A senior product manager recently asked me how he could better manage all of the requirements customers and his colleagues were throwing at him.
His product was sold through different channels to different customers and he had multiple sales teams to please. He was struggling to prioritize what was on his roadmap while being as agile as he could.
This conversation stands out in my memory because he was able to very clearly articulate the challenge. Being a product leader is one of the greatest jobs, but it’s never easy. His question was the fundamental question in product management. He really wanted to delight each group, but unless he could figure out a way to prioritize what mattered most, he knew that he would fail everyone.
Successfully navigating requirements management often feels like a daunting task.
At Aha! we speak daily with frustrated product managers who feel stymied by the challenges of requirements management. Many of their stories are familiar. Companies of all sizes and levels of complexity struggle with feature overload, scope creep, lack of support from internal teams, and even apathy.
At its core, requirements management is the process of identifying, defining, documenting, and building consensus around the capabilities that are to be delivered through work. In software companies, this work is mostly done by engineering.
Poorly defined product requirements and lack of team alignment cost companies resources and time and can ultimately lead to product failure. Therefore, it is no surprise that many companies are urgently looking for a better way to manage requirements.
So, the following is what I suggested to the product manager who was looking for a better way and I want to share the ideas with you. Here are four solutions to common stumbling blocks in requirements management:
1. Set a true north
Many companies set off to build a product without a clear product strategy that defines where they are going and why. That lack of clarity presents difficulties for everyone down the line.
Before you can effectively manage requirements, you need to establish a goal-first approach. That starts with a vision for what you want to accomplish. From there, you can tie all of your work — from curating to adjusting requirements — back to your product’s strategic vision, goals, and initiatives.
2. Embrace emergent needs
Especially in an agile environment, the idea that the product manager’s job is to “gather requirements” as a single event is outdated. An overly earnest product manager may get lost in the weeds of ever-evolving requirements.
The mature approach involves embracing emergent needs when they are presented and vetting them against the key goals and initiatives. Priorities will always compete for attention, but it’s important to remember that not all priorities are created equal. Product managers must be open to new requests and able to rank and sort the new ideas within the context of their strategic vision.
3. Write requirements down
Information overload can stall progress. But a strong product manager is the product expert — and it’s your job to document and share what is required, prioritizing only the most essential information.
That means you need to write the requirements down in a way that the entire team can access and collaborate upon. Remember, requirements aren’t just for engineers. Designers, marketing teams, and even senior leadership groups all benefit from effective requirements documentation.
4. Collaborate and communicate
Product managers may think the work is done once the initial requirements are defined — wrong. You must continue to collaborate and communicate as engineering refines, marketing produces customer-facing materials, and the support team creates a plan to ensure customer success.
There is no such thing as throwing requirements “over the wall” for others to tackle. Cross-functional collaboration is essential to building great products. Everyone, but especially the customer, benefits from these different perspectives.
Product managers definitely face challenges capturing and prioritizing requirements in a world that demands agility.
Regardless of how fast you are moving, great requirements management begins with strategy as the driver. When you have goals and initiatives, you know your true north and lead with confidence.
It makes it easy to prioritize what matters most. You gather key information about each request and document the requirements effectively. And you collaborate with other teams on behalf of the product and your customers, communicating clearly along the way.
Getting requirements management right will help everyone work more efficiently — and deliver a product that makes customers and your team happy.
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About the Author
Brian de Haaff seeks business and wilderness adventure. He has been the founder or early employee of six cloud-based software companies and is the CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software. His two previous companies were acquired by Aruba Networks [ARUN] and Citrix [CTXS]. He regularly writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life. Follow him at @bdehaaff.