Monday, January 12, 2009

Removing the Requirements Closure Barrier

One of the most often mentioned challenges faced by NPD teams is the accurate and timely closure of project requirements. A deficiency in the quality of the requirements closure process is commonly accepted as it is, justified by a belief that it can't be improved upon. Left unchecked, weaknesses in requirements quality will quietly continue disrupting plans and causing activity rework due to inadequate information.

It's time for a change - time to stop accepting the status quo. Proclaim that requirements closure is not going OK, that it is not acceptable. Openly affirming this enables positive actions to commence in mitigating requirements limitations as a source of project impact. These actions will engage the process of removing what is most likely one of the top three barriers to ideal project execution in your organization. Avoid the temptation to believe ownership of "fixing requirements closure" should be elsewhere, since this type of justification has kept this project barrier cloaked by misguided acceptance. If it's impacting you or your team then take the ball and remove the problem. If you don't, nobody else will either.

Start by quantifying impact. What has been the negative influence to projects due to limitations in requirements? State the impact in terms of lost revenue opportunity and inflated development cost, the baseline criteria that should be used for measuring project execution. This must be answered before proceeding, thus setting a solid foundation upon which to construct genuine improvements. Skimping here will allow negative influences to crush the effort and diminish effectiveness.

The next step is to identify participants and objectives. Make no mistake - this must be a cross-functional activity that minimally includes design, marketing, sales, the business and project management. Assign a tenacious leader/facilitator that believes in the cause and will not be viewed as a threat to any one discipline. Consider the following questions to help define objectives:

  • What specifically needs to be different? ?
  • How will you measure progress and success?
  • What will success look like?
  • What will be the typical objections to this activity, who will display them and why?
And now it is time for the solution. Having done all the proper background work the solution(s) should be fairly straightforward, with proper guidance. I suggest a workshop type format with a facilitator in charge of the process, not the decisions. Have the workshop participants define their own rules of engagement, finalize objectives, define the decision process and track activities.

As with solutions to all project execution challenges, success will result only from a formally sanctioned project that has proper leadership in place. It must have a budget, sponsor(s), a leader, a plan, objectives, ROI expectations and a cross functional team. Solutions to project execution issues are not rocket science; they materialize out of a dedicated and well-managed effort. Anything less than full commitment will be wasting your organizations valuable time. It's all or nothing, and a choice of nothing should create a bona fide uneasiness regarding the requirements closure process.

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