How to Capture Requirements Successfully Using Process Flow Diagrams
Liz Tabor • May 31, 2018
When a business analyst or project team is gathering requirements for a new project - especially a system replacement - process flow diagrams help ensure the overall success of the project. By accurately diagramming both current and future processes, you avoid missing steps or pathways in a client's processes and thus capture all the requirements.
With accurate and complete requirements, you have a solid foundation for designing a solution that truly meets the client's needs. You also ensure your cost and resource estimates are accurate and meet your business needs.
CREATE THE PROCESS FLOW DIAGRAMS
At DeveloperTown, we typically create the first draft of a project's process flow diagrams after several meetings with a client. Meeting notes in hand, we return to our houses and outline the processes reviewed with the client. The diagrams look something like the one shown in Figure 1.
At least one diagram documents the current processes; another documents future processes based on the replacement system we plan to create. The goal is to document the current state of the client's process so that we can then identify areas where the new system could improve upon the process and increase business efficiency.
Depending on the size of the system or project, we might create multiple process diagrams. For example, each current process might need its own diagram. We might also diagram each process from different user perspectives. By doing all this up-front work, we're sure to capture requirements for each process that the new system will need to accommodate.
After we know what those requirements are and how the new system might help our client, we also create a process flow diagram for the software solution we'll design and develop. This future-state diagram clearly outlines the proposed changes.
REVIEW DIAGRAMS WITH THE CLIENT
When you're done creating the process flow diagrams, the next step is reviewing those diagrams with your client. You may have taken notes during your client meetings verbatim. You may have been so engaged in the meeting that you didn't miss a single word. You immediately went back to your office and documented the process exactly as it was laid out in your meeting. But chances are you still missed something.
Because it's so easy to miss a requirement, having the client review your process diagram(s) is critical. Avoid the temptation to skim over this step. Yes, the current processes are going to change. Yes, the current-state process flow is for internal use. But when used for everyone's maximum benefit, these diagrams are also help you collaborate with your client, because they help you ensure you didn't miss any step in the client's current process.
If you miss a critical step or pathway, you miss a requirement. If you miss multiple steps, you miss more requirements and, as a result, may design a solution that does not meet all the client's needs.
At DeveloperTown, we estimate the cost of system replacements based on the requirements gathered. Missing crucial requirements not only impacts the client, but also our business. If major (or even a handful of seemingly small) requirements are missed, the estimate will not be accurate for the project scope, the project could go over budget, and we risk creating a solution that's not satisfactory to the client.
How you review process flow diagrams with your client is equally important as the review itself. Avoid sending the client an email and asking them to review the diagram to confirm that you captured everything correctly. Your clients are busy. They have their own deadlines to meet. They may not realize that accurately documenting their processes is critical to the project's success.
Although following up your initial meetings with a review meeting may seem repetitive, the benefits of this in-person review are incredibly valuable. We've found that when a client doesn't review process diagrams in person, the client often gives the diagrams only a quick glance and overlooks small but important details about their current processes. With an in-person review meeting, you can ask the client to walk step by step through the process flow diagram with you.
For example, if more than one client team member attends the review meeting, we often discover details that were missed in our initial meetings because walking through the process flow diagrams helps clients think in detail about how the process works.
The review meeting is also a great forum for asking questions because questions help the customer truly think through their process in more detail than they may have initially.
Because it's so easy to become ingrained in day-to-day tasks, clients can easily forget large pieces of functionality in your initial meetings. This oversight isn't intentional, of course. Remembering everything that goes into a process simply requires attention to details and a few iterations.
By creating process flow diagrams and reviewing them with your clients, you can help your own team and your client. These diagrams break a process into defined granular steps to ensure all requirements are captured and set the stage for a successful project build from the beginning.