Determining project needs, a process known as the project needs analysis or needs study, is an essential part of the project planning phase. Needless to say, this step is particularly important, as it serves as the foundation for a successful project.
Are you planning on hiring a consultant or any third-party contractor to help you with developing an application or revamping your website? Do you want to communicate your needs to project team members to launch an internal project?
Learn how to collect and express project needs and use our free project needs assessment template to guide project work in the right direction from the start!
Why you should determine the needs of your project
Why should you take the time to reflect on what your project needs? Whether it be a project entrusted to an external third-party or launched within your own organisation, carefully determining project requirements can serve as a good early evaluation of:
- The workload,
- The human, material and technical resources required to complete the project,
- The time needed to complete the project,
- The budget that should be allocated to the project.
Furthermore, it is an integral part of project management. Writing comprehensive requirements allows project managers and other stakeholders to:
- Understand the goals and objectives of the project from the beginning,
- Define the scope of the project by collecting and writing down customer expectations and the needs of end-users in an easy-to-read document that can be shared with all kinds of relevant stakeholders,
- Set up a sound project governance structure, after roles and responsibilities have been assigned,
- Study the feasibility of the project from a technical or financial perspective, in light of its scope versus the resources of the company.
Who expresses project needs
The project sponsor is usually in charge of defining the requirements for the project, but the project team or the contractor may have to conduct the needs analysis themselves. This usually happens when the former lacks time, project management skills or technical expertise.
To analyse needs, techniques such as organising a workshop, an interview or sending a questionnaire can be used.
☝️ Project Sponsor vs Project Manager
In the case of an external project, the project sponsor refers to the client or their representatives such as the Product Owner. They are responsible for making decisions and giving directions, including determining the project scope and its purpose.
The project sponsor can be seen as the end-user of the project. As such, the specifications they give are functional, not technical.
Technical specifications are defined by the project manager, who is in charge of executing the project. If necessary, a third party can provide support to:
- Help the client express their needs in terms comprehensible by the project manager and the project team,
- Help the project manager understand the expectations of the client and identify technical constraints and risks.
Before you start: give context and a global vision
Understanding who is at the root of the project, what is their strategy, competitors and how the project came to exist is a key step towards project success. Therefore, expressing project needs should be a collaborative effort and a way for the client and the project team to bond over common objectives.
Making sure everyone is on the same page ensures that operational teams will be able to deliver on the expectations set by the project sponsor and ensure the project will serve the long-term goals of the client.
How to write project needs
Keep in mind that at this step, the project is still at the early stages of its development. The key is to be efficient and avoid misunderstanding. The needs analysis should be simple, clear and to the point to draw an outline of the project without getting lost in the details.
Project needs should include:
- The goal, the purpose of the project, meaning why it came to be,
- Its context and environment,
- Its objectives, meaning what it wants to achieve from a business standpoint,
- The project scope (what services will be affected, the key and support elements of the project),
- Who will be the end-users and their needs,
- A list of the stakeholders (use stakeholder mapping to help your analysis),
- A SWOT analysis to determine the opportunities and risks associated with the need,
- The expected benefits,
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), metrics that will allow you to evaluate whether the objective was achieved,
- The potential impacts for the company.
To help you make the most of this crucial step and not forget any important detail, feel free to use our project needs assessment template.
The needs study will serve as the basis for writing more detailed project specifications and building the project charter.
💡 Feel free to use screenshots or images to illustrate your needs. They can help convey a more precise idea of what the client wants or doesn’t for their project!
Going further: build your project on a solid foundation
Expressing needs allows you to list your expectations, that of your client, and to start prioritising them. You could use the MoSCoW prioritisation method in order to sort the needs into 3 priority levels.
- Must have: these needs are essential to the project, as it could not be complete without them. In agile project management, they form the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
- Should have: these needs are secondary but still impactful features. You could implement solutions to cater to these needs if you have a surplus of resources.
- Could have: these are needs that may or may not be addressed over the project development process. They would contribute to the project, but would only have a small impact. They may be realised later on, if resources are still available.
- Won’t have: these needs that are irrelevant to the success of the project or cost too much without solving significant problems.
Moreover, it has the added benefit of helping you set the scope and limits of your project.
In the words of our expert, Lucas Bourdallé, former Product Owner and current Product Manager:
Expressing project needs has noticeable benefits: it is a matter of formulating, reformulating and clarifying that ultimately allows the project sponsor to formalise their ideas and give them a more concrete, executable form.
It is one of the most important tools at the disposal of the project sponsor, as it helps all stakeholders define a more mature vision for their project.
Successful projects need… project needs analysis
As we’ve seen, writing down project needs is the first step to a successful project. In the early stages, it can kickstart the project and help it take shape, taking it from an abstract idea to a more concrete, tangible endeavour.
Giving this early step the attention and time it deserves will get your project started on the right track. It will serve as the basis for the project charter and other crucial documents while ensuring all stakeholders share a common vision.