Requirements and failure: Interview with CA's SVP of IT Governance

"Ambiguous requirements create failed projects" is a project failures law of nature. A shocking number of IT projects die an agonizing death because stakeholders didn't properly define requirements. Here's how to avoid the trap.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

"Ambiguous requirements create failed projects" is a project failures law of nature. A shocking number of IT projects die an agonizing death because stakeholders didn't properly define requirements.

These serious issues should be top of mind for everyone involved with IT projects. Yesterday, I blogged about a study claiming 68% of projects fail, with the primary root cause being poor requirements planning.

To learn more about the relationship between requirements and project success, I spoke with Helge Scheil, corporate senior vice president and general manager of the Clarity governance group at CA, which makes a well-known suite project portfolio management tools. Helge is an expert in this domain and I take his comments seriously.
Helge Scheil, CA

How strong is the link between upfront requirements analysis and project success?

Defining the right set of requirement will dramatically improve success of any product. In addition, properly documented requirements also reduce the gap between stakeholders. For example, understanding requirements from the start helps synchronize development groups with business users and their real needs. The process of communication and collaboration makes a big difference in achieving success.

What about the role of IT execution in achieving successful outcomes?

Insufficient discussion between business stakeholders and the development team can lead to failure. When the prioritized cut-off list of project features is ambiguous, business users become frustrated and feel the the development didn't listen or respond to their needs. Again, the team should handle these issues during the requirements phase.

Regardless of project type, it's important to maintain recurring and frequent check-in between stakeholders and the development team. Re-validating requirements repeatedly with business stakeholders exposes project areas where requirements are not clearly understood or have changed over time. Many organizations need to develop greater strength in this area.

Please suggest specific action items to improve requirements gathering and analysis?

Every project team should perform several important activites:

  1. Document the requirements clearly upfront
  2. Prioritize the requirements from the start
  3. Maintain ongoing dialog and collaboration around between the technical team and business users
  4. Before changing requirements, be clear about the implications for downstream scope and cost
  5. Trace requirements from project start through development, and keep track of changes

What's the role of project portfolio management (PPM) software in managing requirements?

By integrating requirements planning into PPM, we can trace the business case from inception through creating requirements, defining features, tracking those features in development. Finally, we ensure those features fulfill the original requirements and achieve the business case objectives.

There must be a clear hand-off between requirements definition and the project plan. The plan should always define:

  • Resource requirements (people)
  • Investment and funding (money)
  • Schedule (the core plan itself)
  • Scope (release requirements)

Projects that fully address these four are likely to be successful. PPM software helps provide a systematic transition from requirements definition into a detailed work breakdown structure, which creates a tight link between the initial requirements and the project outcome. It's an important benefit during project execution.

In addition to project-level impact, PPM also provides portfolio and resource management benefits. Beyond looking at each project in isolation, it's also important to examine all projects as a group. PPM software also provides an overall view of an organization's projects, to help make broader decisions related to funding, resource allocation, and time.

Requirements planning was a key focus of our recent CA Clarity PPM v12 release. By integrating requirements into the core repository, we can seamlessly transition the upfront analysis and requirements definition into projects and tasks. This is an important accomplishment enabling PPM to drive successful projects.

[Image from CA. Thanks to Joan Levy, from Blanc and Otus, for arranging this interview.]

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