Max's thoughts. Published here April 2012


Musings Index

Project Requirements Documents - Why Bother?

In an article published in on-line Project Times,[1] writer Lisa Anderson, President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc.,[2] exclaims: "In today's new 'normal' business environment characterized by lackluster sales and strained liquidity with elevated customer expectations, there is no room for project failure."

MW: Good advice, but is it? It seems to us that if you did deliberately make "room for project failure" that increases the chances that this is what you'll get. There is an old saying: "Be careful what you wish for - you might just get it."

LA continues: "Companies need every dollar of increased sales or reduced costs in order to succeed."

MW: Surely that has always been true? Except, perhaps, in the case of government-run organizations.

LA: "In my experience with hundreds of projects across multiple industries and globally, I've found that there can be immense time wasted on requirements documents; however, on the other hand, the 'right' requirements documents can yield substantial returns. How can you tell which is which?"

MW: Good question. Ms. Anderson does not explain how we can tell the difference between "right requirements" and wrong ones. But, she does suggest: "Take a step back. Could you explain it to your 16 year old? Can he make sense of it?" First, we wish we had a "16 year old" and if we did have, certainly one that had the patience and willingness to listen ...

LA recommends: "1) Do not get sucked into the vortex of endless requirements documents. 2) Focus your 80/20 on the critical success factors. 3) Build in flexibility / revise as appropriate."

MW: Undoubtedly this is good advice, but we see a problem here. Building in flexibility costs money and this not only presumes that you have control over the size of the budget (few project managers do) but this is also the antithesis of the opening objective of "reduced costs in order to succeed."

With respect to: "Focus your 80/20 on the critical success factors ..." we see another problem here. What is the meaning of "critical success factors" (CSFs)? The term is not defined but by our understanding it means: "Those measurable factors, listed in order of importance, that when present in the project's environment are most conducive to the achievement of a successful project."[3] That means that such factors are basically static and represent a reflection of the organization's culture. A project to change a corporate culture is one of the most difficult to achieve in any organization.

In our view, by contrast, the most important focus should be on "Key Success Indicators" (KSIs) which term we define as follows:

"Those product indicators that:
  • are determined at the beginning of the project and listed in order of priority
  • reflect directly on the key attributes of the product, in terms of its ability to deliver the intended benefits
  • are listed in order of priority, and
  • provide the basis for project management and/or scope trade-off decisions during the course of the project
And, after completion of the project:
  • are most likely to result in acceptance of the product by the project's stakeholders as being 'successful' in terms of customer satisfaction, and
  • can be measured in some way, at some time, on some scale."[4]

Unlike CSAs, KSIs are something that the project manager can engage the client or sponsor in establishing. And, if necessary, refuse to move the project forward until they are established and approved on the grounds that they are essential for effective and responsible project management. That's because they provide the basis on which to make critical project management decisions.

So there you have it. The best advice we can give and it answers the question of how to choose from amongst, in Ms. Anderson's words, "the vortex of endless requirements documents."

1. Project Times 7/13/
2. Lisa Anderson, President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc.,, is a senior supply chain and operations executive and management consultant. She can be reached at 909-630-3943 or
3. Wideman Comparative Glossary of Terms - pmglossary/PMG_C13.htm [D00462]
4. Wideman Comparative Glossary of Terms - pmglossary/PMG_K00.htm [D00886]
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