What is a Requirements Gathering Template Worth?

Great ideas for software are doomed so long as the requirements remain unclear. That’s why so many people look to requirements gathering templates to ease knowledge sharing and limit communication breakdowns between product owners and their development teams.

A quick search on Google reveals an overwhelming selection of templates. Each promises to relieve your technical team of churn as they dig into development. But how far can spreadsheets and questionnaires get you on their own?

Can a Requirements Gathering Template Limit Your Digital Potential?

Whether it’s a passion project or an idea for a product that will differentiate your business, a requirements gathering template can offer important guidelines as you start to think about your product’s purpose, launch strategy, and impact — to an extent.

But a template can actually become a crutch for the product owner. It can box in your software’s true potential to provide value to both the business and its end users.

Good requirements gathering needs to include a conversation.

The Best Development Teams Want More Than Just Your Requirements Gathering Template

A project that relies solely on a pre-defined template to convey essential project details and goals will inevitably falter — if not collapse altogether. It’s what plagues those businesses that engage with traditional offshore software development teams.

The problem goes like this:

Technically-minded product owners (thinking they’re covering their bases by providing absolute clarity) complete extensive requirements documentation before working with a remote team. After finding and vetting an offshore partner with cheap rates and English that seems “good enough,” they send over that document and consider it a job well-done.

What comes back might look fine at first glance. But try completing a few simple tasks only to realize something’s gone horribly wrong.

Even the clearest requirements gathering template can leave a margin of error that is dangerous to a product’s success. Clear requirements demand full context. And context requires group discussions that pinpoint essential information and limit the project’s unknown factors.

A requirements gathering template can be a great place for product owners to begin. It’s a starting point. Without at least a discovery phase that tests those requirements and the iterative development process that should follow thereafter, teams will only ever deliver results that disappoint the business.

Why Discovery Sessions Provide More Definition Than a Requirements Gathering Template

Ask two people to draw a tree. Are the illustrations exactly the same? It’s unlikely.

Now ask a business leader and their technical partner to define the term “platform.” One thinks of a cloud service’s range of apps, while for the other a CMS for a marketing website comes to mind. Developing software in an environment like this is a recipe for disaster. It’s even more likely to occur when stakeholders only rely on a requirements gathering template and nothing else.

Good thing there’s another, better way to bring definition to project requirements: collaborative discovery sessions.

Sharing knowledge with solutions architects in person is the most effective way to reduce unknowns, eliminate guesswork, and innovate. Skilled solutions teams running discovery sessions know which questions to ask and how to ask them, filling any of the gaps left by a requirements gathering template.

Here’s how the technical team leading a discovery session can help you:

  • Technical Architects help investigate where code can be reused and optimized, all on a platform that makes sense to your future digital strategies. Working closely with designers, Technical Architects can devise an MVP strategy so that each phase of your product development will benefit both the business and end users.
  • Designers can help validate your intended target audience more precisely. As technical architects plan a powerful feature set, designers guide its essential visual and experiential components. Design assets like wireframes often make effective tools when it’s time to convince stakeholders or investors of your product’s value.
  • Business Analysts can make sure that no details are left out when it comes to turning business requirements into tasks for development teams.

Just like the best ideas, great software must be considered outside of a vacuum. Expose your business and digital needs to team members of diverse technical backgrounds. The more perspectives involved in the room at the outset of a project, the more well-rounded the whole idea will be. Potential roadblocks can be identified, optimal feedback channels created, budgets prepared, and relevant stakeholders notified.

3 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Discovery Session

A pre-defined requirements template can prompt important questions, but now it’s time to get your ideas out in the open with your team.

Product owners and their teams can keep a few tips top-of-mind as they prepare for an in-depth discovery session that sheds light on their needs and project trajectory:

This means decisions makers. Nothing is as defeating as reaching the end of a productive discovery session only to discover that no one in the room is equipped to pursue or hold off on development then and there.

Also, involving people who have the most exposure to the problems your software will solve is key. End users are the most familiar with current pain points. Include them to bring richness to your conversation.

Technical subject matter experts will also need a seat at the table. Aligning non-technical stakeholders on a development plan one day, only to have it scuttled by a technical expert the next is another discouraging situation to avoid. How many integrations will the solution require? Can a legacy system support the proposed platform? Make sure the right people are involved from the outset of your project to answer such questions sooner rather than later.

Finally, choosing a neutral moderator for your discovery sessions can help to keep the peace, but also bring clarity to the ideas that come to the surface in the conversations. He or she can ensure that every opinion is heard and remind participants of goals and the pain points the team set out to resolve earlier.

You wouldn’t run a marathon after months of inactivity. Planning software development is no different. Don’t start cold.

Before attending the discovery session, take the time to align with stakeholders on the purpose of your project, the problems it must resolve, the approach you think need to get there, and why you’re seeking help with a technical partner. This is where a template can actually provide a great starting point.

This allows you to enter the conversation fully aligned, which saves time and spares everyone from awkward tangents and side conversations about why you’re there in the first place.

Share and review the data that spurred you and your team to action in the first place.

What key statistics are of most interest to you?

Is there code that your development partner should review?

Do you have documentation for your processes, and should those change or remain the same when the new product launches?

Wireframes are also useful for aligning both designers and developers on how the product should look, feel, and function.

Think Outside of the Requirements Gathering Template

Product owners who remember at least one of those tips during discovery sessions contribute to more productive engagements that make better use of everyone’s time.

When used properly, a requirements gathering template does have a place in software development — but remember that it is only a starting point. After reviewing many of the options available, we designed our own template to help make your process easier.

Try it out. Ask follow up questions. Does it help you think more critically about the technical aspects of your solution? Just remember that it takes rigorous discovery to build successful software that addresses real problems for companies and their users.

Image Source: rawpixel on Unsplash

Original post can be found here.

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Authored by
Eve Poeschl.

Eve worked as a Solutions Engineer, Network Engineer and Senior .NET Developer before joining MentorMate. She is a Microsoft Certified Applications Developer, and received a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota. When she’s not providing technical consulting or eagerly awaiting the “Internet of things” to be fully realized, Eve indulges her hearty love — obsession — for apps that control household technology.

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