Requirements gathering may seem self-explanatory, but it rarely receives the full attention it deserves. Like stretching before exercising or brushing your teeth before bed, it’s a simple task that often gets overlooked.
But the consequences of ignoring these seemingly straightforward things can lead to injuries, cavities, or, in the case of project management, project risks.
In this piece, we’ll outline the requirements gathering process and explain how taking time to focus on requirements gathering can lead to successful project outcomes.
Requirements gathering is the process of identifying your project’s exact requirements from start to finish. This process occurs during the project initiation phase but you’ll continue to manage your project requirements throughout the entire project timeline.
Requirements gathering typically happens during the project brief or initial kick-off meeting.
Some questions include:
How long will our project schedule be?
Who will be involved in the project?
What risks may we face in this project?
Requirements gathering shouldn’t be complex, but it’s an important component of the project initiation process.Create a project initiation template
To gather your requirements, use the following six-step process. Once you’re finished, you should have a comprehensive requirements document outlining the resources you need to move forward through the project phases.
The first step in requirements gathering is to assign roles in your project. This is when you identify your project stakeholders.
A stakeholder is anyone invested in the project, whether they’re internal or external partners. For example, a customer is an external stakeholder, while a department manager or board member is an internal stakeholder. Identifying these roles first will help you determine who should analyze your project scope later on.
Other roles include the project manager, project administrator, designers, product testers, and developers. These people can help you identify the requirements and resources you need in order to hit your project goals.
While you may feel tempted to jump headfirst into your project and start listing all the things you know you’ll need, this can be a mistake. Slow down and stick to the process and you’ll have a better chance of preventing project risk.
Once you’ve identified your project stakeholders, meet with them to get an idea of what they’re hoping to get out of the project. Understanding what stakeholders want matters because they’re ultimately the ones you’re creating your deliverables for.
Some questions you can ask include:
What is your goal for this project?
What do you think would make this project successful?
What are your concerns about this project?
What do you wish this product or service would do that it doesn’t already?
What changes would you recommend about this project?
The stakeholders are the people you’re ultimately developing the project for, so you should ask them questions that can help you create your list of requirements.
Step three in the process happens at the same time as step two. You’ll gather information as you ask your stakeholders questions. The goal is to document everything you can, so have all of the answers you need to start your project.
Use a project management tool to collect and document this information. That way, you can keep your project plan, project requirements, and project communication all in one place. Some examples of what you might document include:
Stakeholder answers to interview questions
Questions and comments that arise during interviews
You don’t have to use every answer you receive, but having everything documented can help you see all of your stakeholders’ perspectives, which will help you with requirements management.Create a project initiation template
Now that you’ve completed the intake process, create your requirements management plan based on the information you’ve gathered.
Consider the questions you initially set out to answer during the requirements gathering process. Then, use them to create your requirements goals, including:
Length of project schedule: You can map out your project timeline using a Gantt chart and use it to visualize any project requirements that depend on project milestones. Some requirements will apply for the full duration of the project, whereas others may only apply during distinct project phases. For example, you’ll need a specific budget for team member salaries throughout the entire project, but you may only need specific material during the last stage of your project timeline.
People involved in the project: Identify exactly which team members will be involved in your project, including how many designers, developers, or managers you’ll need to execute every step. People are part of your project requirements because if you don’t have the team members you need, you won’t be able to complete the project on time.
Project risks: Understanding your project risks is an important part of identifying project requirements. Use a risk register to determine which risks are of highest priority, such as stakeholder feedback, timeline delays, and lack of budget. Then, schedule a brainstorming session with your team to figure out how to prevent these risks.
Like SMART goals, your project requirements should be actionable, measurable, and quantifiable. Try to go into as much detail as possible when listing out your project budget, timeline, required resources, and team.
Once you formalize your project requirements, you’ll need approval from stakeholders to ensure you’re meeting user needs. Encouraging clear communication can also prevent scope creep by ensuring your stakeholders know the limits of the project from the beginning. You can then proceed with your implementation plan, which may include acquiring resources and assembling a team.
The last part of the process is monitoring the progress of your project. You can use project management software to track your project budget and other requirements as you move through project execution. The benefit of project management software is that you can see changes to your project in real-time and take immediate action when things go awry.Read: How to write a software requirement document (with template)
While the basic process of requirements gathering involves asking stakeholders for their input, sometimes stakeholders won’t know what’s best for a project. In those cases, you're responsible for gathering the information necessary to understand what your project requirements should be.
To ensure you’re fully prepared for the project life cycle, you can use the following research techniques.
Questionnaires: Questionnaires can be beneficial if you need to ask stakeholders the same question across the board. Share the questionnaire with stakeholders in advance, and give them time to answer questions about project requirements, to ensure no one leaves anything out. While questionnaires can be valuable ways to gather requirements, they’re not very effective for executive stakeholders, who may be too busy to fill them out.
Use case scenarios: A use case scenario is a written description of how you think your team members will execute the project. These scenarios may include who’s involved in the project, what you expect them to do, and the steps they’ll take to accomplish your project goal. Sharing a use case scenario gives stakeholders a clear picture of the project roadmap and planned deliverables. Stakeholders then have something to respond to if the use case doesn’t meet their expectations.
Mind mapping: Mind mapping is a visual form of brainstorming that’s particularly helpful for assessing what project requirements you need. In the center of your mind map, place your main project objective. In bubbles branching off from the main objective, list categories of things you need. As the map continues to branch out, you can include more detailed with your requirements until you’ve captured all of your project requirements.
Prototyping: Interviewing your stakeholders may not be successful if they don’t know exactly what they want out of the project. In that case, try creating prototypes to show stakeholders what the potential deliverable could look like. This can help your stakeholders define what they do and don’t like so you can identify the exact requirements you need to launch the project.
If none of these techniques feel quite right, check out other online tools to also help you gather information, like an idea board, a focus group, user stories, or a decision matrix template.
Requirements gathering is more than beneficial for your project—it’s essential. Can you remember why the last unsuccessful project you handled didn’t go well? Did you run out of resources or go over budget? Did you underestimate the time you’d need to complete the project? These are project risks that you can prevent when you follow the requirements gathering process.
There are many benefits of requirements gathering, which include:
Improves stakeholder satisfaction: When you follow an effective requirements gathering process, you improve stakeholder satisfaction by providing more on-target project deliverables. Your stakeholders will be happy when they know what to expect with your project.
Increases project success rate: Requirements gathering also increases your project success rate because the more prepared you are for your upcoming project, the less likely you are to encounter project risks.
Reduces project costs: Encountering project risks can lead to increased project costs. By avoiding these risks, you can reduce costs and stay within budget. You understandably don’t want to spend more money on a project than necessary, so this is a big benefit of requirements gathering.
Requirements gathering is an important part of project planning. Whether you’re interviewing stakeholders or performing other types of research to compile your list of project requirements, having project management software that can hold all your information and seamlessly move it into the next phase will go a long way.
When your stakeholders and your team members share access, you can communicate and collaborate from project start to finish and reduce any chance of setbacks.Create a project initiation template