Requirement Gathering – Overcoming Obstacles Along The Way

One of the crucial first stages of any project is the seeking out and to collect all-important business requirements. Establishing an entire set of needs at the beginning allows for superior planning, shorter delivery cycles, authentic estimates of project costs, along with
increased client satisfaction and the better adoption of the end product or service.

One of the main duties that a business analyst will perform is to successfully bridge the gap between the technical and business requirements. They are expected to fully comprehend the requirements of the company within the given context, then adjust these needs with the objectives and goals of the organisation. It is also essential that these results be communicated to either a development team, stakeholders or perhaps both.

In order to accomplish this successfully, the project requirements must be clearly and concisely written, in a way that is entirely comprehensible to both groups of people. It is expected that the business analyst, project manager or whoever is responsible for the analysis will have to deal with conflicting views and opinions from the stakeholders; there will frequently be challenges along the way to working out the exact plan and obtain a crystal clear picture of exact requirements.

1. Not defining the success criteria clearly
It is entirely natural for stakeholders to be aware that there are issues which need to be addressed, but not to fully comprehend what they require as a solution. One key element to help them to reach this point and address the issue is to break the project down into bitesize pieces. There are numerous collaboration modelling tools, which allow this – providing the clients with a high-level overview of the vision.
What is key, is to try to fully ascertain what they like, you can ask them to give you examples of products they prefer, and to elaborate on why they like them. Making the requirements fully quantifiable and conclusive.

 

2. Stakeholders may have a conflicting interest or priority
When introducing a new process, system or product, it is essential that it adheres to the requirements of multiple groups of stakeholders, these could be senior management, investors or even end users of the product. It is possible, and almost probable that these groups of people will have conflicting priorities or views on this. We have found one of the best ways to tackle this challenge, is to always have an assigned authority within the business. This is somebody who can take charge of the negotiations, and also who has the final say in making the decision. Without this person, it is often exceptionally challenging to resolve this type of conflict.
This part of gathering requirement is crucial, it ensures that any proposed terms are not out of scope, nor do they promote any individual agenda – as opposed to the overall company vision at the heart of the project.
3. Stakeholders who are over forceful or do not speak up
If you are dealing with this issue, rest assured – it is likely that it is nothing at all to do with your project. These issues are frequently experienced to be political issues within a business. People might even be afraid to get pinned down by expressing their views or solutions. Sometimes, the project may be of particular importance, and as such this will be driving everyone to want to be involved and have a say. Participation from stakeholders, along with active communication is a recipe for success when we look at the requirement gathering processes. Having these key people provide you with honest, open information will first mean you having to establish rapport and trust. Being well prepared for these meetings, listening whilst you are in them and learning from them will imply professionalism, interest and will also enable you to understand their challenges, which will enable to you focus on solving their issues.

4. Stakeholders may have a change of heart
From time to time, this can happen. It could be that the initial project requirements have not been entirely understood, or communicated, or perhaps, over the course of the project – they have evolved. Realistically, the only way you can approach this objective or challenge is to remain flexible and try to embrace the change. Any amendments will need to be correctly prioritised and there will most likely be new budgetary and timings which would need to be relayed and confirmed with the client before any modifications can take place.

5. Stakeholders insisting on a specific solution
This challenge will often surface when the stakeholders are limited with their technical knowledge in specific areas, if they had a particular technology in a past project work well for them, or perhaps, they are just unable to articulate in a concise manner what requirement they are needing to address. An ideal way to deal with this is to aim to divert their focus back to the definition of what the system should do. One way to do this would be to ask a question such as “if you were to have that system in place, which one of our problems would that specifically solve?”. Essentially it will be the technical team who work out how the system will do what it needs to, not the stakeholder.

For more information on Aspira’s Business Analysis services check out our website or contact us on info@aspira-europe.nl

Project Management and the Self Destructing Project Update!

Social media is everywhere.

Of the 7.3 billion people on the planet, 31% or 2.3 billion people actively use social media to communicate, to share and to build a sense of community. In a parallel universe, some of the key drivers of Project Management are to communicate, to inform and to develop high performing teams. Given how popular and powerful social media has become, what will this mean for the way we manage projects?

