Would you agree that requirements management planning meetings are important?

Like project software, these meetings play an important role in making projects work. Requirements management is essential to delivering customer satisfaction. Without requirements management, it is far too easy for driven, perfectionism oriented professionals to get involved in gold plating the product. That leads to angry customers and managers.

This article comes to the rescue. You will find out how to keep “spice up” requirements management planning meetings. Once you’re done with this article, you’ll be running “five alarm” meetings that attract everyone’s attention. Yes, you’ll have more excitement at work. And that’s just the start.

You’re also going to improve the quality and productivity of your requirements process. Why does that matter? It means less late nights at the office. It also means less rework and change requests caused by requirements problems.

Increase Lateral Thinking With The Six Thinking Hats

Step by step thinking is critical to staying organized for individuals. It is also vital for organizations with complex operations to manage. Yet, there are some situations where this methodical approach is not helpful. In those cases, seeking out lateral thinking is the better way forward.

Let’s define lateral thinking before we go any further. According to Wikipedia:

Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.

More than anyone else, author Edward de Bono is the best known authority for developing the lateral thinking concept. In my opinion, the best way to implement his approach is to use the concept of the Six Thinking Hats. In summary, the idea is to give a defined role to each person in the meeting to look at the problem.

What Are the Six Thinking Hats?

Based on Edward de Bono’s book Six Thinking Hats, here are the six roles you can use to shake up requirements.

  • The White Hat. Seeks for the facts, data and information to inform the discussion.
  • The Green Hat. The broad minded role that seeks out alternatives and new ideas that have not been considered.
  • The Yellow Hat. The permanent optimist role with a focus on identifying benefits.
  • The Blue Hat. The manager role who keeps all the other roles in order.
  • The Black Hat. The black hat plays the role of doubt and criticism – an important role that is generally overplayed.
  • The Red Hat. The master of intuition and emotion. This role will be especially capable at probing for feelings beneath the surface.

Embracing this new structure takes time and patience. It’s an unconventional approach. That’s why it will lead to better results!

Apply The Six Thinking Hats To Requirements Management

You’re starting a new software project. As the software manager, you plan to call a meeting to explore requirements. You can picture the team looking dejected and bored. Requirements meetings are often long and tedious. That changes today because you have decided to use the Six Thinking Hats.

Prior to the meeting, you send an email explaining the concept and asking everyone to read the book. Don’t worry – de Bono’s work is easy to read. Everyone arrives at the meeting and dives into their roles. As the project manager, you act as the blue hat keeping everyone organized.

Here is one way everyone could use the Six Thinking Hats in sequence to define requirements.

  1. Put On The White Hat. “What specific data and facts do we have from the customer about their needs?” (Avoid criticism and analysis because the goal is to put data on the table).
  2. Put on The Green Hat. “What are all of the different ways we could satisfy those needs? Built it ourselves? Hire a third party? Fulfill requests manually?” (As with the white hat, aim for volume here).
  3. Put On The Yellow Hat. “If we shipped all of the key requirements, what would that do for the customer and for us?” The permanent optimist role with a focus on identifying benefits. (Would the annual bonus pool double? Could you give a big vacation? Dream big here!)
  4. Put On The Red Hat. “How does the team feel about this project? Are there aspects that you’re excited about? What about anger?” (If possible, look for ways to minimize negative impact but sharing around the negative events).
  5. Put On The Black Hat. “What are the risks and blind spots that could cripple our efforts? What can go wrong?” (It is critical to use the black hat role but separate it from the rest of the process.)

By using the Six Thinking Hats, you are guaranteed to experience discomfort AND new perspectives. This process is known to reliably generate new results. However, it relies on the premise of the entire team playing ball. What can you do if the team is struggling or drained? Add new energy to the process by inviting an outside guest.

