The Benefits of Documenting Business Requirements

Recently IT projects tend to underestimate the benefits of investing in developing comprehensive business requirements. Partnering with the business units upfront to define business needs has been proven to be the key to the success of an IT projects. You need to “know” what your business units “need” before you start building on the solution. On the contrary, common practice is that once the project is approved, all team members are eager to embark on the implementation of the solution.

We have all heard the usual: “… we all know what needs to be done, the business does not have the technical resources or knowledge for defining the requirements, everyone has developed projects so why the overhead of defining requirements, it is a waste of time etc etc.”…

One political strategy is pre-partnering. Clearly and comprehensively identifying user specifications and system requirements is key to project success. A thorough quality planning process (requirements gathering) is a critical success factor that is rarely given enough attention. One of the biggest reasons why IT projects fail is because project teams do not spend enough time in the trenches with front-line users,… To do this effectively, project managers must cultivate strong relationships between the IT project team, users, and stakeholders to ensure user needs and expectations are under constant focus and review. Source: Richard D. Lang [Project Leadership: Key Elements and Critical Success Factors for IT Project Managers]

In my view the five key benefits to having good and comprehensive business requirements are:

1. Better communication: Improves communication between team members and business owners through a formal requirements management planning process and offers a formal process for proposing and managing changes to requirements. It is an effective method of keeping stakeholders involved through the project lifecycle including design reviews, user acceptance testing, and deployment.

2. Lower cost: Significantly decrease costly rework and lowers project. Cost is managed reducing or eliminating unnecessary features and identifying significant flaws at the earliest possible time rather than after the system has been deployed.

3. Higher Value: Deliver higher value to the business. Clear definition of business objectives keeps the project team and stakeholders focused on delivering the value the business expects. Effective prioritization helps the business deliver real value, satisfies customer needs and enables the project team to fully understand and meet the needs of the customer as well as identification of missing requirements, ambiguities, and errors. It gives the opportunity to generate real improvements to the business units, not just change.

4. Lower Risk: Requirements significantly reduce the risk of project failure and provide the means to more accurately estimate timeframes and work estimates and control project scope. In addition to defining the scope of the project, the requirements document allows the project sponsors and board to clearly define and agree on what will and will not be delivered and what is expected from the successful completion of the project. It is like a “contract”, a formal agreement between the “client” and the project team.

5. On-time and quality: Deliver projects on-time. Provide the method for controlling and prioritizing requirements used to define accurate project schedules, underline the actual scope of the project and limit the probability of scope creep during project implementation. This allows for more accuracy in estimating timeframes and work estimates.

Alignment of requirements to business needs:

In order to maximize the benefits of requirements it is essential to remain aligned and keep the requirements updated during project implementation as there are many factors that may divert the defined requirements from the original. Project managers cannot afford to deliver in isolation; they need to be continuously involved with the business units and stakeholders to ensure that both business needs are kept aligned to the project delivery. Periodic reviews of requirements during the lifespan of the project ensure that the requirements are aligned to the continuously changing business needs.

On a final note, requirements will not only deliver business benefits that will be achieved by the project implementation, but will also considerably reduce cost, time and improve qualities which are the three main elements of IT project success.

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