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Successful Requirements Gathering

This past March, Jim and I had the great experience of  attending SXSW interactive. Over the coming months we’ll be sharing some key take-aways and lessons we learned here on the wedu blog. This installment is all about how to successfully gather requirements. This workshop is going to be one of the most impactful for our team and can be used immediately.  Jordan Hirsch from Phase2 gave us a systematic approach to functional requirements and how to build them from the ground up.
Functional+Requirements+LargeOur job as an agency is to help clients think about the right things before spending money and building or starting projects.  We should always think, “tell me what you want and I’ll give you what you need.”
“My two year old toddler wants to play with the knife on the counter, but she doesn’t need the knife on the counter.”
The biggest problem in any project is that lots of things are lost in translation frequently.  Building requirements fully and in advance of the project start will help clients, designers and developers understand deliverables and allow us to manage them along the way.

What Are Requirements Anyway?

  • The things you need your project to accomplish
  • Allow you to communicate your vision to builders
  • Not term papers, they are just how you communicate your needs

We Can’t Afford A Discovery Phase!

Without this part of the project you are flying blind.  You can either plan for it and build it into the budget, or take it on the chin down the road when missing requirements create confusion and client unease.

How Do We Get Better?

  1. Ask Why Are We Here?
    1. Outline what you’re seeking to accomplish (your goals). If people are focused on features rather than goals just ask why?
      1. Features are not goals. Without a goal you can’t accurately select the features that tie back to the project.
      2. It’s a good thing for project goals to align with the overall strategic goals of the client, but each project should have project-level goals.
  2. Find Out What Matters Most?
    1. Prioritize goals, features and functionality.  Talk about trade-offs and importance of project pieces openly and honestly.  If you don’t prioritize you can’t know where to start at and then where to go next in the project.
      1. Always prioritize with your client.
  3. Active Listening
    1. Tool used by improvisers on stage since they’re making it up as they go.
    2. The gist: glean everything you can from each interaction.
    3. Listen beyond just words and obtain context.
    4. Use paper and pen, turn your wifi off, and practice repeating back so they know you’re listening (“So what I heard you just ask for is…”).
    5. If you aren’t clear just ask this one question:  “Help me understand… (why this blog will be your money maker).”
    6. We are the experts but we must have all the information from our clients to make a good recommendation and informed decision. Get them to talk about what they want to achieve and their desired outcomes.
    7. Have them write goals on a whiteboard and then attach features to those goals. This will help visually shape the conversation with a good brainstorm session.
    8. Iterate: repeat the process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration”, and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration.
      1. If a client doesn’t want to iterate and simply want this done the way they’ve requested, document the risks.  You don’t have to wear your rain boots but your feet will get wet and then you’re socks will stink and you’ll probably end up with athlete’s foot in a week.
  4. Question Everything
    1. You will inadvertently get bad information.
    2. Always ask why?
    3. If you just take an order you are not solving a problem.
  5. Know Your Stakeholders
    1. Talk to the right people.
    2. Take time to think through your processes.
    3. Projects can have a lot of hidden stakeholders.
    4. Just ask? Who do you report to and what are there goals?
    5. Ask a lot of questions and talk to good reps of the clients company.  If you don’t do it you’ll have a team of disgruntled people.
    6. Overcome resistance:  if you can’t change a situation, document the risks.
  6. Put Down the Hammer
    1. Gathering requirements is about requirements, not the tools.
    2. Starting with a tool in mind shapes thinking and doesn’t help you define requirements.
    3. Fit the tool to the job, not the job to the tool.
  7. You’re Only Human
    1. Because you’re human you won’t get everything – don’t sweat it, but being thorough and applying uninterrupted thought should get you pretty close.
    2. Requirements are not static – we should be building initial requirements and then continuously revisiting goals and requirements as we iterate through a project.
  8. It ain’t over till it’s over
    1. Managing requirements is as important as gathering them – don’t assume that nothing will change.
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