What’s the big deal? We need to write a requirements document. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? [Insert knowing laugh.] These things are never that easy. As the project manager, or even as a team member – you can implement a process that clarifies the process, speeds up the review, and ensures nothing is missed. Because, after all – the worst thing that can happen is you are six weeks away from a milestone decision and then remember you need to write a document that will take two years to get approved.
In my experience, I have seen this attempted in a number of ways, but I am going to outline the way that makes the most sense to THIS Monkey in the Middle:
1. During the planning phase of the project, ensure that all required documents are included in the Project Integrated Master Schedule (IMS). Do not include only the date they must receive official approval, but also back up the time it will take to work through the approval chain. Again, back up through the planned peer review time and you will finally have the date it must be completed by. Depending on your project, and how technical your document is, you may need to plan up to two years to get it through the entire process.
2. Define the required process, depending on the approval authority, for each document. This process will include the time it takes to develop the document, what information must be included, applicable instructions and regulations that may apply, as well as how feedback will be documents and eventually incorporated. A good practice is to use is a flow chart depicting the path to approval. It is always better to use a visual key rather than a list for better understanding.
3. Prior to submitting the document to the official approval chain, conduct peer reviews for not only for editing and format, but also to ensure technical and contractual correctness.
4. During the peer review process, many people may be conducting a review simultaneously. In this case, edits (tracked changes) within the document will be complicated to incorporate, as two people may change the same thing, only in two different ways. Feedback tracking forms will ease this issue. This could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet with columns for the following:
- Name of reviewer
- Previous wording
- Proposed new wording
- Change Approved and Incorporated (date)
All Microsoft Office products do allow the line numbers to be shown on the left hand margin. These numbers allow for quick identification of where the reviewer specifically intended the change. It will also make it easy for the PM or the SME’s to approve or disapprove changes. At final print, the line numbers can be turned off.
Who are the reviewers? It depends, but could be almost everyone on the team. The System Engineers, Logistics, Contracts, Information Assurance, Training, Testing, and Acquisition Experts may all need a through review of the information. A good technical writer is also worth their weight in gold. Just ensure that anyone conducting the peer review is given enough time and understands exactly how you prefer to receive the feedback.
5. Using document collaboration tools such as Microsoft Sharepoint is a fine idea, especially across dispersed teams. As new versions are created, they can be uploaded and this will reduce confusion and stop the assault on the team’s e-mail inboxes.
6. Caution should be used when recommending changes that potentially change the meaning of a customer requirement within a given document. This will likely become a contractual changes and may require that the customer and the project manager agree to a Change to the contract deliverable. This is not impossible if it is necessary, but it is another process separate from the document review process and the “Monkeys in the Middle” reviewing documents everyday should alert the project manager to these types of changes as soon as they become necessary.
I know – simple as pie. But, take a look around you… You will find undocumented processes and technical documents lost in the pits of despair (otherwise known as inboxes). It doesn’t have to be that way. With a well defined process, a solid schedule, and starting well ahead of the drop-dead date, you will find success with your document reviews. Good luck!
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/loty/