This month (April 2011) we had the pleasure of hearing from three senior level PMs as they recounted their experiences, good and bad, with the requirements creation and management process. We heard from Warren Grosjean, an IT expert, and Linux enthusiast, who specializes in bringing IT tools to companies in order to enable them to compete effectively in today’s marketplace. We also heard from Tom Leahy, PMP, a 26-year Kodak with a MSCS from RIT, whose worked with digital picture frames, digital cameras, and cell phone applications. Our third panelist was Whin Melville, who much like myself, has worked in a number of companies, including Kodak, Veramark (I was in both of these two as well!), RTEmd, and Vanteon and is now with Intrinsix Corp as the Design Center Manager for the Rochester office. Whin, a PMP with a MSEE from Cornell, has a background with Micrographic office equipment and now works with the design of custom integrated circuits.
I asked the panelists to describe the challenges they’ve had collecting requirements as well as tips for eliciting good requirements. Everyone agreed that the one of the biggest challenges is that they’re always a moving target. Warren pointed out that this is sometimes because customers don’t always know what they want until they see a prototype in front of them. This helps them to clarify what it really is they’re looking for. He said that it is key to have as many stakeholders as possible as part of the project team because you could miss a key aspect of the product otherwise. Senior management support is also critical. He stressed that it’s more important to get something out there within 9 months time, than it is to wait until it’s perfect. As long as you have a good change control process in place – this will work, he stresses.
Tom told us about the difficulties he’s had with the marketing role in not defining what the next best thing is that the customer is looking for. He’s found that he’s had to do a lot of the marketing reconnaissance personally – with visits to Best Buy proving useful. Without a clear picture of what the end product will be we can all envision how difficult the requirements creation process would be. He tells us that it’s critical that you understand your own technology (as well as sales/marketing) so that you can best take advantage of how that technology can be applied. He says that it’s also very important to articulate a clear roadmap for the product, especially if you will be subcontracting work out.
Whin told us that due to the nature of his product (IC chips), that there is no room for error in their requirements. It is very expensive to make changes so they really need to make sure they’ve got it right the first time. He says there’s no getting around having all the various Subject Matter Experts carefully review the requirements specification. He recommends however that the PM should split the review up into several sessions so that each review is no longer than 1-2 hours and you are reviewing a given section at a time. Once the review is complete it’s important for the PM to work very, very closely with it to ensure the requirements have been met.
We had a lot of discussion with this forum – I really appreciated all the questions and input that we had. In fact, this tells me that we should do this format more often!
If any of you that were there would like to add to this summary, please do so. I’m sure there is more that can be said!