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Three forms of communication essential to requirements management

Teams can produce a higher quality product when goals are aligned around meeting requirements. Expert Scott Sehlhorst discusses the three forms of collaboration that facilitate the requirements gathering and management process within organizations today.

How has collaboration become an important aspect of the requirements gathering and management process?

Collaboration continues to demonstrate its value in requirements gathering and management processes in three different forms.

The first form of collaboration is the dialogue between the people creating the product and the people using the product. Product managers and business analysts work with customers to reach alignment around the capabilities that will be added to a product. The goal of this collaboration is to assure that customers can solve the problems that are important to them when given tools that provide relevant capabilities. Traditionally, this has been done before projects start. As businesses become more agile by harnessing Agile development processes, they are adapting to the opportunity to have these collaborative discussions throughout the process of product development -- getting feedback and validation that they are on the right path. Not only can the team validate that what they built is actually useful to their customers, but they are also able to discover the new and latent problems that emerged or were uncovered in parallel with the development of the product.

The second form of collaboration is one that is encouraged between customers. Some companies are gathering groups of customers together, and getting them to collaborate with each other to help them better express what their actual problems are. People are good at describing solutions, and sometimes the manifestations of problems -- but are rarely good at describing problems. By collaborating with each other -- in environments where the product teams can pay attention to the dialogue -- the problems that customers care about are easier to discover.

The third form of collaboration is one that happens internally within the company. A challenge that almost all teams face is getting everyone in the organization "running in the same direction." There is some strategy for achieving some business objectives (like revenue growth). There is an associated "business design" approach to realizing this strategy (like achieving an X% share of a given market). This leads to a set of requirements that articulate the problems faced by customers in the target market.  Those requirements lead to solution specifications (defining how a solution will approach solving those problems), which lead to designs (of how the solution will solve the problems) and implementation (creating the solution). These different strata of defining what the company will create are usually defined and managed by different people, and often by entirely different teams. Internal collaboration is key to success. Each team needs to assure that their perspective is communicated effectively to the next team "down the line." Each team needs to be able to clarify their understanding of the context in which their work needs to happen. They also need to provide feedback to the "previous" team about feasibility, and they have an opportunity to infuse additional (better) ideas into that context because of the perspective they have.

Collectively, these forms of collaboration help teams discover (existing and emerging) requirements, and assure that the organization is aligned around common goals of addressing those requirements. The collaboration is particularly important when acknowledging that the requirements change over time. Those changes are worth discovering -- it will lead to a more competitive product. Percolating these discovered changes throughout the organization allows companies to decide if it is more important to adapt to a changing market or assure that the team delivers to the existing (if obsolete) plan.

This was first published in May 2012

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