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Understanding Requirements

August 19, 2010

Yesterday I wrote about the ‘conspiracy of optimism’ that has been identified as a key challenge for successful project execution.

Another topic that arose at the ICCPM (International Centre for Complex Project Management) event was around the quality of requirements.

I raised this issue at the conference since it is a recurrent theme for IACCM members. The annual study of ‘most negotiated terms’ reveals that this is the area where negotition professionals believe more time should be spent. After hearing this story, the reaction of the project management community (and some procurement experts who were present at the event) was interesting.

There was unanimous support for the view that the quality of requirements definition is generally poor. In fact, there appeared to be consensus that ‘the current requirements process is broken’. In addition to a general failure to capture and define comprehensive requirements, it fails to address or acknowledge the inevitablity of change (or scope creep – but often the two are hard to distinguish). The ‘single point of contact model’ (for supplier / customer relationships and requirement definiton) does not work any more (this conclusion came from very senior  government representative who is looking at procurement policy); so a key question is ‘How do you contract for uncertainty? What skills and knowledge does this need?

In meetings today, I heard similar issues form two senior commercial attorneys who are engaged in managed services and cloud computing. They were complaining about the challenge of getting engaged sufficiently early to assist in shaping the deal. ‘By the time we are introduced, both sides think they have reached agreement. They don’t want to hear that their current structure contravenes laws or regulations. They see comments like that as negative, as introducing obstacles. Yet these obstacles are real – and avoidable. They simply require a different deal structure – which would have been so easy to do when the discussions began.”

None of this is new news to seasoned lawyers or sales contract negotiators. But it does appear to be outside the traditional knowledge or experience of most buyers. As we move to a world of more services and solutions, including many cross-border or multi-country deals, the need for increased commercial input and understanding during the requirements definition phase is very important. Of course, that is what IACCM and its training programs are designed to deliver, but from all the discussions this week it is very clear that there is still a long way to go in penetrating the Procurement community.

In a subsequent conversation with a group of senior Procurement staff, the topic turned to compliance and leakage. I steadily realised that that this group was in fact asking how they could prevent changes to scope and requirements. Unfortunately they are fighting the wrong battles. They had failed to understand that constraining the business to the solution they originally contracted might indeed deliver the original savings – but at the expense of the solution and value that the business actually needs. There is still some way to go before buy-side and sell-side negotiators are working towards a common agenda and finding ways to jointly manage change and uncertainty.

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