How to thoroughly document your project requirements
Crossed wires and miscommunication are often responsible for projects going off course. It's tough to relay every single detail to others, whether it's your internal team, a client, or even just for yourself.
That's why we itemize our project requirements and plan ahead, right?
It always sounds easier when we type it out. But we know when you stick to your project plans, everyone involved is more informed and tasks get completed in time.
To get there, it’s critical to determine what you want the end result of your project to be. If you don’t know what to expect, you make it that much harder for your involved stakeholders.
It shouldn't surprise you to know 70% of projects fail because of issues with requirements. You have to be clear and concise with what you need and expect. Fortunately, there are some great ways to better document, assign, and monitor your project requirements so everything progresses more smoothly.
First, let's take a look at what actually makes up a project requirement.
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What are project requirements?
Project requirements are the features, functions, and tasks that need to be completed for a project to be deemed successful (or to at least be wrapped up). They give everyone involved a clear set of parameters to work toward and determine the various goals for stakeholders to complete.
The problem is not all stakeholders have crystal clear expectations or ideas about the little details—they just know they want an end result. For example, a brand might know they want a beautiful new website, but not know exactly what they want it to look like or specifically how they want it to function.
In these cases, it’s even more important to dig into the project requirements to peel back those layers and gather as much information as possible before you begin production.
Understanding the need for project requirements
Project requirements actually work to direct part of a project. Whether it's from the key tasks and milestones, the resources you need, or the project timeline, everything has an order.
The end result is measured against the requirements agreed at the start to determine whether the project was a success or a failure. Basically, requirements drive every stage of a project.
Without them, you and your team will be throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks.
However, while project requirements are necessary, they can quickly change and evolve through the project life cycle. For example, you might collect stakeholder requirements for a new website before any design work has begun, and subsequently discuss the requests with your development team.
Upon realizing they will need to build a custom feature to get this done, you’ll likely need to reopen the conversation with the stakeholder. This will help nail down any updated user interface (UI) expectations.
It can also result in shifting deadlines back by a few weeks to account for custom design, development, and testing.
Project requirements: Collecting, documenting, and managing
There are three key steps involved in the project requirements process:
Identifying stakeholder requirements
Documenting stakeholder needs and expectations
Managing requirements throughout the project
Follow these three steps, and you’ll have a template you can draw on for each new project.
How to collect project requirements
There’s no one-size-fits-all method to collecting project requirements from stakeholders. Some will be more forthcoming, specific, and opinionated, while others will prefer to take a back seat and leave it up to “the experts” aka your team.
Either way, never assume that you know what a client wants. That can be a recipe for disaster.
As such, the way you go about collecting requirements is a delicate process. It’s always helpful to be open and honest about things you don’t know or don’t understand.
Ask clarifying questions to get to the bottom of what they really want. The more questions you ask, the clearer the requirements will be.
Before you start speaking to stakeholders, think about:
Requirements you already have from the brief or statement of work
Information you need to move forward
How the information you collect will help your team and the project
Whether there’s any confusion about established project requirements
Project goals and what they might look like in reality
Who to speak to get the right answers
Once you know what information you need to move forward, you can start collecting requirements from key stakeholders.
Identifying stakeholder requirements
Everything starts with a conversation. While you’ll have many throughout the project, this first chat will establish the top-level requirements your stakeholders have.
Later conversations, surveys, and questionnaires will dig deeper into the detailed functional requirements.
Remember–not all stakeholders have the capacity to picture projects in the same way you do. After all, you’ve completed many successful projects in the past and know exactly what kind of topics need to be discussed at these early stages.
While stakeholders need to have their say, don’t let them drive the conversation. Your role is to foster a conversation around their wants and needs and then ask the right questions to dig deeper.
There are several ways you can identify stakeholder needs:
Surveys and questionnaires (useful if there are multiple stakeholders)
Communal chat threads that encourage discussion
How to document stakeholder requirements
The more conversations you have with stakeholders, the deeper you’ll dig into what their expectations of success are. Documenting requirements in a way that’s accessible to everyone and easy to track and manage is key.
Format stakeholder responses in a readable, shareable format that everyone on the team can access at any time. You can keep referring back to these requirements throughout the project to ensure you’re on track or to change any fluid requirements.
Most project managers document requirements in a spreadsheet or a shared list, but you can use Teamwork’s Create a Notebook feature to store notes and important project information - like requirements.
How to manage project requirements
It’s one thing to establish and document project requirements. But it’s another thing entirely to manage them throughout the duration of a project.
That said, this skill is important for reducing costs, improving the quality of your projects, and speeding up how long it takes to finish. It also means you’ll decrease the risks involved and ensure everyone is happy with the end result. Keep these tips in mind:
Monitor and track: Keep an eye on project requirements across all team levels to eliminate the chance of risk.
Use data to stay on track: Use the information you have from tracking project requirements to make sure timelines are achievable and the scope is doable within budget. Teamwork’s milestone tracking feature can help you monitor requirements with ease.
Report findings: Keep stakeholders in the loop by reporting on the milestones of project requirements and what’s still left to do.
Making sure requirements have been met
The success of a project will depend on whether you have met the project requirements. If you haven’t, you run the risk of disappointing stakeholders and creating a project that isn’t going to work.
Because of this, it’s crucial to review the project and its requirements with stakeholders at every milestone as well as at the end. Post-mortem reviews help you pick apart what worked and what didn’t, and make it easy to identify any problem areas that can be smoothed out next time.
During the post-mortem review, go back over the questions you asked stakeholders at the beginning, as well as their answers and input throughout the project.
At this point, you might also want to throw in a few extra questions to determine whether the project requirements were met and that the stakeholders are happy with the end result.
These questions might include:
Do you think the project went smoothly?
Is there anything that could have been improved during the project?
Did you learn anything from the project and its process?
Can you recommend anything we should include in projects in the future?
Do you feel like all of your answers and input were addressed correctly?
Getting comprehensive insights from stakeholders into how they feel the project process went is invaluable for future projects. If they felt confused at various points or struggled to find key resources when they needed to access them, this can be addressed in the future.
Project requirements aren’t just important for ensuring the success of a project and keeping stakeholders happy; they’re crucial for creating a tighter process and keeping projects running smoothly at all times.
Project requirements from start to finish
Requirements are the backbone of projects. Without them, your team won’t know what functionalities and features stakeholders expect.
On top of this, they keep everyone on track and ensure the end result doesn’t veer too far off course. Collecting, documenting, and managing project requirements is crucial in seeing a project through to success.
Start by gathering responses from stakeholders, asking the right questions, and digging deeper in those initial conversations. Then, make sure everyone has access to the project requirements by putting them in a shared or central location.
As you’ll need to check back at various points throughout the project, easy access is key.
Finally, manage requirements by keeping stakeholders in the loop and mapping out milestones your team can stick to. At the end of a project, make sure stakeholders are happy by asking them to follow up on questions and comparing the end result to their initial expectations.