Requirements Management: Critical Path to Project Success

women looking at thought chart on whiteboard

by Plaster Group’s Program & Project Management Team

In today’s increasingly complex business environment, there are an ever-increasing number of reasons for project failure, but the leading offenders still remain: scope creep, poor communication, lack of stakeholder involvement, and inadequate support from executive sponsors. A common thread that stitches through all these root causes for project failure is that they involve or impact requirements and requirements management.

This article refers to “requirements” as the process of identifying, defining, documenting and managing the solution a project must deliver in order to be successful. “Requirements management” refers to the discipline of planning, monitoring, analyzing, communicating and controlling requirements.
In 2009, IAG Consulting conducted a Business Analysis Benchmark survey that classified 74% of companies as having a low level of requirements management maturity, resulting in missed deadlines, budget overruns and missed expectations.  These companies achieved their desired business objectives a meager 54% of the time, while taking 35% longer to deliver lack-luster results.
One would think that such data-driven findings would have served as a wake-up call to organizations for renewed focus on managing requirements, but surprisingly little has been done to examine and try to improve on how organizations address this shortcoming. Additionally, PMI’s (Project Management Institute) Pulse of the Profession study revealed that “inaccurate requirements gathering” remained a primary cause of project failure (37%) in 2014, up from 32 percent in 2013.
The core of this systemic shortcoming that appears to be getting progressively worse, is a lack of the necessary resources to do it properly and the failure to hire or develop these skills internally.  And, not surprisingly, executive management and sponsors are not fully valuing the importance of excellence in requirements management.  In order to turn the tide and enable more successful project delivery and realized business value, organizations must mature to value the importance of requirements management and connect it to the success of their projects and programs.  Additionally, organizations must begin maturing the requirements management capability and take a pronged approach on three critical areas that can greatly improve their effectiveness of requirements management and improve project success outcomes – People, Process, Culture.  All three of these critical focuses are interrelated and a lack of attention to any single one can be a fast track to project and program and even organization failure.

People

High-performing organizations recognize the need to support and develop their people.  The 2014 PMI study shows that organizations with the necessary resources in place to do requirements management properly, recognize and develop the employee skills needed for effective requirements management, have significantly better track records for project success and realized business benefit. Organizations must ensure they staff the necessary resources with the appropriate skillset/experience for properly applying requirements management and must acknowledge that requirements management is not a static skillset, but one that must be continually honed and adapted to evolving methodologies for project delivery ranging from traditional waterfall to Agile and iterative development methodologies.

Process

Organizations must formalize and standardize their process at the project and program levels, in order to ensure consistency in applying good requirements management practices for all initiatives.
According to the PMI 2014 survey, high-performing organizations rank significantly higher than low performers in key requirements management practices such as:

  1. Managing change
  2. Verifying and validating the solution
  3. Defining and monitoring key objectives, benefits and expectations
  4. Communications and stakeholder expectation setting
Organizations that demonstrate proficiency and maturity with their requirements management processes and practices, realize significantly better project outcomes and high-performing organizations are more likely than most to use a formal process for requirements validation.

Culture

Organizations must create a culture and environment in which executive management and sponsors fully realize and value the requirements management practice as a critical competency for successful projects and program delivery, while providing the appropriate support and commitment needed to make the value systemic.
In conclusion, the maturing of an organization’s requirements management competency is a robust way to ensure better project/program performance and enhanced business realization, while at the same time mitigating the negative impacts of poor project delivery including cost overruns, blown timelines and missed expectations.  And luckily, the recommendation is pretty straightforward, if at least in theory:
  • Get the necessary resources in place and recognize and develop the skills needed for effective management of requirements.
  • Standardize, formalize and mature the organizations requirements management process.
  • Ensure that the organization as a whole fully value requirements management as a critical competency and put the appropriate commitment behind it.

Consultant Team Building Exercise

FotorCreated - CopyPlaster Group consultants put their communication and problem-solving skills to to the test at our last quarterly meeting. Tasked with building a tower out of marshmallows and spaghetti, they also had to to overcome obstacles such as being blindfolded and unable to speak. This team-building exercise really brought out the best in our consultants, and you an read more about this activity below:  Continue reading “Consultant Team Building Exercise”