Communication is considered to be the lifeblood of Project Management. The better the communication within a project, the better the outcome will be. Any tool that will help internal communication has to be seriously considered; particularly in today’s workplace where virtual project teams, spread all over the globe, are very common.

Some organisations already have begun to use enterprise-grade social media, although these business-focussed tools tend to be a little different to the tools that flourish in the wild. For example, Yammer is deployed as a business-focussed alternative to Facebook; various Instant Messaging tools such as Skype for Business take the place of WhatsApp and enterprise tools such as SocialCast are found in organisations as a replacement for microblogging tools such as Twitter.

The value of these social-media inspired tools is well known and this article does not intend to review those benefits in detail. Instead, I will reflect briefly on some key traits that will drive adoption of such tools within businesses and within project teams and I will highlight the important lessons we need to learn if we are to leverage the power of these tools to the potential.

Up until the 1980’s, staff sent and received their internal communications via paper using internal post – the Mail Room was the nerve centre of an organization. Then Email came in, and quickly became the dominant business communication channel. People of my generation started to use web-based email clients such as Hotmail back in the 90’s before they ever started work. Once those people entered the workforce, they were very comfortable with email, knew how to use it and indeed they expected it to be the primary communication choice in large organisations (apart from actual face to face communication – but that is a story for a different day!). The etiquette and rules of engagement when using email were understood by new employees before they even entered the workforce.

Fast forward to today’s new entrants into the workforce. These Millenials consider email to be from a bygone age. They are much more comfortable using more social media related tools. These are the people who will be managing large projects in five years time – and these people will expect to use the equivalent of Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram to communicate their thoughts and messages to the project team. Moreover, the project managers of tomorrow and will be using tools such ooVoo (Group video chat), Vine (6 second video loops) and anonymous confessional apps such as Whisper, and SnapChat – the self-destructing message intended for short-lived communications.

The important lesson for us incumbents in the world of Project Management is not to learn the latest hot tools that new entrants are using in their personal lives, but to understand that when these people start working in project teams, they will not only be comfortable with social media tools – they will expect and demand that those tools are used. They will view emails to be as old fashioned and cumbersome as we now think of ink and quills and blotting paper. They will treat cumbersome corporate collaboration tools as being a pale imitations of the tools they normally use.

Organisations must understand this change is coming and must design and integrate better enterprise-level social media tools which mimic the ease-of-use and the user experience of the tools used every day by the new generation. Some key traits that have been proven to influence enterprise social media tools are ease of adoption, performance expectancy, social influence and team trust. These elements must be designed into the new set of enterprise social media tools if they are to gain traction. Additionally, effort must be spent to ensure that business social media tools reflect the reality of how social media is used out in the real world.

It may not be long now before Vine-like video loops are used in getting project updates from virtual teams; we may see use of confessional anonymous platforms to reports project issues and how long before we see self-destructing messages are utilised to deliver sensitive news – a great solution to the “don’t shoot the messenger” problem in organizations. It cannot be long until you are live micro-blogging a big deployment in your organisation because that is the way team members expect to receive updates on events in general. If adopting these new social media technologies helps people to be more comfortable in communicating openly within project teams, this will be a huge plus for an organization and it will lead to more successful projects.

For more information on the integration of social media into project management practise please refer to the recently published Strategic Integration of Social Media into Project Management Practice or drop me a line at jerry.giltenane@Aspira.ie

Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to

The famous Richard Branson quote that he penned in 2014 goes “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to”. The statement from the founder of Virgin Atlantic carries a lot of meaning, and it should undoubtedly be the driving force of every entrepreneur. Let’s take a closer look at these words from one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. Branson’s statement has two parts. The first part talks about proper staff training and the second about retaining your staff members. As business people the question we need to ask ourselves is, is this truly possible in the real business world? Here’s how to use Richard Branson’s principles to get the best out of your business.

