Posts Tagged ‘Change Managemnet’

Project Reality Check #15: The Requirements Game

by Gary Monti on March 29, 2011

Nailing down requirements is the number one complaint of project managers. Addressing this requires two skills: political adroitness and finding a balance point between exploring solutions and exploiting what is known and available. I’d like to share some from a workshop I provide on decision-making in uncertainty.

Political Adroitness

A mantra regarding project requirements goes something like this,

“Requirements are stated needs, expectations are unstated needs. Clients tend to judge based on expectations.”

For example, a common retail experience is a customer picking a $20 pan from a display that includes $200 triple-clad pans. The expectation frequently is quality-by-association. As you might guess, the customer ends up disappointed because food cooks unevenly, burns, and sticks to the pan. They return to the store angry that misrepresentation occurred and they want their money back, at a minimum, or demand the $200 pan at no extra charge, at the extreme.

When something similar occurs on a project the best way to deal with it is by leaning into the situation as quickly as possible. The longer the expectation is held, the greater potential for damage in the relationship. Do this is by offering possible “straw” scopes. These are scopes that fit within the time and money parameters established and meant as much for example as anything else. This can take several iterations.

Initially, the goal is getting the client to see the expectations just don’t match the time, money, and resource limits established. In other words, see if they will shift their view and do it in such a way the relationship stays intact. When acceptance of the need to shift sets in, then drive towards THE scope that appears to work.

The reason “appears” is used is simple. The scope has yet to be drilled down to clear requirements that can be turned into specifications. Which leads to another aspect of political adroitness – working with the team.

The team needs to be involved in creating the scoping alternatives because they are the ones ultimately shouldering the responsibility. As you might have already guessed, having a good working relationship with team leads and subject matter experts is critical. If these relationships are absent team members can simply say the requirements aren’t clear, take a passive-aggressive position, and leave the project manager hanging.

The Explore/Exploit Balance

In complexity theory the above falls under the “explore/exploit balance.” This is where the risk comes into play. Typically, there is insufficient time to explore all options. On the flip side, the team may run into conflict and severe limitations if they dive in based on using what has worked in the past. The solution is best when the customer, project manager, and the team all share the risk. In other words a balance is needed; one that is optimal and spreads the benefits equally with the difficulties.

To recap, it isn’t enough to simply say the client should be realistic and not expect a $20 pan to perform like a $200 one. The PM and team need to push as far as they can working with the client in developing a realistic solution – one that will save reputations, relationships, and pocket books as well as produce the desired deliverable.