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Best Practices for Gathering Requirements from Your Stakeholders

Tips for keeping it simple!

  • Determining the appropriate stakeholders
  • Conflict among the stakeholders as to what is needed
  • Inaccurate or incomplete information provided by stakeholders
  • Uncertainty among the stakeholders as to what the requirements should be
  • Unrealistic expectations by stakeholders as to what is possible
  • Lack of participation among some of the stakeholders
  • Frequent changes to requirements causing scope creep

This is frequently one of the more difficult part of any project – if you don’t get the right information upfront, you are going to have problems throughout the entire project. Let’s now look at some tips for identifying the right stakeholders for the job and getting the information you need from them.

Tips for identifying the right stakeholders and conducting the data gathering sessions

Your stakeholders may come from any or all of the following groups, and be either internal or external to your company:

  • Project sponsor
  • Executives/leadership team
  • Managers/business owners
  • Customers (those using the product)
  • Suppliers/vendors

Develop a profile of each of your sponsors to include:

  • Role and responsibilities on the project
  • Expectations for the project along with what would make it successful for them
  • Concerns they may have
  • How receptive they may be to change (accepting of the project)

Ask your stakeholders if there are others they believe should be involved in the process of identifying the project requirements. For example, maybe someone new will be joining a department affected by this project over the next couple of weeks – can you get them onboard now at least for the requirements gathering component to ensure you get their input?

The larger your stakeholder group, the more likely you will not include everyone in the process of gathering requirements – however, you’ll want to be sure you have the right people there. If there is any doubt as to whether or not someone needs to be included, include them. For example, your sponsor, while a stakeholder, may not need to be included in the requirements gathering process and rather is expecting you to get the information you need from the other stakeholders.

Prepare the questions you will ask the stakeholders ahead of time. Share those questions with them so they can be prepared to speak in detail about their needs/wants for the project. These are not "yes/no" questions but rather open-ended questions to gather the details you need to ensure you design the project correctly and the end result meets their needs.

Use a variety of tools for gathering data from the stakeholders:

  • Small group facilitated workshops – in person
  • Conference call interviews (ideally only when in person not possible)
  • One-on-one interviews in person
  • Focus groups
  • On-line surveys

Review any data already available – especially if there is a previous system or product in place that is similar to this project.
As a best practice, hire a facilitator to conduct the small group workshops or focus group sessions so you can more easily and effectively gather the data you need.
Pull all of the data you gather together and send to the stakeholders to get their comments. If possible, get the group together again to review the requirements and ensure you have captured all of their needs/wants. Develop a prototype of the project based on the data you gathered if possible – this is a great way for your stakeholders to "see it" in action.

Make any necessary changes based on the feedback from the prototype and review again with your stakeholders. Plan for at least 2 – 3 reviews in your project plan – this way you can be sure you get the information you need and don’t begin to feel under the gun to get started on a project without all the necessary information to ensure a successful project.

Things to watch for

Watch for the following when you have your stakeholders together for the requirements gathering sessions:

  • Lack of participation from any of the stakeholders (even just one tuned out and not participating can affect your project negatively!)
  • A few of the stakeholders taking over the conversation and not allowing others to participate
  • Constant changing of minds; unsure of what they want or need or unwilling to commit

A good facilitator can help you by keeping an eye out for these individuals and helping you to address the issue. It may require, in some cases, a side conversation with a stakeholder to address the issue.

Also keep an eye out for unrealistic expectations on the part of stakeholders as to what can be done in a specified timeframe or with the technology available, budget available, etc. I have found when working with clients that a bit of education upfront helps. Once the stakeholders understand what is possible/what is not, and the why’s behind it all, it is easier to control expectations.

Your thoughts? What has worked for you? What challenges have you encountered and how have you handled those challenges? Shall with others in the Comments field below.

Looking for additional information on this topic in future posts.