Nurturing Better Skills

The influence your staff has over the success of your business is enormous. By offering your staff the right training, your customers will benefit from high-quality service. And what more would any business want to achieve than customer satisfaction and a widening market? The success of your business begins with how you treat your staff members. Armed with the necessary skills, their productivity will undoubtedly be raised, and they will learn to work independently. This is advantageous to your business because it means you will have self-driven employees who are filled with the passion to deliver nothing short of the best results.

With The Right Treatment You Will Keep Your Staff

Once they’ve gained independence, it is possible that your staff will develop the urge to leave as they begin to feel that they can do so much more by themselves. They’re hungry to take on new challenges, and they certainly want to rank high in the staff hierarchy. What can you do at his stage? Most importantly remember that it is inevitable to lose employees when they feel they have increased their qualifications and experience and now have all it takes to take on new ventures by themselves. The answer of course lies in the way you treat your staff. If you manage your employees well, you will certainly retain many of them and this is so beneficial especially if you have taken them through training that’s geared towards bettering your business. It is very regrettable to train your staff appropriately and then after all, many of them walk away endowed with the skills you passed to them. Think about the competition they will cause when they are hired by a rival organization. Therefore, as entrepreneurs, valuing our staff is key to our success.

The “Matric” re-loaded

Those of you of a certain vintage will remember the Matriculation exam – or ‘Matric’ for short. It was an exam that ran immediately after the Leaving Cert and gave people an additional doorway into university. Typically, people did a lot better as a result of the feedback.

In Aspira, we use a different version of the Matric to ensure there is a solid and effective system of feedback in place with our staff. It also provides an avenue to improve performance based on lessons learned.

Our ‘Matric’ technique is a relatively informal discussion between each staff member with his/her manager, typically twice a year. We have six questions that we use to set the agenda for that discussion. The questions ensure a wide-ranging dialogue that gives both staff member and manager the opportunity to address any issues.

By challenging their answer, it ensures that the person takes ownership of their answer, or at least it provokes a discussion where sometimes the answer may change.

Questions

he discussion takes the format of these six questions, using the MATRIC mnemonic.

  • Meaningful?
    – Do you have a meaningful job that makes a real contribution to this organisation?
  • Awareness?
    – Are you aware of the behaviours that we expect from you?
  • Training?
    – Has relevant training been made available to you to help you improve?
  • Real-Time Feedback?
    – Are you getting regular, real-time feedback from your boss and your colleagues, both to identify things you did well and to highlight ways you could do things better?
  • Individual Respect?
    – In our work environment, are you treated with appropriate sensitivity to your own circumstances?
  • Career Plan?
    – Do you have an exciting and realistic career plan that you are doing something about?

The employee is asked to state ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to each question. If there is any grey area, the rules are that it’s a ‘no’. The manager’s goal is to agree an action plan that can eventually lead to six ‘yes’ answers.

Challenge

My personal approach when leading one of these discussions is usually to just argue the opposite to whatever the staff member says. I do this just to avoid the ‘lazy’ approach of giving six ‘yes’ answers and having a 30-second dialogue.

By challenging their answer, it ensures that the person takes ownership of their answer, or at least it provokes a discussion where sometimes the answer may change.

The most common negative answer I get is: “No – I don’t have a career plan”. I always encourage people to think about what they’d like to do in five or ten years’ time. Not because I can make it happen tomorrow, but maybe I’ll be faced with a decision as to who I should assign to a finance project.

If I know one person wants to be a finance director and the other wants to become a quality specialist, it helps me choose the best person for the role.

The next most common ‘no’ is to the real-time feedback question. So we often get into a two-way feedback discussion, where I share my views and invite feedback on how I’ve been doing. I may not always like what I hear, but I appreciate people being willing to point out how I can do things better and highlight my blind spots.

The question that I never argue the opposite to is the individual respect question. I treat a ‘no’ here as a serious issue and want to understand what’s going on to address it immediately.

I see the MATRIC as being a vital tool we use to keep in touch. It is not a performance management tool – people don’t get a score from it, and it doesn’t affect their pay. It is one of the mechanisms we use to measure the temperature of the organisation, ensure we are behaving true to our culture and improve by acting on feedback.

Try it out – it works.