If I had a dollar for every time a team skipped key steps in the project planning process… well, I’d probably be retired by now.

Of course, project leaders rarely skip steps intentionally. More often, they don’t even realize what they’re missing. That’s why it’s so important for every professional to have basic project management skills — and for every project leader to take time to lay solid foundations and create a Project Charter, so the team is clear on strategy and goals before the project begins.

Once you have your project’s foundations in places, it’s time to get super clear on the project requirements.  And I do mean CLEAR. 

All too often, teams assume that they know what they need — and they don’t find out until way too late that they’ve built their project on bad assumptions.

Gaps & Assumptions Lead to Big Trouble

Here’s an example:

One day I received a frantic call from a CIO that I’d worked with in the past, asking me to come in immediately.  He and his team had just pushed a new system into production — only to discover that data wasn’t flowing to their most critical business system.

When I briefed the team, they told me that they had opted not to validate all the project requirements, because they were pressed for time and they assumed they knew how the existing systems were being used.

The team tried to save time by jumping straight to implementation… but they ended up behind schedule, over budget, and with an off-the-rails project that jeopardized the entire organization. 

You’d be surprised by how often this kind of thing happens. Nothing will derail a project faster than gaps in understanding, requirements, or knowledge.  One of your main jobs as a project leader is to identify all the gaps and assumptions lurking in the background, and fill each and every one of them.

Achieve Project Success with a Thorough Requirements Analysis

That’s why the next step in the project management process (after laying the right foundations) is to fully understand what’s needed for the project — and why.

Once you have a complete understanding of the project requirements, you’ll be in a better position to develop a solid project plan that contains enough detail (and reasonable timelines) for your team to work effectively and efficiently.

Give yourself plenty of time to interview stakeholders, understand the project goals, and get very clear on the project requirements.  And then do a final check by answering the following questions:

  • Do you know the primary requirements?
  • Are the problems that you are trying to solve clear?
  • Have you documented ALL the project requirements? 
  • Have you documented current and future state workflows? That is, do you understand exactly how the systems and processes operate today — and how they will operate once the project has been completed?
  • Have you included:
    • Regulatory or compliance requirements?
    • Technical or system requirements?
    • Downstream dependencies?
  • Have requirements been reviewed with the team and all stakeholders? 

As you answer these questions, stay alert to any assumptions you or your stakeholders might be making, as well as any areas of uncertainty.  Be sure to involve stakeholders in this process, so you can consider all perspectives, use cases, and possible impacts of the project.

Only once you’re truly clear on the requirements can you create your project plan. We’ll talk about that in the next post

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