The Wants, Needs, and Requirements of Project Management

When we were young, we had desires that many of us would freely express to our parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and anyone else who would listen. We asked for anything from candy and gum to cars and trips without a second thought. For example: “Dad, I want to get a Mercedes” or “Mom, I want to go to Europe.” The most frequent word in our vocabularies was “want.” We wanted something, and, more often than not, we even believed that our wants were needs.

Since those early years, we have dreamt our dreams, and some of us have even realized them. Most of us have learned that the wants that caused us to lose sleep were actually unimportant.

From Wants to Needs

Now we understand that if someone wants something, it does not mean that they need it. If you asked for a Mercedes, your parents might have deduced that you needed a car. If you had expressed your desire to travel to Europe, they might have understood that you needed some adventure, hence the summer job at Uncle Tony’s restaurant. No matter the situation, we progress — like rungs on a ladder — first with wants, to needs, and then requirements.

From Needs to Requirements

Let’s fast forward to the present day. Your boss comes to you and says something like, “I was thinking that we need a software program to help us keep track of projects.”

Ah, that is not a need, folks. That is a want. Just as any car would meet your “need” for a Mercedes, a whiteboard can meet the “need” for tracking projects, but a software solution would be preferred.

The first thing that a project manager has to do is develop a series of critical questions to determine the project’s needs and requirements. Remember that just because your boss uses the word “need” does not mean a bona fide need exists; it may just be a desire.

Question Development

Your questions should lean more toward “what” than “why” to avoid the perception that you are challenging the need. Here are a few examples:

  • “What do you think has prompted this need for project management tracking software?”
  • “What kind of software options do you recommend?”
  • “Are there any specific functions that you would like in the software?”
  • “Are there any different or additional functions that you think would help the current project management tracking system?”
  • “Is there anything from the current tracking system that you would like to keep or enhance?”
  • “Will off-the-shelf software be sufficient, or would you prefer a customized software?”
  • “What is the timeline?”
  • “Is there a budget?”

These are sample questions that help make the transition from wants to needs to project requirements. The most important aspect of this process — that is often forgotten — is:

At least one risk accompanies every requirement.

Failing to acknowledge this fact leads to project failure. The project will not fail because of poor planning, but because the project team is overwhelmed. Project risks are prioritized, and, as the project close nears, lower priority risks are typically disregarded, which leads to at least a partial failure of the requirements.

Risk Management

Instead of accepting every want as a need, every answer should list the inherent risks and a qualitative score. This transparent view of the risks will aid decision-makers as they consider their risk tolerance, timeline, and budget.

Wants, Needs, Requirements

Project completion is tied to requirements. Defining requirements is an integral part of systems engineering and project management. Fail to consider them carefully, and you may be taking that trip to Europe that you always wanted — to look for a job.

Written by:
Chris Greco
Project & Program Management



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