Do you have a project with a plethora of requirements? Are you overwhelmed with all the needed project features? Are you a customer who is additionally requesting the “bells and whistles”? If so, you will want to become familiar with visual modeling techniques.
The Gantt chart is a visual graph of the project activities. Just as the Gantt chart helps you understand activity relationships, other types of maps, matrices, tree diagrams, and flowcharts help you understand the relationships between requirements.
Once the core essence of these requirements is understood, you can proceed with organizing and reducing the associated deliverables into a work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS is yet another visual model to support project transparency, and it tells the story of the project. The story unfolds in the activities required to make these deliverables, which are fully described in a Gantt chart visual model.
This blog summarizes an article on the use of visual modeling to clarify and confirm the completeness of project requirements. The article is titled “Now You See It When Gathering Requirements Gets Murky, Visual Modeling Can Clear the Way.” Its author is Alma Bahman and it was published in the PMI’s PM Network magazine May 2015 issue.
A visual model can keep a project manager from getting overwhelmed with the details of project requirements. Consider the analogy of a forest. Regardless of whether a forest is large or small a helicopter will have to fly at a particular altitude to be able to discern the individual trees from the forest.
In the same way, visual models help the project manager perceive the elements from the whole. A project manager skilled in the use of models knows “when to use a model, what model to use and how detailed to make it.” Thus, experienced project managers are able to hover over the project at just the right level of detail, which provides just the right perspective and transparency.
Not only so, visual models also provide valuable insight into the relationships between project elements. Visual models “streamline” complicated details, “turning them into a discernible, easy-to-follow story.” They “turn overwhelming amounts of intricate text into readable analyzable images.” Yes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Visual modeling, particularly at the beginning of the project, is time well spent. And may actually save time in the long run. The article states that “requirements elicitation” is a better terminology than “requirements gathering”. Requirements gathering implies something that is easily acquired like “low hanging fruit”.
Elicitation describes a more complicated drawing out process where the project manager has to ask just the right questions to obtain the pertinent information. The article states that visual models help project managers understand not only the right questions, but also “which stakeholders should answer them.”
Multiple visual models on a project are allowed and may complement each other. Whereas blueprint drawings of a building will provide features similar to all buildings, a feature-tree model may diagram a customer’s specific needs. You may also have a process-flow model to begin understanding the steps necessary to produce these requirements.
When provided with the task of reviewing a long list of requirements to spot out redundancies and missing elements, the author turned to visual modeling the requirements. The author stated that our minds are geared toward lists of seven. Which I think, perhaps, partly explains the popularity of Dr. Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Any list longer than seven becomes a burden for our short-term memory.
If that is the case then how can we be expected to properly analyze requirement lists of one hundred to well over a thousand lines? The article states that “Reading through [long lists] is impossible for comparing requirements and looking for redundancies or missing pieces.” You must map out the requirements using models, such as, requirements mapping matrices, process flows, and context diagrams. It is very difficult to understand the essence of a list of requirements, but models will tie the requirements together, and tell the story of the project.
A visual model may provide the adroit project manager with just the right level of detail and perspective. Visual models of project requirements help the project manager to see the elements from the whole. In addition, visual models help them to perceive the relationships between elements and form an image that is well worth the effort. A single project may use a couple of visual models that complement each other.
Lists longer than seven are taxing on our memories, but map models of requirements provide the essence of the requirements and ties them together. Visual modeling is a skill greatly useful to project managers and is worth the endeavor to acquire.