Gathering Customer Requirements: What’s Your Methodology?

Professional project managers understand that gathering customer requirements is a crucial realm of project management. Customer requirements have a heavy impact on a project, its outcome and success, and overall customer satisfaction. This is why project managers need to gather as much information, data, and specifications up front in a project to ensure that they are in fact the requirements needed for a particular project and to make sure they are implemented correctly. So what is the best methodology to use for gathering customer requirements?

Methodologies can vary depending the management style and preferences of the project manager, as well as the nature of the project itself. For example, some requirement methodologies involve acquiring, analyzing, and interpreting customer data. In some cases where customers may be unsure of what the outcome of a particular project may look like, a prototype might be the best methodology.

Each methodology should accomplish the following actions:

  • Fact-finding
  • Requirements gathering and classifying
  • Rationalization and evaluation

So how do you know which methodology is right for your project? Which will provide customers with the best solution? There are several different approaches that a project manager can take include:

  • Soft Systems Approach: This approach involves that focuses on structures and design. This approach often involves data flow diagrams, which emphasize quantitative data. This is great to show customers hard data related to a particular project or to show an outcome.
  • Traditional Approach: This approach focuses on the functional analysis, fact-finding, and the flow of control. This approach is centered around a hard and true analysis of what the customer wants. Of course, customer requirements don’t always come without their levels of volatility, but the traditional analysis approach encompasses data and “what we know”.
  • Data-centered Approach: The data-centered approach is similar to the soft systems approach listed above where the data and information surrounding a particular project, or customer requirements as a whole or system, is compiled and represented in a manner that shows customers, end users, and developers what the project outcome will look like and how it can be used.
  • Participative Approach: This approach is best served for those customers whose specifications or requirements are highly volatile. If the stakeholders are unsure of what they want then this approach would serve them best as it depends on the understanding of what the customer wants to accomplish with the project, but may not necessarily know the steps needed to get there. This is where a prototype would be most useful and would be the best approach to gather data.

Finally, one of the most difficult points in gathering customer requirements and data is then translating that information into design requirements. This is an essential step for developers or project managers because we need to make sure we accurately and thoroughly understand stakeholder requirements, how to implement and elicit them appropriately, and to make sure we meet all nonfunctional requirements in the process to ensure a project’s outcome and overall success.

All in all, project managers should get to know their customers and stakeholders, try to understand what they want to get out of their project, or what their project is meant to accomplish, and then design the project based on this information. As listed above, there are several tactics and approaches to the best methods to gathering data. What methodology would best suit your customers?

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