I was at the rifle range last week with my wife sighting in a new scope on my AR-10 (308 caliber) rifle and she was sighting in her .223 with red dot scope. We started off shooting close at targets at 25 yards. We would adjust the scope until we got a good grouping on that target and then we would shoot at a target a little farther away at the 50-yard mark, then at targets at the 100-yard line, making some slight adjustments at each distance, and finally to the 400-yard line. My AR-10 was spot on at 25, then 100, and at 400 yards. The target at 400 yards was a huge steel plate suspended by a steel beam frame. It was a joy to hit that target and hear the plate ring like a bell. You could hear the delay between the firing of the bullet and the ring of the target. Now it was my wife’s turn. She shot at the target at the 25-yard line and her grouping was consistent (bullet holes close together), but all the rounds were just a little to the left.
It looked pretty good because they were all so close to the bullseye, so she opted to skip the 50, and 100-yard targets and go for the joy of shooting at the steel plate at 400 yards. She fired her rifle again and again without the joyous ringing of the target. Through the spotting scope I could see the dust fly way left of the target. She got a little frustrated and went full Rambo, shooting rapid fire from her hip at the target with the marksmanship of an Imperial Storm Trooper as she hit nothing. After expending a full magazine, she reloaded and we went back to the 100-yard target. There we could see that she was consistently off to the left, but now by a greater distance than at the 25. She adjusted her sights until she was spot on target. Now back to the 400-yard target, she fired and the bell tolled for her on her first shot. She screamed with joyous pride.
Consider this. If you are shooting a long-range gun or a rocket and you are off course by just one degree, at only one foot, you’ll miss your target by 0.2 inches. Small and acceptable, right? But what about as you get farther out? Shooting one degree off at the100 yard target, you’ll be off by 5.2 feet. Not huge, but noticeable. After a mile, you’ll be off by 92.2 feet. That one little degree is making a huge problem. If you are firing a rocket across the country and you are off by one degree, you will miss your target by 42 miles. If you were shooting for the moon, one-degree error would make you miss your target by 4169 miles, in other words you would miss the whole moon.
I have seen this with gathering product or project requirements. A good product or project starts with a lot of work in researching and defining the requirements. Often it is thought that those requirements and the understanding of the requirements are adequate, but then when the project is complete or product launched one finds that the product missed the mark. When gathering requirements, how much is good enough and to what degree of accuracy is needed to hit your end target or deliverable? Defining requirements costs time and money and how much of that should you spend to get the requirements that will help you successfully deliver? It is hard to say because each project and product is different. When defining the requirements for a brick and mortar building, you need to get very detailed in your designs beforehand while with an agile software project you will be less specific up front due to the iterative nature of managing that kind of project. How detailed should you get when defining those requirements and how do you keep from getting slightly off? You start high with documenting the needs, problems to be solved, or the opportunities to be gained from your target customers. You create a shared understanding of what is needed between the customer representative, product owner, designer, and developers. From there capture the high-level objective or goals, then drill down to user stories, user design interactions, questions, clarifications, and scope definitions. That shared understanding and clarity for the end deliverable unlocks the chances for success. Customer representatives and product managers can focus on higher-level requirements and leave implementation details to the development team, who is fully equipped to do so, but continually reinforce that shared understanding of the overarching goals. Some developers don’t want to be bothered with the high-level business cases, objectives, and business goals, but in reality, it is important background information to give bearing to the more detailed technical elements the developers are most concerned with. Council together often to make sure the shared understanding is fresh and refer often to good documentation. Good PRDs (Product Requirement Documents) used to capture and organize those requirements, are like a good scope on your rifle, if you use them well you will stay on target.
One project, that I consulted with, was in peril and was difficult to get back on track. When I stepped in, I realized that there were few documented requirements. When I inquired, the business owner replied, “Don’t need documentation, I have it all in my head and I direct the developers to design what I know is needed. I’ve been in this business for 30 years so there is no need for formal documents, that’s just a waste of time.” This drove the designers nuts because the requirements kept changing with every whim of the business owner. They could not read his mind and what they understood was never what he wanted. Nothing was locked down and agreed to by the team. No wonder the project was way over budget and way behind schedule. I forced them to document the requirements so that the developers were shooting at a stationary target and not a moving target. With requirements locked down, the backlog got a spine, and iterations were easier to put in succession.
Let’s say a customer wants a long-range weapon. The designers may think Winchester 300 Mag, while the customer is imagining Intercontinental ballistic missile. Often product requirements will be documented, and then turned over to the development team for creation. When the product is delivered, often you will hear, “that’s not what we wanted” from the customer or product owner. It is wise to continually counsel with your team, the customer representative, product owner, designer, and developers, to reinforce that shared understanding. Iterative user testing can alleviate wandering from the scoped requirements, or reveal miscommunication of requirements before it is too late. It is imperative to have a shared understanding of what the requirements mean and how each team member interprets those requirements. Council together, a lot.
When shooting my rifle conditions may change and so I need to adjust to those changes. If there is wind, I would make slight adjustments to the rifle scope to stay on target. Not large changes, but subtle adjustments. Now change is inevitable in the product and project world, thus one needs a formal change control process to introduce changes to the requirements in a method that will not adversely affect the deliverables of the project. There is again a shared understanding and even an agreement between the parties of the change and its impact to the project. Just like zeroing in the scope on the rifle. Slight adjustments to your PRD to stay on target. Remember, council together to ensure that there is shared understanding.
Douglas McCarthur once said, “Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword, never encountered automatic weapons.” But in our world of Product and Project Management that pen (good documentation of requirements), is a mighty asset to good project management along with a shared understanding between the team. Besides, I don’t recommend bringing automatic weapons to work.
Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.
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Stan D. Prueitt
Stan D. Prueitt, a performance consultant in Process Improvement, Organizational Design, Human Design, and Project Management; holds motivational seminars, life coach workshops, Lean Six Sigma certifications, and performance seminars across the country. Stan draws upon his colorful past experiences and associations to blend simplicity, common sense, eternal principles, humor, energy, and wisdom into a strait forward approach to self and team improvement. His mentors and Martial Arts Masters have forged Stan into a wealth of experience and knowledge of which he freely shares. Students of his seminars leave with recharged spiritual batteries, focused purpose, energy for new opportunity, new understanding, and a tool set to become an effective change-agent in their own lives or organizations.
While currently leading enterprise integration and organization and process performance initiatives for the LDS Church Educational Department, Stan still finds time to consult to private and municipal organizations on the side. Previously he was not only a Director of Project Management at the Los Alamos National Laboratory but also one of the leaders in the Lean Six Sigma program. Stan led a team to restructure the organization to focus on process centricity, performance, enterprise project management, and to move the overall maturity of the organization from level 1 to level 5 of the enterprise maturity model.
As a true efficiency expert Stan wears many hats, he is a published author of 4 books, co-founder of two publicly traded renewable energy research firms, president of Thunder Ridge Wildlife Refuge, holder of one US patent and inventor of two classified weapons program inventions, adventure TV show host, Lean Six Sigma master black belt, Lean Six Sigma and Performance Management instructor, master instructor and holder of six black belts in the Martial Arts, owner of USLLC Tactical Marital Arts training center, professional off-road race driver, entrepreneur of two successful franchise chains, radio show host, project manager for research projects, motivational speaker, certified law enforcement officer, husband and loving father of five.
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