Requirements management (RM) is one of the most critical aspects of product development; it is prevalent from the definition of a project to the delivery of a finished product. Yet, somehow, it is often one of the least discussed, analyzed, or effective processes within many engineering organizations. After talking with two of my colleagues, Max Franklin and Enoch Lee – two consultants that have seen many RM processes within numerous engineering organizations, I found myself asking a question:
Why is Requirements Management, a process with the potential to add immense value when properly defined and implemented, often neglected and a pain point in engineering organizations today?
Through our conversations, my colleagues were able to explain their perspectives regarding this question. However, to approach this question properly, we must first establish a common definition of RM and understand why it is a crucial process with so much potential benefit when properly defined and implemented. Let us explore these questions further. We’ll start with a definition:
What is requirements management?
Requirements management is the process, performed throughout the duration of a project, of managing, tracking, and tracing requirements, as well as tracking and controlling any requirement changes that are introduced throughout a project. Proper RM begins in the early stages of system development, is utilized throughout the full product development process, and is a decisive factor in determining the success or failure of a project.
Now that we have a common definition of RM, we can begin to assess why this process is so crucial to successful product development. Let us now investigate the second question from above:
Why is the requirements management process crucial to product development and where does the potential value come from?
We need to first discuss project requirements. Project requirements outline the necessary capabilities and functionality of a product. Because requirements management is a process that tracks, traces, and manages the changes of requirements, the scope of RM touches every facet of the development cycle.
That means, the quality of a RM process affects all phases of product development from customer requirements to integration testing. When a RM process is strong, both in process quality and implementation quality, project planning will be more reliable and accurate as there is a limited amount of re-engineering necessary.
In other words, there is generally an inverse correlation between the quality of a RM process and the amount of necessary re-engineering; strong RM typically leads to a decrease in required re-engineering, and vice versa. Less re-engineering means higher project margins, reliability of project planning, and product quality.
Now that we have covered the necessary background information, we can focus our attention back to the original question:
Why is requirements management, a process with the potential to add immense value when properly defined and implemented, often neglected and a pain point in engineering organizations today?
There is a multitude of “correct” answers to this question, especially when we look at individual organizations and challenges. However, I’ll be looking at this question from a high level that is relevant for most engineering organizations. That said, from my discussions with my colleagues, I identified three major aspects that contribute to this challenge. The first aspect we’ll dive into is:
Increasing product/technology complexity
As the products of today’s world become more and more complex, organizational structures have become more specialized and the product requirements have also become more comprehensive to ensure high quality. In a survey conducted in 2018, in which 246 engineering design and engineering professionals were polled, 92% indicated that the products they develop have increased in complexity from 2013 to 20181.
If an organization is not analyzing its RM process and optimizing it to account for these changes, the process will become increasingly obtrusive to the product development process as time goes on. In addition to this, the increase in complexity of products has also forced organizations to increase their team size and develop more complex/specialized engineering teams. Scaling and tailoring a process that affects all of these teams/departments is difficult as every team/department typically has its own goals, workflow, and pain points.
Complexity has a large impact on the RM processes of today, but there is more at play than just increasing product and organizational complexity. That takes us to the second aspect:
Comprehending the correlation between requirements management and product quality
In the age of the internet and social media, we live in a world where brand reputation (i.e. an organization’s ability to deliver a product meeting the quality expectations of consumers) is critical for an organization’s success or failure. Today’s consumers can easily research products, read other consumer reviews, and/or compare similar products from various OEMs. It is crucial for organizations to deliver high quality products to meet the expectations of consumers, otherwise their brand reputation will suffer.
The RM process plays a large part in ensuring product quality as it manages the product requirements from start to finish. Without a strong RM process, an organization will have increased difficulty in consistently producing products that are of high quality, within the planned budget, and delivered on time. From the discussions with my colleagues, it seems common that organizations don’t comprehend, at least not fully, the strong connection between their RM process and their product quality.
We’ve now looked into complexity and comprehending the connection between an organization’s RM process and product quality in order to better understand the importance of a strong RM process. As I mentioned above, however, I see three aspects that commonly cause challenges when it comes to defining and implementing a strong RM process. The final aspect I’ll cover is:
Requirements management process has a massive scope impacting almost every team/department
As requirements management impacts almost every phase of product development and directly or indirectly impacts almost all engineering teams/departments, there is a lot of cross-department/team collaboration, discussion, and alignment that must occur to define and implement a strong RM process. Change tends to bring challenges with it, even if the change is for the better. An optimized/updated RM process is no exception.
Aside from defining a strong RM process that accounts for all the engineering teams/departments, all stakeholders must genuinely “buy in” to the process for the RM process to truly be considered high quality. As a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a process is only as strong as its level of adoption/implementation.
Complexity, the connection between RM and product quality, and the scope of RM – these are the three challenges that emerged from my conversations with my colleagues. These are the three challenges that seemed persistent within engineering organizations with a poor RM process. This organically brings us to the next question:
How can an engineering organization address these challenges and optimize its requirements management process?
The first step in improving an requirements management process, or really any process for that matter, is identifying the need for change. Reflect on your recently completed projects. Are you consistently delivering on time, within budget, and with high quality? If you need help in performing a self-assessment of your RM process, I encourage you to check out INVENSITY’s free RM health assessment checklist to better understand some of the symptoms of a poor/strong RM process.
Upon recognition that the RM process could be stronger, the next step is to analyze the existing RM process. Where are the gaps? What areas are not being implemented properly?
Ultimately, organizations should be able to define their “desired” RM process and compare their current process to the desired process. A key step in the gap analysis and definition of the desired process is stakeholder involvement. As I stated earlier, it is crucial that the stakeholders of the RM process understand why the process is critical, feel that their challenges/desires regarding RM are considered for an optimized process, and genuinely buy into the process to ensure strong implementation. This is most easily achieved by having review meetings with the stakeholders to understand their current workflow, RM challenges/desires, and feedback on the current RM process.
Once the interviews have been conducted, an optimized process can be defined that utilizes this feedback/input. Training and enablement become very crucial aspects of the process optimization at this point. The stakeholders need to know not only why the process is important and being changed, but also how to properly implement it. Revising the requirements management process in this way allows organizations to:
deal with the increase in product and organizational complexity by interviewing the stakeholders to better understand the impact the RM process has on their work as well as the RM challenges they experience,
create an understanding of the correlation between RM and product quality through the training/enablement of stakeholders,
overcome the challenges associated with the scope of RM through involving all relevant teams/departments in the process definition phase while providing them training/enablement for the implementation phase.
Throughout the optimization of the RM process, it is very beneficial to have a role(s) with the responsibility of ensuring the stakeholder interviews are conducted, managing updates to the process, defining the new process, rolling out training/enablement, and monitoring the level of implementation.
Equipped with a strong requirements management process and implementation, organizations can expect an increase in project planning reliability (limited re-engineering necessary), project margins (limited deviations from planned budget), and brand reputation (consistently delivering high quality). While there are clear challenges that exist on the path to defining and implementing a strong RM process, engineering organizations can overcome these challenges, with the right approach, to add a high level of value through an optimized RM process.
A strong RM process has too much potential to enhance product development to be ignored. With that said, a final question for you to ponder:
How strong is your requirements management process?