When faced with requirements that threaten to break the budget, blow the scope, derail the schedule and generally destroy a project, there is one magic word that can come to the rescue.
Asking “Why?” can help clarify, or neutralize, potentially destructive requirements and ultimately save the day.
Toddlers use the question “Why?” (often to the extreme) to learn about the world around them. Project managers and project leads can similarly take the same tactic to learn the true intentions of a requirement on a project.
Understanding the “Why?” behind a requirement can help ensure shared vision and alignment in a project. It helps unearth what lies below the surface of requests and features that focus on the “What” and the “How.” Basically, it helps an implementation team see things from the perspective of the client and opens the door for a wider range of creative solutions.
Consider a couple of examples:
Requirement: The site shall support users with Internet Explorer 7.
Suggested response: Why?
Requirement: The homepage shall include a slider to rotate various teasers and promotions.
Suggested response: Why?
Both requirements typically generate plenty of moaning and groaning from implementation teams. Asking “Why?” generates a conversation about better solutions before anything hits the ticket queue.
Hearing the reason behind the IE7 requirement provides an opportunity to educate the stakeholder about the costs and tradeoffs that accompany supporting the browser. If the “Why” is strong enough, perhaps these costs are justified. For example if site analytics show a large percentage of users access the site with this browser. If there is no clear “Why” behind the requirement, or if it is a reason such as "My boss uses IE7," then it becomes a solid candidate to remove from scope and keep the project’s schedule and costs in control. Buying the boss a new computer would be much more cost effective than keeping an ancient browser in scope for the project.
Similarly, hearing the reasons behind a requirement for a homepage slider/carousel allows for a discussion about more effective alternatives to achieve the same desired results. It provides an opportunity to share the excellent link http://shouldiuseacarousel.com/ and educate the stakeholders about the usability and accessibility problems created by sliders for the sake of having something “moving” on the page.
ASK OR BE ASKED
Mediacurrent encourages its team to ask “Why?” for deeper understanding of our clients’ needs and the problems that need to be solved. This allows the team to serve as trusted consultants and provide creative and effective solutions. Often a client migrating onto Drupal will express requirements reflective of how things work in their legacy system. This vision, based upon the “What” and “How” of an old system, prohibits the opportunity of new and different methods Drupal may provide to solve the underlying workflow needs. After all, if the legacy system is perfect then why is a new one needed?
If it seems difficult to challenge stakeholders with the “Why?” question upfront, it will not get any easier to manage the inevitable results of unchecked requirements later in the project. Faced with a larger-than-expected invoice, unmet milestones on the schedule or an underwhelming set of final deliverables, guess what question the stakeholder will raise…