We all have needs and we all have wants. There is a need for food, shelter, and clothing. Most people, however, want good food, a nice house, and fine clothing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the finer things out of life. The problem that can arise is when wanting more than what we need begins to put a burden on us either financially, mentally, or physically. The trick to having a successful life is finding that balance between what we want and what we really need.
The projects you manage fall into the same category of having needs and wants .There are certain things that everyone NEEDS the final project to accomplish, and then there are other things that people WANT a project to accomplish. This is a blurry line and one that is filled with passion and emotion during the scoping phase of any project. Stakeholders will argue vehemently that their particular “bells and whistles” are a need, if not a necessity, of the upcoming project.
How, then, do you determine what are the true needs are that fit into your project management plan and how can you go about extracting these needs from stakeholders? The following suggestions should prove helpful in this area.
#1. Engage all Stakeholders in Conversation
We’re not talking about the kinds of conversation that take place in the hallway as people pass each other on their way to the next meeting. Rather, we are talking about sitting down in someone’s office or over lunch and really getting an understanding of what that particular person is wanting the project to accomplish.
This is important for a number of reasons. First, it allows you as the Project Manager to understand what is important about this project for this particular stakeholder. This gives you background information that you will find useful when making decisions about the project management plan that are sure to come up in the future. This also will afford you the opportunity to understand what is NOT important to this person.
If you find that there is a theme across all stakeholders you talk to, you can use this information as ammunition to “de-scope” a particular part of the project that is not necessary.
A word of advice…make sure you are talking to the right people about the project. It’s assumed that you’ll be talking to the project sponsors and others that are above you in the corporate hierarchy. But, you don’t want to forget that there are other stakeholders that can make a tremendous amount of noise later if they are left out.
Make sure to include the final Users of the project once it is complete. I’ve seen projects go swimmingly well all the way to the point of being implemented in its final resting place only to come to a grinding halt.
The reason was that the person who was on the front-line of using what this project delivered, was never consulted. Their feedback was not in the project management plan and the project (and the PM) paid dearly for that oversight.
#2. Listen Carefully for Contradictions and Read Between the Lines
When you are talking to these people about the needs they have for the project, be careful to listen for contradictions and to read between the lines.
They may say to you that the reason they need a particular feature to be added to a project is to help the company, or increase sales, or save time. However, if you listen really carefully, you may find that what they are really saying is that they are looking to advance their own career, make another group look bad, or make their life easier.
Unfortunately, some people and their needs for a project are not as noble or transparent as others. You need to look for and listen to these carefully as you put your project management plan together.
#3. Clarify Vague Ideas
Another area that you need to zero in as a Project Manager to truly understand the needs of a project is to clarify vague ideas. People will sometimes have a tendency to throw out very complicated ideas with a simple “I just need it to do this…”, or “It only needs to do that…” They will intentionally make it sound like it’s not that big of a deal to get something added to the project. You, on the other hand, know that it is a big deal to get something like this added.
Don’t ever be scared or timid to dig into the details of what someone is asking for and claiming to be a need. Make them clearly explain what they are looking for and justify the reason. Be prepared for them to push back and get a little agitated with your questions.That’s to be expected. Let them know that in order to put a project management plan together that meets everyone’s needs you have to understand the details.
#4. Trust, but Verify
If you hammer only one nail into a board, it has the ability to turn and twist. Hammer two nails into that board and it’s harder to move. Put three nails into that board and it’s not going anywhere. It’s the same thing when it comes to putting together your project management plan and defining the needs of the project.
You can listen to just one person about what is a critical need. However, that may twist and change as the project evolves based upon circumstances. If you start hearing the same requirement as a need from two, three, or many more people that is undoubtedly a critical need that must be addressed.
#5. Prioritize Needs
Nobody likes to hear “NO” when it comes to what they can and can’t have included in a particular project. The following is a helpful way in working through such an exercise. Once you’ve captured all of their “needs”, ask them to prioritize them based upon the following criteria:
- a. This is a Must Have – These are the needs of the project that if they are not included in the project management plan it would be considered an utter failure. Ask the person you are talking to about what falls into this category on their list and put a Number 1 next to those items.
- b. This is a Should Have – These are the needs of the project that would be really nice to have, but are not critical to the success of the project. They may be items that make things go smoother or faster but the project can be used without such features. Ask the person you are talking to about what falls into this category on their list and put a Number 2 next to those item.
- c. This is a Nice to Have – These are the items that fall into the category of “bells and whistles”. The project would be just fine without these things but this will make it just that much fancier or easier to use. These will then have a number 3 next to them.
That’s it. Now sort the “needs” of the project into 1, 2, and 3 priorities and this is most likely what you will find. If there was a list of 10 items, 2 or 3 will fall into Must Haves, 3 or 4 will fall into Should Have, and then a final 2 or 3 will fall into Nice to Have. Focus on the Must Haves in the project management plans and you will have boiled the project down to the essence of what is important. Throw in a couple of Should Haves for good measure and good will and then get to work!