Requirements Elicitation: Drilling Deeper for Important Details

Your first responsibility in good requirements management is requirements elicitation and in this section I’m going to give you the information you need to elicit great requirements from your first interaction with the client and on through the life of the project itself.

To be clear on our definition before moving forward, “requirements elicitation” is defined as the method for determining the needs of the customers and users in the project, and the project success objectives.

This is a very important process, as one might imagine, and it requires a collaborative effort between the development team and the client. The Project Management Formula helps to facilitate requirements elicitation, making it a straightforward process that allows you to easily organize and prioritize important information.

One thing to keep in mind about requirements elicitation is that, contrary to what most companies assume, it isn’t necessarily just a matter of asking the customer what they want. You have to dig deeper than that, read between the lines, pay attention to details, really, really listen and learn to use your own expertise to understand what they truly need.

The process is sort of like when you take your broken-down car to a mechanic. He doesn’t start out by asking if you want him to replace this part or tighten that screw. All he really has to know is that you need the car to run – he’ll figure out the rest.

You need to remember that the client came to you because you are the expert in your field. So they expect you to come up with a solution to the business situation that they are facing.

The same process can be applied across a variety of industries and with clients small, medium, large or even extra-large. Good requirements elicitation should be transferable, scalable and, ultimately, repeatable. So, when you’re meeting with a client, don’t just ask an open-ended, detail-blocking question like, “What do you want?” This invites the client to solve the problem for himself which, after all, is not why he came to you.

Instead, drill down deeper and ask “What do you need to do?” That way, your client will tell you what they ultimately need to accomplish, and you can help them find the best way to make that happen. Remember, the project is about finding solutions to specific needs, not trying a scattershot approach to solving all needs.

Also, don’t assume that every client knows exactly what they want. Drilling down to create a more accurate project description helps both parties determine the true need as well as a realistic solution. Skipping this vital step can shortchange you both.