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Project Planning 101: Understanding needs vs wants and prioritizing requirements

  • Created By: uid=arubemeyer,cn=users,dc=asponte,dc=com uid=arubemeyer,cn=users,dc=asponte,dc=com
  • Updated: September 20, 2016

An effective method to planning large scale IBM WebSphere Portal projects


Defining needs, nice-to-haves, and pipe dreams can be a daunting task, especially for a large scale project. Trying to prioritize what makes it into the project scope can be even harder. Being able to answer the question why may be all it takes to turning project planning into a breeze.


Asponte recently had the privilege of conducting our Asponte Accelerator workshop with a regional veterinary supply company that is working on an upgrade to their online sales portal. The currently use IBM WebSphere Portal v6.5 and were looking to upgrade to v8.5. Like many companies, they knew there were improvements they could make to their site and they had a lot of great ideas related to how they wanted customers to interact with them online. However, they were hesitant to embark on the project planning journey on their own for a project with such an enormous investment. Poor choices could result in fewer customers, loss of market share, not to mention significant financial investment. That’s where we stepped in with our Accelerator workshop to help guide and direct the project planning process. Let’s take a closer look at what we put into practice.


The Accelerator prioritizes deliverable-focused, targeted, hands-on activities that result in actionable next steps instead of just talking about what could be. Our goal at the end of every workshop is to be able to provide deliverables that are truly a foundation for planning and completing a project. We like to start by better understanding the company and industry we are working with. We answer questions like: what technology solutions does the company use today? how do consumers interact with the company? what are areas for improvement and why are they important? More simply, we think the best place to start is who, what, and why? We cannot stress enough the importance of why. In every workshop, we frequently ask why and believe that explaining the importance of an existing process, desired requirement, action, or new idea is imperative to creating a highly-valued solution. Asking why will show which ideas truly have a great impact to the end user and eliminate others from contention. During this time, we like to conduct user analysis, stakeholder and empathy mapping, and persona creation.


After understanding current state and users, it is time to dive into defining and refining requirements for the proposed project. This can really be a brainstorming session where anything and everything can be put on the list to explore and see if it can pass the who, what, why test. One key to keep in mind is that requirements should be as specific and clearly worded as possible. This will come in very handy in the next steps when we group and prioritize the requirements. When it comes time to group requirements, we like to capture multiple flavors of groupings. One might be grouping requirements by users. Who does each requirement apply to most or have the greatest impact on? Next, we might group the requirements on a quad chart of impact vs value, effort vs cost, or any other combination pertinent to the project under consideration. The key is to get a general consensus on which items are high value/high impact, high effort/low cost, low value/low impact, etc. To wrap up requirements, we like to play the “dot game”. Each workshop participant is given a set amount of dots (always the same for each participant) and given free reign to apply their dots to the requirements they feel most strongly about. When everyone is finished, we review which requirements got a lot of dots, which ones only got 1 or 2, and which ones did not receive any dots. We’ll continue to ask why and encourage the group to validate or debate the arguments made about why a requirement is or is not a priority.

We have found these methods to be very effective at drilling into requirements and truly finding out what are each clients needs vs wants for a WebSphere Portal project. The biggest key for us is the prioritization “dot game” and to always ask questions in order to ensure requirements are defendable and pass a “common sense” test.

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