“This isn’t what we agreed to do…”
“I didn’t say this…”
“I didn’t mean that …”
“I can’t approve this…”
These are just a few examples of typical conflicts and disputes I have seen over the course of my experience in project management and business analysis.
If you search the Internet you will find tons of articles addressing different causes behind conflicts within projects. These are just a few examples of the issues of project management, the top mistakes, or the common challenges facing projects. The causes listed in these articles overlap in many cases, while might come up with new ones in some other cases. Moreover, you may want to search for project critical success factors for complete list of factors.
In my opinion, pointing fingers among project stakeholders has always been a symptom for much deeper causes. Here is my list of 3 major ones:
- Incomplete requirement
- Lack of proper documentation
Along the following lines, I will share a lesson I have learnt and highlight the importance of requirement, communication, and documentation in the success of projects of any type.
It all starts with a simple question: What are your needs? Through a fine process, the answer is translated into requirements. The quality of the process will decide the nature of conflict that might arise later (if any). How to avoid conflicts? The answer is “Good requirement.”
But, what makes a good requirement? It would be great to find a checklist against which you can validate your requirement to see if it is good enough or not.
There are different clusters of characteristics that try do define “Good requirement,” here is the list that is most commonly used: Unambiguous, Testable, Clear, Correct, Understandable, Feasible, Independent, Atomic, Necessary, and finally, Implementation-free. Here is a reference for your convenience.
Requirement trace-ability is very crucial when it comes to the proposed solution. It is important to make sure that each solution component is connected to a well defined requirement.
If the requirement lacks any of these characteristics, the door gets opened to conflicts and disputes. Also, in terms of cost, identifying and correcting any misunderstanding in requirements early on is far more cost-effective than doing this as the project progresses.
Yet, you aren’t left alone as there are many tools and techniques that help define and refine requirements. Prototypes are one of the effective tools that help users see what they want at early stages in the project. Also, structured interviews, observation and walkthroughs are another set of tools to consider as you collect requirements.
After collecting good requirements, it is important to have it communicated to respective stakeholders to make sure they see the same thing. Communication is the basis for critical decisions such as sign-off and budget allocation. Having consensus is a very critical factor when it comes to requirements because each individual has their own perspective. This doesn’t work in a business requirement which will be used as a foundation to define a solution scope.
Communication packages should be suitable for the audience and for the objective behind communicating the requirement. Communication could be verbal or written, formal or informal; whatever the channel, just make sure the message is delivered and understood correctly to avoid misunderstanding or conflicts.
Today, there are plenty of collaboration tools, such as Google Docs, which facilitated real time communication among project team members as well as different stakeholders.
Last but not least, requirement should be documented.
It goes without saying that without proper documentation, there is no evidence or proof of a requirement or when it was changed. Documentation is critical for certain milestones within the project such as requirements approval, sign off and change management purposes. Also, after the project completion, the need for proper documentation arises for information re-use purposes, lessons learned and knowledge transfer.
Documentation protocols and conventions are critical for audit purposes and should follow best practices and known guidelines.
For each project type, you will find different types of templates and documents that will make your life easier when it comes to dealing with requirements. Documentation tools can be as simple as email message or an advanced document management system. Document management systems with built in workflow mechanisms are very helpful in tracing and documenting change and configuration updates.
So, if you’re a project manager pay much attention to requirements, communication and documentation to make sure your project is in good hands.
If you have any experiences or see other critical factors, please share with us below.