Project Requirements Without Pain, Tears, and Lawsuits

Updated: March 06, 2010

The first step is to make sure the user has clearly stated the request. Don't let them get away with, "I need a report to track sales." They need to tell you the exact metrics to measure. For example, do they mean closed sales, sales that have cleared finance, or all sales that are at greater than 95% probability of close? What geographical regions are they interested in? Over what time period? Do they want just the totals or the individual deals? You get the idea. It is up to you to help them formulate exactly what they need. If you don't, you will never, never, deliver what they want and guess who will get the blame for failure?

The second step is to define why they want it. What benefit will the project or change bring to the company? If they can't clearly quantify benefits, how can you justify your time and resources to management? Don't let them be foggy here. This is their request; they need to tell you why they need it.

The third step is to figure out when they need it. Every user will tell you that there is no rush, so long as they can have it by this afternoon. Don't let them push you or bully you. Make sure they define when they think they need it and why? What are the consequences of delay? What are the benefits of speed? These data points will help you weigh the priorities and allocate your finite, scarce resources.

Once you have all of their input, work with them to refine it and help them to see that while they may not get 100% right now, you can get them the 80% that is core. After this last phase of step three is done, you're ready to take the project or change and showcase it to your superiors.

The fourth step is to take all the data you have helped them pull together and to present it to your management. Every project or change outside the routine needs buy in from the chain of command. When things head South, you're going to need some big shoulders to help keep the fallout off you. When you discover you have to have exceptional effort from recalcitrant coworkers, you're going to want a loyal boss to do the prodding for you.

The fifth step is to document everything. EVERYTHING. If it isn't in writing, it didn't happen. Trust me, one day you'll thank me for the admonition.

The sixth step is to keep in touch with your requestor during the project. Give her updates and get signoffs at each step of the way. This is as much to make sure you have not strayed from the course as it is to remind them of what they asked for.

The seventh and last step is to deliver the project or change and get signoff that all is the way it was requested. Don't skip this vital item or it will come back to bite you one day.

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