Getting Ideas: How to Gather Requirements


Quick Tips for Team Leaders


By Jeff Oltmann

Oregon, USA

Quick tips on creating good requirements that define what your project will deliver


For many projects, the end deliverables can be sufficiently defined in the project charter and plan. However, some large or complex projects have broad deliverables. On those projects it is helpful to refine the deliverables into a set of detailed requirements during the Plan phase. Requirements give the project team the detail they need to be able to create an accurate breakdown and ordering of the work and project plan.

This Quick Tip summarizes the process of creating and managing a set of requirements.

Managing Requirements

The diagram below shows the typical steps in the process of managing requirements. The first six steps happen during the Plan phase of a project. The final step (Verify) is done during the Execute or Close phase. Adapt these steps to match the size and complexity of your project.

  1. Prepare: Identify where requirements will come from. Prepare to talk with people in those areas by learning about the vocabulary and workflows they use to do their work.
  2. Elicit: Collect relevant information from as many users and stakeholders as is feasible. Many people use the acronym LCP as a reminder of how to interview a stakeholder. First listen carefully, then confirm what you heard, and finally probe to get a deeper understanding.

Consider providing mockups or straw proposals that users can react to. This may help them clearly state what they need. Observation can help, too, since the best understanding of what a user needs often comes by observing them doing their job.

  1. Analyze: Study the information you’ve collected in order to discern true requirements. Modeling techniques can help out in this step. Examples are process flow diagrams, gap (as-is and to-be) analysis, system and data flow diagrams to show interfaces, information flow and storage between people and systems, and KJ (conjoint) analysis or affinity diagramming to find commonalities.
  2. Formalize: Record the emerging requirements so the stakeholders can review, modify, and approve them. This includes prioritizing the requirements so that the project team can make smart tradeoffs during the project. A typical approach is to use three priority categories: required, highly desired, and “would be nice.” Allow only a minority of requirements in the required category.
  3. Respond: Provide feedback based on the requirements. Tell stakeholders what your project can actually accomplish. Help them understand tradeoffs and work through options so they can make important tradeoffs early in the program, when flexibility is highest. If this changes the requirements, it may be necessary to iterate through the Analysis and Formalize steps again.
  4. Validate: Confirm that the requirements are correct and that the stakeholders agree that the requirements are good enough. Then, use the validated requirements to plan and execute the project. Update them as the project progresses, making sure to communicate changes to affected people.
  5. Verify: When the project’s deliverables are ready, verify that they meet the requirements. This is often done during testing.

On very large projects, requirements engineering is done iteratively, capturing and getting agreement on high level requirements first, then refining them into more detailed requirements.


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Editor’s note: This series of “Quick Tips” articles is by Jeff Oltmann, experienced program and technology executive and principle of Synergy Associates in Oregon, USA. The Quick Tips offer simple approaches and models for problem analysis, gathering ideas and input from team members, facilitation and taking action. The tips offered in this series were identified or developed over two decades of helping program, project and team leaders get things done in faster, more agile ways. Learn more about Jeff Oltmann in his author profile at the end of this article.

How to cite this paper: Oltmann, J. (2022). Getting Ideas: How to Gather Requirements, Quick Tips for Team Leaders, series, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue VIII, August. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/pmwj120-Aug2022-Oltmann-how-to-gather-requirements-quicktips-article-2.pdf

About the Author

Jeff Oltmann

Oregon, USA


Jeff Oltmann is a seasoned leader with over 30 years of experience advising clients, managing successful technology programs, and developing new products. His specialties include strategy deployment, operational and project excellence, and project portfolio management. As principal consultant at Synergy Professional Services, Jeff advises leaders and teams in diverse sectors including healthcare, research, bioscience, and technology product development.

Jeff is the founder of the Portfolio and Project Leaders Forum.  He is also on the graduate faculty of the Division of Management at Oregon Health and Science University and was previously on executive staff at IBM.    He teaches portfolio, program, and project management and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®).

Jeff welcomes your questions and ideas.  You can contact him at jeff@spspro.com or read previous articles at www.spspro.com/article-library.