Leverage New Perspectives From Guests

Requirements management planning sessions tend to have the same participants over and over again. There’s a great deal of value in that arrangement. It means that everything gets on the same page and uses the same language. Those qualities increase trust. So why change a process that’s working so well?

The reason is simple.

A highly stable group of people tends to develop groupthink over time. According to Wikipedia, groupthink is:

“[A] psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.”

This is serious business. Military disasters and mistakes like the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba have been partly attributed to groupthink.

In software development, groupthink doesn’t usually lead to a military disaster. It may lead to other problems like stagnation and disappointed customers. In fact, groupthink may contribute to the 10 worst requirements I have ever seen. Let’s prevent that from happening.

Bring New Faces To The Table

Adding new people to the meeting is one of the best ways to combat groupthink. A visitor from another department has nothing invested in the group’s history. That means they are more likely to ask new questions, add fresh information and question existing assumptions. Still with me? Great. Here are a few ways to put this principle into action

Sales Staff: What Do Customers Care About?

If sales is not already a part of your requirements meeting, what are you waiting for? Unlike technical staff, sales professionals directly contact prospects and customers. That means they know the pain points customers have. For example, customers may be submitting bug reports each week and never hearing back. Hopefully, your organization has a robust process to manage bugs. However, no process is perfect and you are likely missing part of the picture.

Executives: Connect Requirements to Company Growth

Your company’s executives have the ability to bring the big picture to your meeting. Instead of endlessly debating ways to achieve a specific requirement, an executive may ask a different question. For instance, they may ask “which option gives us the greatest platform for growth?” Consider inviting executives with a non-technical background for the best results.

Partners: What Do They Need To Succeed?

Many software firms rely on partners and resellers to achieve growth. Sadly, partners are often neglected as a creative resource. In contrast to your internal sales team, partners are a few steps removed from your company’s pressures. That gives them added freedom and perspective to voice new ideas. They might also bring uncomfortable truths to the table such as evidence that a competitor is beating you on key features. You may be just one insight away from avoiding a failing IT project.

Consultants: Access Your Think Tank

Every company needs a team of trusted consultants to lean on for advice and perspective. For very small companies, you may have to get creative in finding consultants. For example, do you a successful college classmate in a similar but non-competing company who could visit? If you sell CRM software, you may invite someone who produces an entirely different type of cloud business software.

Tips To Make The Most Of Your Guests

For your guests to add value to requirements management planning, they need to have some context. At the same time, you don’t want them to become involved in the politics of the meeting. Use these three principles to give your guests just enough context to add value:

Provide copies of past meeting agendas and minutes.

I recommend providing at least two or three sessions worth of materials. If they have questions about abbreviations and jargon, it is best to answer those points early.

Explain the goal of the meeting in one minute.

Provide a simple explanation for why you hold requirements management planning meetings. This will give your guests some ideas on how they might contribute. For example, you might mention achieving rapid customer approvals are an important part of the picture.

Make the meeting worthwhile for guests.

You might be able to demand internal employees show up at the meeting. However, that approach will only achieve a reluctant compliance level of energy. Instead, take a moment to sell the meeting to them by asking what is in the meeting for them. For consultants, attending the meeting gives them greater insight on your company and the opportunity to grow relationships. For sales representatives, they will have the chance to put customer complaints front and center.

Leave Best Practices At The Door…

Best practices.Your company has them. So does your competitor.

In fact, you might be using the exact same methods to manage requirements as your competitors. Remember where best practices come from in the first place. They are usually distilled summary of the methods used by many different combines.

But here’s the deal:

If you are looking to spice up your approach to requirements management, you will need to set aside best practices. Before you panic, there’s a method to the madness here.

I’m not recommending you make random changes and simply hope for the best. No, our approach here is designed to achieve a specific objective. First, increase creative thinking. Second, increase team trust and cohesion. To that end, here are four ways to leave best practices at the door.

