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6 Reasons Not to Gather Requirements


A survey of failed and unsuccessful projects conducted by the Gartner Group cites the following causes amongst the top reasons for project problems;

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  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Incomplete, changing or vague requirements
  • Unclear objectives
  • Scope creep

Creating a high quality set of business requirements can reduce the impact of these issues. But despite most projects being aware of the need for requirements gathering, why is this important exercise so often undervalued or even disregarded? 

Here are 6 reasons that I’ve been offered as explanations of why requirements gathering was not undertaken.

1.  “We don’t know how to gathering requirements.” It’s ok to play the ignorance card, as sometimes we simply don’t know. Some people haven’t yet heard of Requirements Gathering, which sometimes is referred to as Requirements Engineering. But business sense should tell us that a project sets out to achieve specific goal. Not knowing what needs to be done to be successful can’t easily be excused. For project professionals, ignorance isn’t an acceptable defense.

2.  “We’ve no one to carry out the requirements gathering.” This assumes that requirement gathering exercise is optional when its not. The level of detail that the requirements are captured is however, up for sensible discussion. Would you consider building a new house without any architect’s drawings?

3.  “We haven’t got the time and we’re under pressure to get started.” It’s the classic reason and whilst the project may start moving, is it in the right direction? Without requirements, project problems are lying ahead. Has anything vital been missed? Are all the stakeholders onboard? Will we get the biggest bang for our buck?  These questions will be asked sooner or later. 

4.  “We haven’t budgeted for the extra work to gather the requirements.” Missing vital requirements or the cost of an unsuccessful project probably hasn’t been budgeted for either. No one wants to say, “I told you so” but….

5.  “We’ve a requirement list from the client and so we do know what to do”. Yes, but does the client know what to do? If you run into requirement issues down the line; your smart ass might be covered. Well done! But you’re still involved in an unsuccessful project and the client will be unhappy. It won’t take too long to validate the requirements list. And implementing a professional requirements review will mean that value is being added. An expert delivers what is needed, instead of only what was asked for.

6.  “We’ve done projects just like this before, we know exactly what is needed.” Experience is usually an advantage, but knowing so much can also cause problems. It can mean preconceived ideas and assumptions. No two projects are the same and neither are the people involved. Experience is a valuable asset but it’s only one source of requirements. Receiving a variety of perspectives helps to build buy-in to the project and writing everything down gets everyone on the same page, literally.

These 6 reasons lack substance and should be downgraded to excuses. 

A requirements gathering exercise at the start of any project is not optional. The discussion should be around how to create a quality set of requirements and how much detail is needed.

Can you add to this list of reasons why requirements weren’t gathered on a project?

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Comments (2)


Matthew Castle

August 15, 2014 at 9.36 pm

You just have to be careful you don’t fall into “analysis paralysis” trying to understand all the requirements up front.

Better to understand the Critical Success Factors of your project, it may turn out that many different and / or changing requirements can still deliver those.

“Tomatoes tomatoes” I hear you cry, “one persons requirement is another persons success factor”.  Well maybe, for me anyway, requirements = software functionality, success criteria = business objective.

Jon Wright

June 10, 2014 at 12.06 pm

This is great food for thought. The reason we don’t gather requirements is that we didn’t know we had to - lessons to be learned..

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