The Ultimate Manual to Requirements Management

Requirements management is an often neglected but crucial part of successful product development. Whether you’ll be undertaking it as a standalone process or as part of a broader project management strategy, we will explore the crucial elements of getting started with requirements management.

What Is Requirements Management Anyway?

A requirement in requirement management refers to a single documented need or desire that a specific product, process, or design must perform for or be performed by a stakeholder in the project. As such, the typical project has multiple stakeholders and requirements. Therefore, requirements management refers to the process of capturing and managing all the different stakeholder requirements in the system.

For example, the project may be to deliver a software system to a client. In this example, stakeholders may include the client or owner and the end user or the customer. One requirement might be that the software performs a specific function, such as sending an email to every person registering an account. Another requirement might be that the software must have an uptime of 98%.

Following the same example, requirements management ensures that the software meets clearly defined needs, including sending email alerts to account creators and having at least 98% uptime.

How Requirements Management Works

Although the requirements management concept is easy to understand, it is not always so simple to implement. Here’s a quick overview of the typical requirements management process.

The process begins with collecting the initial requirements from all stakeholders. These requirements generally cover the features and functionality required in the product. In this step, it is necessary to identify all your stakeholders. The stakeholders may include everyone who’s participating in developing the system, including clients, customers, users, project managers, developers, testers, designers, executives, and engineers.

Next, it is necessary that all stakeholders agree and negotiate on the project’s needs. During this stage, the stakeholders assess the feasibility of each requirement. These requirements are then prioritized and taken to the client for approval.

Finally, it is necessary to develop these requirements into tasks that can be assigned to teams or teammates. Then, the requirements manager monitors and oversees the design to ensure that the project requirements are incorporated properly.

Here are two real-world requirements management scenarios to help us better understand the topic.

Example 1: The Effects of Poor Requirements Management

NASA offers one of the best illustrations of why practical requirements management is so important. In September 1999, NASA’s space probe, Mars Climate Orbiter (MSO), crashed on the surface of the Red Planet on account of a translation error.

The MCO was part of NASA’s Mars Surveyor program intended to understand the Martian climate history. An investigation into the crash revealed the cause to be a measurement mismatch error between NASA and Colorado-based contractor Lockheed Martin Astronautics. The NASA-JPL team used the metric system or Newton-seconds, while the contractor used English units or pound-seconds. This discrepancy went largely unremarked for nearly ten months, until the critical moment when the probe was meant to enter orbit.

This error may sound comical and even silly–and has been mocked by more than one standup comedian. But such mistakes are not uncommon in project management circles. At least two navigators had noticed the discrepancy. However, their concerns were dismissed because they did not document their concerns according to the laid-out procedure.

This accident is a classic example of the effects of mismatching or contradictory requirements. There should have been documented mutual requirements for all stakeholders in the project, including NASA and its contractors. A requirements manager might even have caught the discrepancy before NASA lost its $125 million craft. After all, the requirements manager is tasked with ensuring all requirements are met throughout the project lifecycle.


Example 2: Successful Requirements Management Case Study

Apple is an excellent example of the positive impact of successful requirements management. When creating the iPad, Apple was able to identify its key stakeholders early on. The stakeholders are mainly the end-user and retailer. The company even invited these groups to participate in the different aspects of the product, including design and pricing.

Apple took things a step further by focusing on the most desired features according to stakeholders. These features included internet access and customizability. The detailed requirements management process resulted in a product that all stakeholders loved for its desirability, quality, and price.

Having a structured requirements management process is indispensable for successful projects. Apple took the time to identify its most important stakeholders and their accompanying needs. By keeping these needs simple and focusing on them, success was all but inevitable.


How To Get Started With Requirements Management

Successful requirements management can be a complex process. But, here are a few steps to get you started on your journey.

Step 1: Identify the Project’s Stakeholders

It isn’t always obvious who your primary project stakeholders are. But, you must identify all stakeholders. This allows you to communicate and solicit feedback to ensure everyone is happy with the outcome.

Additionally, stakeholders play a crucial role in the project’s success. They bring experience and expertise, help identify risks, and increase the chances of the project’s success.

You can start by listing your internal and external stakeholders to make the process easier. Internal stakeholders include individuals or teams within the organization. For example, these stakeholders may consist of the project team, other internal teams like sales, the project manager, and the sponsor.

The external stakeholders include the people who aren’t directly involved in the project. But, these stakeholders are still affected by the project’s outcome. These groups may consist of external clients, end-users, suppliers, subcontractors, or the government.

Usually, the project charter will include all the relevant stakeholders. At the very least, the project charter will help you identify the project head, clients, key sponsors, and influencers. You can also conduct brainstorming sessions with your team to identify stakeholders.

Step 2: Identify and Gather Your Project Requirements

Again, requirements refer to specific groups of conditions or tasks that must be accomplished before the project can be completed successfully. These requirements may include product processes, behaviors, or features. So, the first step is to identify your needs.

