • Make a follow up meeting to prioritize the requirements.
  • Begin to capture success criteria based on workshop statements.
  • Capture the final written process and flow chart. These will be used to show process improvement and also used as a basis for training, knowledge transfer or company assets.

All other requirements and scope management should be accomplished in best practice format and captured in the Project Management Plan.