The First Nine Minutes

Recently I was listening to an interview with astronaut Chris Hadfield, when he was asked about how he personally coped with the risk of sitting in the shuttle, facing blast off and a stint of 6 months in space. His answer was interesting in that he noted that the vast majority of the risk that he and the mission faced occurred during a typical 6 month mission was in the first 9 minutes! Of course should anything go wrong within those first 9 minutes, then it would have tragic and severe impact both on the astronauts and the mission.

In many respects space travel is the ultimate project, however I would argue that in most earth based projects, that the first “Nine Minutes” may even be a biggest risk to a project.

It is in the early stages of a project that the key tasks of gathering, understanding and approving the requirements to allow the scope of the project to be clearly and correctly defined is undertaken. The big difference though between the first 9 minutes of a shuttle mission and your typical project start phase is that in most cases, mistakes or errors in the initial stage of a project (particularly in requirements) will not become apparent until the end or towards the end of the project and end up being very costly in terms of rework where as in the case of Chris Hadfield, issues become more apparent quickly and dramatically.

One might think that the importance of good requirements management is well known and common sense , but in reality, research shows (no alternative facts here) that the rate of project failure attributed to poor requirements is actually increasing. This PMI Report notes that “inaccurate requirements gathering” as a primary reason for project failures grew from 37% in 2014 from 32% in 2013. This is somewhat surprising, given the rise in the numbers of project managers being certified as well as increased project training and better tools.

It is clear that more emphasis must be put on the requirements phase of a project and indeed the PMI have also recognised this in terms of their new BA certification programs as well as the growth in the importance of the IIBA and their CBAP certification path. Having taken the CBAP certification a few years ago (primarily because I saw at first hand the frustration of incomplete, incorrect and poorly managed requirements), it certainly drove home the importance of work of a BA and the tester, as both these roles are becoming more and more important in today’s more world of more complex projects across more borders, timezones and cultures. Indeed in my view today’s project manager must understand intimately such roles and how they interlock. They must also study and undertake certifications such as the CBAP and indeed testing certifications to ensure that the project does not fail during those vital early stages due to a more mature approach to requirements and test management.

This Article was created by: Jerry Giltenane, Professional Services Director at Aspira.

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