How to Gather User Requirements for A Successful Project

User requirements. They are a critical component of every project. Getting them right from the beginning can mean the difference between delivery of a well-adopted project and a flop. 

There are several guides and methods for gathering user requirements. And even with these useful instructions, issues with user requirements are often the cause of project obstacles. 

Why is this?

I have a few theories. And some tips to help you gather user requirements successfully for your project. But first, let’s start by going back to basics – what are user requirements and who is responsible for them on the project team?

What are User Requirements?

User requirements are a set of requirements designed to ensure each component of the project scope is delivered to the needs of the end user.

This is really important to understand. Because when requirements are not directly fulfilling the project’s scope, we open the doors to issues like scope creep, stakeholder conflict, and a derailment of our project commitments.

Who provides the User Requirements for a project?

Although this may seem obvious, user requirements should be provided by the person or people who will be using the process, tool, or function that the project is delivering.

Determining the most appropriate user(s) is the key to succeeding at the requirements gathering phase, and effectively meeting the project scope.

Potential user requirements candidates include anyone who will contribute the following information to the scope item you will deliver: 

  • Business rules
  • Business term definitions
  • Process owners
  • New product/service owner
  • Subject matter experts
  • Product Owner (The owner of the product you will deliver)
  • Product Testers
    Who will conduct testing for the scope item you seek requirements for? It is critical that everyone involved in conducting user testing is also involved in providing user requirements. This ensures everyone is clear on the expected outcome and working to the same success criteria.

What goes wrong with User Requirements and Why

There are some common issues I see regularly, which contribute to user requirements failing to contribute to a positive project outcome.

These include:

  • Not asking enough (or any) questions
  • Not getting enough useful information
  • Not being able to access or not speaking to the right people
  • Requirements not being aligned to the need
  • No system for capturing requirements
  • The current requirement capturing system isn’t followed
  • Requirements are captured by people outside of the project delivery team

But there are ways you can setup your user requirements gathering process for success.

The Questions You Should Ask Your User To Improve Your Odds of Success

  1. What is your user’s pain point? What overall problem do they expect the project to solve?
  2. Which scope deliverable/s will their requirements satisfy?
  3. Will they be conducting all the testing for the scope item? If no, can all testers also be involved in providing user requirements?
  4. What outcome are they seeking for this scope item?
  5. What will they expect to test? The finer the details are here, the better the outcome you will achieve in providing a valuable fit-for-purpose solution.

Gathering User Requirements for Your Project

Often users will provide you a list of their requirements which is always valuable. However, their list of requirements can go so deep, they sometimes take for granted what’s involved and the steps needed to deliver.

The best and most reliable way to draw accurate requirements is to help your users to create a process map of what they do.

And it is the project team member’s job to question everything. It’s really important to make NO assumptions here. Clarity is your best friend in succeeding at gathering requirements.

Creating a user process map

When you’re working with your users to create a process map, you should be asking the following questions:

  • How and when does the process or interaction start?
  • What steps do they take after that?
  • Who is involved?
  • Who do they rely on?
  • What’s a good outcome?
  • And is there something better than that?
  • What’s a bad outcome?
  • What’s an unacceptable outcome?

The more detailed you can be about the process map, the better you’ll be able to understand the user requirements (and what may or may not be possible within the scope of the project).

Other Tips for Successfully Gathering User Requirements

It’s important to remember that your users will have other priorities and while this project may be important to them, they will not always be available exactly when you need them.

With this in mind, it is best to find out upfront any times that your users will not be available. This may include leave time, end of month busy periods, public holidays, and any other times that may see your needs as their last priority.

Overlay your user’s availability with the times you need them and agree (in writing) on the most suitable time/s. It is also good manners to give your users some indication of how much of their time you will need and what you will need them to do.

Once you have confirmed that your users will also be conducting testing, it’s important to decide if you expect or need testing to be done with the delivery team (or at least a representative) or if they will be testing alone. If they are testing alone, are they equipped to do so? Consider if they have the necessary access, equipment, time, and understanding of what to do.

Other Tips for Successfully Gathering User Requirements

Now that you know some of the pitfalls and processes around gathering user requirements, what changes will you make to ensure they set your project up for success?

You only benefit from learning if you implement it. And I encourage you to take at least one thing you’ve learned here and implement it in your User Requirements process for your current, or next project.

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