To this end, you can break down requirements into three categories. This way, you don’t miss anything.

Business requirements: These requirements are the project’s starting point and provide clarity on all other requirements. These requirements cover why you are undertaking the project and what is required to complete the project successfully. In short, business requirements outline the overall needs of the business. Examples of business requirements include needs relating to risk management, compliance and usability, customer experience, and branding

Solution requirements: These requirements cover both business and stakeholder requirements. They refer to the specific characteristics and features that the product or service needs to fulfill. You can also break down solution requirements into functional and non-functional.

Functional requirements refer to something the system should do. Non-functional requirements refer to how the system should behave. For example, functional requirements of software may include audit tracking, business rules, and administrative functions. Non-functional requirements, in this case, may consist of reliability, performance, scalability, and usability.

Stakeholder requirements: These requirements cover the specific needs of everyone who has an interest in the product or service. Often, stakeholders may have competing needs. Therefore, you’ll need to manage these requirements in a way that doesn’t affect the budget, the scope of the project, or the schedule.

It’s helpful to create a plan for gathering these requirements. For example, one-on-one interviews are effective and efficient in single-user environments. On the other hand, facilitated sessions work better where there are multiple stakeholders. In addition, multi-stakeholder projects typically involve conflicting or controversial requirements. So, structured sessions are critical for building consensus among stakeholders.

Step 3: Organize and Prioritize Your Requirements

Stakeholders may not always agree on which requirements are mandatory, critical, desirable, or optional. But, you still need to make sure that the project requirements are appropriately organized and prioritized. Start this process early on to avoid any delays or mishaps once the project is underway.

Call a special meeting of all stakeholders to discuss the requirements you collected in the previous step. Be sure to include your team members in the process. There are several techniques that you can use to aid this process.

Things are much easier when there are single stakeholders. Here, you can rely on ranking. Simply list all the project requirements and assign each one a number. The number 1 may refer to the most important requirement, 2 the second most important, and so on. A brainstorming session can help to rank your project needs accordingly.

However, things can get complicated when there are multiple stakeholders involved. But you can use the grouping method to prioritize the items. First, start by defining specific criteria for grouping the items. For example, the categories may include critical priority, moderate priority, and optional priority.

Then, you can determine a percentage limit for requirements that can be placed in each category. For instance, you may say that only 30% of all requirements may be placed in the critical priority group. This way, you can avoid stakeholders putting all needs in one group.

It is also helpful to sort the requirements in each group further. For example, it is not apparent which task in the critical priority group should be completed first. You can compare each requirement side-by-side to determine the priority level for each one.

Be sure to document the required attributes. Also, requirements may change during the course of the project. So, it is necessary to update this documentation regularly to avoid missing, contradictory, or duplicate requirements. It is also helpful to make the updated version available for all stakeholders at all times.

Step 4: Get the Requirements Document Approved

Once you create your requirements document, it is crucial to get it approved by critical stakeholders for several reasons. Firstly, this approval offers an opportunity to solicit feedback. Second, you may find that the document still needs work, which is often the case. On the other hand, approval means that you are headed in the right direction.

Additionally, the approval process entails getting all the stakeholders on the same page. This could be an opportunity to include missing requirements that may have been overlooked in the previous step. Ultimately, requirements documentation approval will help prevent mistakes and ensure everyone is working from the same script.

Speak to the project manager to find out which stakeholders need to sign off on the document. Often, the list may look different than in the previous step of organizing and prioritizing requirements. Some stakeholders are too far removed from the process to warrant their approval.

It helps if you have the documentation with you during this process. Better yet, send copies of the documentation to all stakeholders well ahead of the meeting. Also, consider creating a presentation. This format is handy if there are stakeholders who weren’t involved in the requirements gathering and documentation stage.

Step 5: Make Use of Software Tools

Requirements management software can help make the entire process less complex and taxing. For example, these tools can help improve collaboration when identifying and agreeing on requirements. In addition, the requirements often change and broaden as the project unfolds. Finally, requirements management tools can help store and update the documentation so nothing falls through the cracks.

Other ways that requirements management software can help include:

Assigning tasks, responsibilities, and accountability to team members

  • Preventing scope creep
  • Tracking each requirement’s status throughout the project lifecycle
  • Controlling access permissions to requirements details
  • Automatically generating tasks
  • Automatically generating tests
  • Managing changing requirements effortlessly

Although there are dozens of tools to choose from, options like Jama Software, Visure Requirements, and Accompa work exceptionally for most organizations and projects. First, consider the feature you need to manage requirements successfully. Then, refer to these criteria to find the best software for your organization.

Finally, ensure that the software you choose is compatible with other software tools. For example, you may want to integrate your software with productivity tools such as Google Apps or Microsoft Office.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira