Meetings, bloody meetings! We all remember the video John Cleese created many years back (well, some of us do, anyway), and the recent video "“Conference Call in Real Life” that is great for some big yuks. But how do you run effective virtual meetings?
I felt prompted to write this article when I saw the many comments after a colleague posted a link to the “Conference Call in Real Life”. I thought this demonstrated that there may be a need to provide a few guidelines on how to conduct virtual meetings effectively. Professional behavior in virtual (and, of course, in-person) meetings is the key to success.
Collecting requirements virtually is becoming more and more common as organizations try to keep costs low. So it is more important than ever to use virtual meeting tools effectively. But it isn't all about tools. As is so often the case, it is more about the people who use the tools. After all, a wise man once said that a fool with a tool is still a fool.
So, let’s get on with it, shall we?
Tips for Meeting Chairs
So, you need to have a virtual meeting. Well, guess what? Just a like an in-person meeting, you need an agenda. Send it out ahead of time and ask that people prepare. Be clear about the meeting purpose and objectives. If it is a recurring meeting, allow people to make agenda suggestions in advance in case there are burning issues they feel need addressing that you didn’t think or know to include.
When you communicate the agenda, lay out the ground rules for the upcoming meeting. You can probably derive some ground rules from the following tips designed to help you engineer a successful meeting:
As mentioned above, you need to share decisions made and action items to which attendees commit during the meeting with the group. I find most virtual whiteboard tools are cumbersome, so I usually share a document using a word processor like Word or Google Docs.
If you are an ambidextrous cranial sort who can take notes while thinking, chairing and talking, you can do this yourself. Otherwise, ask a colleague in advance to take on that responsibility. But watch what is being typed, because it has to be accurate and reflective of what everyone agreed.
Make note only of important items and action items that have been agreed, including who is responsible and when the item is due. You can send these notes to meeting participants directly after the meeting. No more creating minutes after the fact and having people disagree with what was written since they will already have seen what was recorded during the meeting.
Highly visible decision logs and active action item lists on your collaboration site are priceless.
Noise can render a virtual meeting ineffective. Be sure extraneous noise is addressed politely and firmly. If you have to, force mute. Occasionally, people are interrupted and don’t control the situation well, talking with the intruder and failing to go on mute. You can mute them and decide to continue the meeting or not. You may need to use alternate means like their cell phone to communicate with them so they know they have committed a virtual meeting sin. This is the same as if someone gets up from an in-person meeting and leaves the room. Should you continue the meeting? Your call… maybe ask the person or the attendees as appropriate.
Having trouble getting some people to contribute? Try doing a round table about a specific issue, suggesting that each person talk for no more than a minute or two and that if they have nothing to say, just “pass”. Some people are too shy to interject, but are happy if they have time to think about what they want say and know they will receive the “talking stick” eventually. Start with someone you know won’t mind talking to give the more introverted a chance to collect their thoughts.
Tips for meeting participants:
There is a certain degree of flexibility with virtual meetings that can save time and money, and you can take advantage of easy to use features (like record and share screen) that are sometimes more difficult to do in an in-person meeting.
Virtual meetings don’t need to be like the Virtual Meeting in Real Life video, as humorous as it is since it is so very close to the reality of those in first-time virtual meetings. Let common sense, respect and preparedness rule the meeting, and success will be yours – and your team’s.
Have you ever run into a dangling participle or an object/verb mix up that made you laugh as you were reading requirements documents? While this may be funny at the time, it can lead to some very serious consequences at other times.
For example, I once saw this requirement:
"The officer holding the handheld device must be able to plug into the USB port of the computer in order to charge the unit and transfer data."
When I read it, I did a double take, and read it again. Now, we all know that the handheld device had to plug into the port, but really? Grammatical rules tell us the officer would be plugging in, not the device, and ... well... I don't even want to go there! Was it a simple typo? Or was the person writing this in a big hurry? Or was grammar and sentence structure not their strong point?
I'm sure I have made plenty of grammatical errors in this and past posts, so I am steeling myself for the result, but I am willing to take the risk!
So here is my "ask" as they say in the Telecom industry:
Have you run into any hilarious sentences in requirements documents? Or have you run into any that were misunderstood up until the time of user acceptance when no one found it funny?
Post your responses here!
The Core Committee spent a lot of time and effort to produce it, so we owe copious amounts of gratitude to them, and the twenty-eight content reviewers, the PMI Standards Program Member Advisory Group and the three production staff.
If you haven’t already downloaded it, click here.
You’ll find that this 56-page guide (not including the index and appendices) is written in a familiar way with textual descriptions, contextual and activity diagrams. As stated in the introduction, this new guide serves as a bridge between the PMBOK ® Guide and the recent Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide. The PMBOK Guide addresses good practices for requirements management, and the BA for Practitioners Guide describes what a BA does and how to apply requirements development and management skills to project tasks. Intended for PMs and anyone doing requirements work, the Requirements Guide defines processes for requirements development and management.
What is a Requirement? According to PMI, it is “A condition or capability that is required to be present in a product, service, or result to satisfy a contract or other formally imposed specification.”
Requirements Management is about establishing a baseline and then ensuring it is traced (did the project implement everything it was supposed to?), managed through change control (if anything changed from the baseline, was it done in a controlled and approved way?) and updated (did the desired product, service or result of the project change, and if so, were the requirements related to the change appropriately captured in a new baseline?).
Requirements Development involves eliciting and identifying requirements, planning, analysis, documenting, specifying requirements and the necessary validation and verification.
