19 August 2011

Improving Your Requirements Definition Process

Any time a change is made to either a process or the tools that are used to support the process, there is a learning curve that will impact the time required to perform that process. As you begin to think about improving your requirements definition process, keep in mind that there will be effort associated with this change. In most cases there is decrease in productivity as the work begins to progress. This decrease is often called the “J-curve”. As users attempt to change the way they do a particular task, they reach a point where they feel it is just simply too hard to make the change. The temptation here is to revert back to the old way of doing things just to get the task completed. Without a plan for overcoming this hurdle many organizations fail short of their goal to make this change. This challenge is true for both processes and tools. There are two strategies that can accelerate skills or tools adoption.

First, there is the depth approach. In the in-depth approach a core group of people are selected and are trained on the new process or tool and continue to receive mentoring as the cross the chasm from training to work on a real project. Mentors are often outside consultants with an expertise in the specific skills area. It is important to have experts available to help practitioners begin to use their new skills on a live project. This core group is fairly small and the intention is to use them as consultants for new projects who will be using the new skills. They become experts who move from project to project to help those individuals use their new skills.

The breadth approach focuses on a sound foundation of best practice skills that will be refined over time. In this approach mentors are brought in to provide this foundation of best practice skills, often through standard training in the specific skills area. Usually standard processes and templates are defined and documented for use by the various project teams. The initial training is provided to a large group of individuals versus the smaller, focused group mentioned in the depth approach. As projects begin to use the new skills and learn more about how their specific tasks are impacted, these results are fed back into the best practice foundation so it can be refined over time.

Whatever method you choose to manage this effort, it is critical to successfully making the required changes. Without a plan, these changes often fall to the wayside when the crunch of schedule and budget are felt. Making these kinds of changes requires discipline, support, and determination. Each project must be continually assessed to make sure the new skills are being used.

Think about a simple change to your requirements definition process. Who are the experts you can rely on internally? Do you need outside assistance for training and/or mentoring? Where will you go for this training and mentoring? Is your process well documented today or are you starting from ground zero? What is your plan for making sure you are successful (depth, breadth, both)? What is the timeframe for the change?

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result". (Albert Einstein) If you feel that way, begin making changes that will give you the results you would like.

By: Marcia Stinson

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