Categories: Project Requirements
Project requirements are usually collected through an elicitation process, which requires employing various techniques and methods, such as discovery, analysis, understanding and validation. These methods can be applied in interviews, focus groups, questionnaires or requirements workshops. Typically, one or more business analysts will carry out the requirements elicitation process, while the project manager will be generally responsible for planning and setting up the requirements elicitation and management framework and for its outcome.
This approach might be applicable for various types of projects, but when gathering requirements from high-level executives — who don’t have the time nor need to know the details but who focus on the big picture — a special tailoring of this process might be needed. Here are eight strategies you or your business analysts should consider when collecting requirements from executives:
1. Prepare. Try to understand what their business priorities and objectives are. Find out in advance their preferred communication style. Get ready to collect the requirements in a short time and in an atypical environment — i.e., during a coffee break or lunch — due to their busy schedules (more on this point in number 5).
2. Simplify the process. Avoid going through checklists or elaborate discovery techniques. Instead, use a conversational approach, understand, guide and offer solutions and project pros and cons. Use visual depictions and summaries.
3. Simplify the language.Use simple and straight communication. Avoid technical language; instead, use examples or stories that relate to business problems and solutions.
4. Remain positive. Maintain a trustworthy attitude, be an adviser and be proactive. Instead of talking about issues or problems, talk about solutions and give details of what will work.
5. Focus on time.Consider that executives have many challenges to deal with, and hence the amount of time and attention they can allocate on a single topic is limited. Therefore, once you get their attention, stay focused and avoid wasting time. Remember: Time is money, especially for the C-suite.
6. Start with the outcome.The best advice I heard about communicating up is starting with the outcome. When you present solutions to their requirements, engage their attention by providing them an overview of the results first. Then they usually become more interested, creating an opening for you to tell them about the “how.”
7. Manage risk. Consider that some execs are sensitive to risk or can be risk-averse. If any of their requirements pose risks, prepare to develop risk mitigation and risk response options.
8. Maintain a strategic orientation.Focus on what the executives mostly care about — what impacts the business. In most cases, they’ll focus on a business vision, a product concept, innovation or financials (e.g., the outcome with the highest ROI).
What’s your experience with collecting requirements from executives? Have you employed any of these strategies? How did they work?
For more on requirements management, check out PMI's Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report: Requirements Management or visit the Requirements Management Knowledge Center of Excellence.