Richard Bown

A Knot of Requirements

published3 months ago
1 min read

A Knot of Requirements? Well Harry Potter fans, this unfortunately is nothing to do with Wizarding but, yes, there is magic in it.

Reviewing project documentation can sometimes make things obvious. Language use is a key thing to watch when you're reviewing emails, documents, whatever else you need to build a picture of what has happened in the past to understand what must happen better in the future.

We tend to put into words our innermost anxieties quite easily and that's a nice "tell" we can use to track the emotion of a project. Because, don't get me wrong, projects are living, breathing things. Projects get poorly, they get well, they rampage across the finish line, sometimes they limp, sometimes they die after completion, sometimes they die before completion.

One thing the documentation helps you understand the health of a project is with the idea that every communication - every document - has influence on the project direction if you let it. A well-run project should be dispassionate. It should operate solely on facts, figures, milestones, deliverables, outcomes - whatever metric you care to choose but it does need to be measurable. If a project isn't measurable from the start then it's set up to fail. If your project documentation doesn't mention concrete metrics and the language is persuasive, defensive or questioning then you've most likely got a Knot of Requirements.

The Knot can form when all the various strands of those involved in the project - the sponsors, the stakeholders, the agents of delivery, the project managers - are all jumping all over each other to get their voice heard in the mix of the project. Then they pull on their threads - they send more emails to back up their voices - the threads get knotty.

As a project manager, listen for these voices, and learn from them and say to them "We have a knot, here, let's untangle it".

As a good project manager you will need to do this a million times. This is your primary job. Listen to concerns, build a plan around measurable outcomes, present the plan and repeat until the voices are aligned. If a new voice comes in, listen to it, work it into the plan, present it, repeat.

These are not magical steps. They are steps though and they can bring magic :)

- Richard

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