The Lack of a Requirements Document on a project is one of the major reasons that projects fail. What is my definition of a failure. I use the criteria of cost, schedule and expectations. I believe that a project is a failure if it surprises the client by costing more than what was approved, by delivering later than the approved schedule, by not meeting quality expectations or by not doing some of the things that the customer expected it to do.
In all of my audits and reviews of Information Technology (IT) project failures - large and small, I've found that the top reason for failure is the lack of agreed and controlled requirements. In other words, the project team did not have a clear picture of what the customer wanted the team to build and deliver. And, in cases where there had been a clear picture of the requirements, changes to that clear picture were made but were not controlled properly.
I've always tried to work out why a Team of people would start building something before they knew what it was they were supposed to build or before they had a clear picture of what it was they were supposed to deliver. It's just plain foolish, isn't it? It's easy to see how foolish it is if you were dealing with a builder that you hired to build your house. Before he started, you would definitely have blueprints, specs, etc. for the builder to follow. In addition, you would have agreed the cost and the delivery date. I know you wouldn't just tell the builder to start without both of you understanding and agreeing the plans, specifications, costs and schedule.
So why do IT people do it? Why do IT Teams start building before they have it locked down as to what it is they must build? Well, let's take a look at a number of reasons why I think they do.
One reason is that Senior Management, in most cases, are pushing for a delivery date that is usually very tight and usually not particularly feasible. So Project Managers feel like they need to take some short cuts to deliver on time. And one of the short cuts is to start working on what they believe they have to deliver before what they are supposed to deliver is documented and agreed. Or they say things like, "Let's get the work started, we'll do the documentation later". And, of course, the documentation never gets done.
Another reason is that the development team members think they know what the customer wants and, therefore, they think they can get a head start and begin working on it before they finish discussing and documenting what the customer really wants.
An additional reason is that there is no process in place that defines how to go about delivering a project and, therefore, the Project Manager makes it up as he or she goes along and decides that an agreed Requirements Document is not needed.
Starting work on a project before you know what it is that you are supposed to deliver at the end is almost always a mistake - A big mistake. Why do I say almost always instead of always? Well, I can guarantee you that if I said always instead of almost always, someone would come up with an example that proves it should have been almost always.
So, take the time to get a Requirements Document prepared, agreed and signed by at least the developers and the customer. File it in the project library and put it under strict Change Control.
Some of the benefits of doing this are:
- You and the team start off the project knowing what it is that needs to be delivered,
- It provides you with a firm baseline on which to develop your cost and schedule estimates,
- It provides you with an approved basis for evaluating proposed changes,
- It provides you with the basis for the preparation of System Test Specifications, and
- It helps in the communication between you, the development team, and the client.
So, make sure that you and the team know what is supposed to be delivered before you start working on delivering it.
Enjoy the Journey,
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Richard is a professional Project Manager with over 40 years experience. He is a professional speaker, trainer and consultant on Project Management, Achievement and Motivation. Book Richard to speak at conferences or in-house meetings, to train and motivate your project managers or to rescue any projects that are in trouble. Call Richard at 336-499-6677. email firstname.lastname@example.org Check out his website www.richardmorreale.com
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