Building a sufficiently clear and detailed requirements specification that will put your digital project on track is a big challenge. The definition of your need will be the foundation of your project, the basis on which your teams or partner(s) will establish a viable, relevant and, above all, realistic recommendation in terms of the solution, resources, workload and time frame. Each requirements specification remains specific to the company’s governance rules and environment, as well as the size of the project. Information gathered often lacks clarity, quality, coherency and consistency, which can lead to failure.
Bearing in mind that the success of a project is largely based on its justification, correct definition, understanding and adhesion, it is crucial to devote the time and resources needed to the pre-project phase known as ‘project scoping’. I would like to share six guiding questions, based on the ‘Five Ws and How’ method, to help you bring your ideas to maturity and accurately define the project scope.
Why?: the justification, challenges and aims of the digital project
- How did your project come about? What is its reason for being?
- What will this project bring you? What is its value proposition? What problem does it solve?
- What opportunity does it offer?
- What are your project’s challenges and aims (qualitative and quantitative)?
- Does it meet your company’s strategic objectives (business, performance and image)?
- What results does your senior management expect?
- Which criteria will be used to judge its success?
You need to ask yourself all of these questions to define the expected goals as accurately as possible. You also need to make sure that these goals are specific and measurable. If you realise that the project does not meet a clear or objective need, you should probably not pursue it.
A project’s reason for being will differ from one business sector to another. In banking and insurance, many projects come about for external reasons, such as regulatory changes that need to be complied with. In industry, companies may be interested in digitising processes, from manufacturing to order and stock management, in order to pursue a cost reduction and performance improvement policy. By setting a valid and achievable goal, you will also be able to lastingly motivate the project team.
What?: the project description
- How do you define your project?
- What are its content and scope? What are its limits?
- Which solution is being considered to meet the objectives? What are the possible alternatives, if any?
- What are the expected deliverables? Can they be prioritised?
This is admittedly a difficult exercise… We often begin with a global idea expressed by the requester and have to achieve a sufficient level of detail to correctly identify activities, and their related workload, which will stem from the need. It is essential to clearly determine the limits, whether related to the expected functionality or services, the use cases, the processes, the organisations and information systems impacted, or the technology used. Carrying out this step reduces the risk of unpleasant surprises and changes of direction, which are often costly, occurring during the project. To do so, you must fully consider the various aspects of the project, for example by conducting interviews and workshops (to share a single vision by gathering information and comparing ideas and viewpoints). This offers a dual benefit: identify key needs and be able to formulate requirements in a clear and structured way, while ensuring that everybody involved is on board.
Who?: the entities and stakeholders involved
- Who are the project stakeholders?
- Who are the sponsors, project team, executive managers, departments involved, clients, end users and external organisations, for example?
You must make sure that nobody is forgotten (such as users of a back-office, the customer relations centre, etc.) and identify their roles (their influence on the project’s success, their expectations and fears). It is also crucial to maintain a targeted communication plan (what type of information and how often) for the duration of the project, in order to ensure you have their active involvement and support. It is not rare to see projects fail due to a clear lack of interaction between the various stakeholders. How can you expect to have the support of your senior management if the project drifts off course and you have not ensured they are sufficiently informed or forewarned? How can you guarantee the quality of deliverables if you have not involved end users in building your product or have done so too late?
Where?: your project’s internal and external environment
- What is your project’s environment? What kind of existing or future ecosystem will it operate in?
- Are there interactions with other projects?
- If similar projects have been carried out, what kind of feedback did you receive?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities?
- What sets you apart from the competition?
- What are your target audiences and personas?
- Which need must you fulfil? How to reach your target?
- What are the internal (HR, technical, legal, etc.) and external restrictions?
- Where will the project be carried out (internally, outsourced, nearshore, offshore, etc.)?
- Are you able to bring together the project team on a single site?
It is essential to effectively analyse the existing situation and gain a clear view of reality, in order to give the project a chance of success. This exploratory phase will often help you highlight the added value of your project and support its reason for being.
When?: major milestones in the timeline
- Have you identified the main phases?
- Have you set the project start date, the main tasks, and the intermediary and final deliveries?
- Are there imperatives in terms of the schedule (a set or legally required deadline)?
As explained above, the more mature your project is, the better you will be able to estimate and plan the workload of the main activities, without forgetting to take into account the availability of resources required to carry them out. You need to set reasonable and possibly adjustable deadlines as the project advances, adapting to any unexpected circumstances along the way. If you have an end date that ties your hands in terms of deadlines, then you must either allocate the necessary budget or reduce the scope.
Once again, even though it is only a macro schedule at this stage, you must be as realistic as possible. Approval phases are often underestimated, failing to take into account deadlines for legal validation. Another example we have encountered: user training sessions scheduled during summer holidays, when most of the personnel are absent.
How?: organisational, human and financial resources
- Have you identified a project methodology?
- Which authorities? Which governance?
Be coherent in terms of your organisation and project maturity (V-model, iterative or agile). Perhaps because it is in vogue, or due to the promises of agility, the agile project approach is very popular, while it does not always suit the corporate culture or even the project.
- What are the allocated material (machines, tools, software, premises, etc.) and human resources?
- What skills, expertise and resources have been identified (internal and/or external)?
- What are the roles and availabilities of each individual?
Prior to the launch of the project, you will need to have identified the resources that are essential for its deployment and effectively planned ahead for their management, in order to maintain sufficient productivity and motivation throughout the project.
- What budget are you prepared to devote to it?
- Do you have the financial means to meet your ambitions or requirements?
- What return on investment do you expect?
In any event, your ability to stay on budget will largely depend on how accurate your initial estimations are and the budget margin you have provided, as well as on managing costs in a way that enables you to identify and adjust any discrepancies. Defining your expression as clearly as possible will limit financial risks.
In short: do not be afraid to ask questions! Asking questions is key to achieving a clear definition of your project and securing it. In addition, doing so will enable you to identify and assess the main risks early on and take preventive actions. No project is risk-free, but you can reduce uncertainty! This analysis phase, which will play a major part in your project’s success or failure, is a complex step that can be highly strategic depending on its size, so you should not hesitate to seek assistance. An outside perspective is often very helpful when producing your requirements specification.