Negotiating Changing and Conflicting Requirements

I have found that negotiation skills are essential in developing and managing requirements and changes to those requirements. Changing and conflicting project requirements of all types seem to need some negotiating relative to their business context, the user’s needs, the existing situation, and any number of constraints or limits.  

The business analysis team should have key stakeholder involvement early on with the project requirements and be on the lookout for conflicts and the inevitable changes.  The negotiation skills specific to requirements cover four facets of the negotiation process, the content or substance of the negotiation, the cultural or relational setting for the negotiation, the process for how we conduct the negotiation and the parties involved, directly or indirectly. 

Let’s get back to basics. There are three basic components in requirements negotiation: 1. Discussing and sharing information with the concerned stakeholders about conflicting requirements and looking at options and approaches to resolve that conflict, 2. Prioritizing the options based on specified criteria, such as risk, cost, business context, or other project constraints, and 3. Reaching consensus and agreement on how to solve the conflicting requirements and making that solution happen on the project.

For significant requirements conflict, the business analysis team may want to prepare for the negotiations rather than just jump in and see what happens.  I always try to plan the substance of a negotiation concerning conflicting requirements or requirements change requests, just to make sure I have everything straight.  I focus on a few key factors linked to the four facets of the negotiation process mentioned previously.  First I want to know the negotiation content – what exactly are we negotiating?  Second, I want to make certain that I understand the negotiation context across several elements, such as culture, region, local setting, and any politics at play.  Third is making sure I involve the right stakeholders in the right roles for our particular negotiation situation.  No extra players are required; I am only interested in the folks who need to be involved and will make the decisions. Fourth, I review the negotiation process that I plan to follow regarding this requested change or requirements conflict negotiation.

Well, that’s my simple list for dealing more effectively with requirements conflicts and changes from a negotiation perspective.  Given the typical number of changes and conflicts arising during requirements development on a project, I have found them to be helpful indeed. Happy negotiating!

Susan Weese

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