1. Meet At A Different Place

Rather than meeting in a windowless conference room for the hundredth time, meet at a different location. What about renting a room at the co-working space down the street? Or host a lunch meeting at somebody’s home? Changing the physical context for the meeting makes tends to increase creativity.

2. Follow The Pain

At the beginning of a project, you may have a few ideas about the requirements you need to build. Put those ideas aside for this meeting. Instead, focus the meeting on the pain question: “What is frustrating and bothering our top three customers the most?” Bring tickets, emails and other feedback from customers to support this exercise.

3. Draw Lessons From The History Books

If you have been in business for more than a few months, your organization has some history. If you’re in a good situation, you will a project management process to define lessons learned from each project. If you don’t have that process in place, don’t worry.

This approach to reinventing requirements management is to review your team’s past approach. What problems, minor or major, held back requirements in the past? For example, did you ask the end customer for too many approvals? Constantly asking for the client’s blessing may make you feel good but it often comes across as frustrating. That would be an excellent way to improve your requirements process.

What if your problem is too many ideas for requirements? It’s a good problem to have in a way. It means that your team is creative and fully engaged on requirements.

If your problem is TOO MUCH information in your requirements process, stay tuned. I have the perfect solution to that problem.

Use The 80/20 Principle Multiple Times

Do you know why requirements management planning has a bad name in many companies? It comes down to complexity. Customers are fearful that their needs will not be met. This lack of trust leads to long drawn out meetings… That’s how you end up with a requirements document with dozens or hundreds of measures and data points.

What if you were ruthless at simplifying the process? Instead of adding each and every suggestion to the project and struggling to implement, you do the struggle upfront. What do I mean? Use the 80/20 principle as a filter to identify the requirements that are truly valuable. You might be surprised at what you find.

Defining the 80/20 Principle: What You Need To Know

Before we go any further, let’s make sure we understand the 80/20 principle. Also known as Pareto’s law, this concept was developed by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist. He observed that 80% of the wealth in most countries is held by 20% of the popular. In fact, that ratio may be even more extreme in the age of the billionaire. After Pareto, several other authors and consultants developed the principle further.

For this section, I owe a debt to Richard Koch and his excellent book “The 80/20 Principle.” Koch points out that the principle may be applied multiple times. For example, 80% of your sales may be generated by 20% of the sales team. Take the process another level deeper. Within that 20% of top sales staff, there are ultra high performers who achieve even more. One can apply the same multi-step analysis to problems: 80% of problems may be traced back to a single point of failure.

Apply the 80/20 Principle to Requirements Management

How does the 80/20 principle apply to improving your next requirements management planning meeting? That’s what we will address next.

Use the following steps to simplify your next requirements management meeting:

  1. Use the 80/20 principle to identify causes of quality problems. Developed in the manufacturing industry, this approach also works well in software.
  2. Use the 80/20 principle to rank order customer requests. Yes, this means recognizing that not all customers are created equal when it comes to requirements.
  3. Identify low value requirements for elimination. The team’s resources are limited. That means you have to make choices about what you will develop. Use the 80/20 principle to see which requests can be eliminated with minimal impact. Disappointing a few small customers to keep your Fortune 500 customers may be a wise strategy.

Conclusion

Rebooting your company’s approach to requirements management doesn’t have to be difficult. A few new ideas make all the difference to the process. You can add spice to the process by moving the meeting to a new venue. Leveraging guests from other departments will is another way to change the team’s dynamics. If you prefer an analytical approach, use the 80/20 principle. It is one of the best ways to trim the fat from your requirements process.

What frustrates you the most about the requirements management process?

Author Ulf Eriksson

Ulf is the founder of ReQtest and as the Product Owner, decides what features are added to the product, and makes sure that ReQtest is of a consistently high quality. Ulf has written several books and courses as well as a library of articles on the subjects of testing and requirements management, as well as speaking publicly on a number of subjects related to the world of testing.

More posts by Ulf Eriksson

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