The activities described in the Guide, paraphrased:
As you might expect, the Guide describes all interactions with the five Process Groups and ten Knowledge Areas. The types of requirements defined are probably familiar to most people – those required by the business, usually expressed at a high level, those required by stakeholders, solution requirements, both functional and non-functional, transition requirements, project requirements, quality requirements and program requirements.
Techniques for eliciting requirements are also in the guide, comprising interviews, workshops, focus groups, brainstorming, questionnaires/surveys, analysis of documents and interfaces, prototypes and observation.
The Guide tells us that good requirements are unambiguous, consistent, correct, complete, measurable, feasible, traceable, precise and testable. In an adaptive life cycle, they must be independent, negotiable, valuable, estimable, small and testable.
It also delves into backlog management and prioritization, and various models, including Scope (context, ecosystem, goals/objectives, features and use cases). It discusses functional decomposition and feature trees, and various process models (process flow, use case, user story) and rule models (business rules, decision trees/tables), and a favorite of mine, data models (ERDs, data flow, data dictionary and state diagrams/tables).
The Guide draws our attention as well to interface models, that is, what occurs between systems and/or users, considering report definition, flow of data between systems, user interfaces, and tools like wireframes, and the tabular N2 model.
There is much value to be found in this Guide. I’ve only very briefly touched on bits and pieces of it here. Armed with it, the PMBOK Guide and the Business Analysis Practitioners Practice Guide, a project team can’t go wrong when it comes to translating business needs to appropriately detailed requirements that can be traced, confirmed and verified - and, of course, translated into that infamous product, service or result required by the business.
Go get it while it is still free!
Early in my career I was fortunate to have a mentor who was very data driven. He believed that data in its purest form would help describe the processes that you might want to implement in a system, but that process analysis alone would not properly define the data and in fact, might very well define it improperly due to the usual insular aspect of looking at some processes and not all, of necessity given scope and budgets.
When I think about this at a high level in terms of typical data entities and processes, I have to believe that the metrics would support such a conclusion. If we look at any particular organization, the number of processes operating on the same, similar or related data will be very high, yet the number of entity types the organization deals with will be very low in comparison.
So let's look at a very simple example, a basic course registration system. Here are the entity types we'll deal with:
Here are some business rules around the data:
From this simple example, I conclude that we have at least the following potential processes:
.... and so on ... and so on... and so on...
All of the processes I listed come directly from the two entities, student and course, along with the attributes each has and the relationships they have, one with the other. I am sure with a little extra thought, the list could be doubled. I am also sure that some of the processes listed have nothing to do with a student registration system, and more to do with other systems, and so could serve to put some rope around both the data (and its attributes) and the processes to be able to plan multiple projects as part of a program.
Furthermore, since we all know there is a many-to-many relationship between Courses and Students, we are probably missing an Entity Type - one that is fairly obvious anyway - something called "Course Registrations" which becomes a one-to-many relationship with each "Kernel" entity type, resolving the many-to-many relationship by adding the "Associative" entity type. And we won't even get into the difference between registrations and transcripts, whether things like marks even belong in this model, etc.
I obviously invented a lot of the processes I listed, and they would likely be very different if I actually had stakeholders to help me along (or would they?). It may reveal new business rules, such as those student registration privacy or restrictions on instructor performance data, or the absence of processes, such as being able to label other students who are your friends, and seeing which courses they have registered for.
A very simple example, of course, but from two entities (which eventually became three), I was able to derive at least 18 processes (some actually have multiple processes per line), and I did that as quickly as I could type. Confirmation with the stakeholder would take much longer, of course.
Trying to create a long list of processes and then deriving the data from them, rather than letting the data drive the derivation of processes, is, I feel, much more complex, time consuming and subject to errors and omissions.
What do you think? Are you process driven, or data driven? Were you one and became another at some point in time?
Before you answer, remember the CRUD (or CUDDL) I mentioned in a previous post. Don't know what that is? Look up "Of CRUDs and CUDDLs" :)
People often ponder whether requirements for an IT project should already be in place before a project begins, whether they should be detailed at the front end of a project, or whether they should be refined as the project progresses. The answer is not simple, and has a lot to do with the sort of project you are running.
We would all likely agree that no project can even be chartered without some level of requirements being in place - high level business requirements at the very least. But it is a rare project that will kick off to the resounding thump of a multi-hundred page business requirements document. Most waterfall-type projects have the creation of the BRD as an early step in the project. Most Agile projects will have high level requirements, often in the form of user stories. And then there is everything in between.
But there's the rub. What apporach and methods are being used on your project? Is it waterfall? Is it one of the Agile approaches? Can requirements change while the project is in motion? Might such changes alter the direction of the project?
I would hypothesize that requirements can and do change on any project, regardless of the project methods being used. Remember the old requiremernts freeze? "You must sign here, and we will build what you have asked for. No changes wiil be permitted from now until project end." Seems almost hilarious now, doesn't it? The only freeze that would really be in effect is the one that freezes you out of any more work with that client.
So - still we are left with question, "When do requirements need to be completed?". The question itself might be a tad banal. Before we design, before we build, before we test... requirements must be clear. Do we need a 50 pound signed off document early on? Maybe... if we are designing and building software to run a space shuttle. But do we need it if we are only configuring an ERP package? Or designing a web site? Or might we need only story elaboration a bit at a time when we have a fully engaged and knowledgeable Product Owner?
As with most questions in this field the "It depends." answer pops to mind. It depends on so many factors, including contract types, that the answer will shift like the sand dunes on the Sahara.
It's getting cold in here. Must be those frozen requirements.