What Are High-Level Requirements in Project Management?

When it comes to effective project management, extensive planning and documentation go hand-in-hand. In fact, research by the Project Management Institute predicts that 47% of unsuccessful projects fail to meet goals, owing to poor requirements management. This is why getting high-level requirements right is key to long-term project success.

The Role of Requirements in Project Management

Before we jump into what are high-level requirements, let's understand the basics and get a grasp of what we mean by 'requirements' in a project.

'Requirements' offer a broad categorization of the tasks and conditions required to ensure project success. Remember that depending on your project and end-goals, you may have varying requirements such as technical requirements, business requirements, customer requirements, and so on. 

Moving on, let's look at high-level requirements.

What are High-Level Requirements in Project Management?

High-level requirements are typically found in the project charter. These requirements can help project managers and team members in a multitude of ways:

  • They provide a high-level, bird’s eye view of the work and features that must be accomplished during the course of the project.
  • They are not reflective of a detailed project plan that encompasses granular details of the project. In other words, they factor in the “what” of a project instead of understanding the “how.”
  • They do not include the minute details about every phase of the project and what the duties and responsibilities of team members entail.
  • They are not overly detailed or too complex to understand. You can simply think of it as an overview of the work and features that need to be completed.
  • They clearly define the needs and the expected outcomes for the project.

Note: High-level project requirements are not the same as objectives–the former talks about the broad features and conditions required for project success, whereas the latter highlights key milestones and achievements to ensure successful project completion.

The learning: High-level requirements are a type of easy-to-understand documentation that is useful and easily accessible for the stakeholders.

Why are High-Level Requirements Important?

High-level requirements offer 360-degree benefits for all the stakeholders involved:

  • It ensures streamlined stakeholder management and organic engagement.
  • It acts as a simple and easy-to-digest document that enables stakeholders and project teams to oversee important project information in real-time. 

On the project side, most projects fail due to an undefined and inaccurate project scope, which include factors such as:

  • Inaccurate, ambiguous, and incomplete requirements
  • Complete absence of user involvement
  • Unrealistic, inconsistent, and impractical customer expectations
  • Changing requirements and misplaced specifications as the project progresses

To tackle these roadblocks, it is critical that project managers get their high-level requirements right. Keep reading.

High-Level Requirements: Best Practices and Tips to Consider

In this section, we will look at how organizations can ace their high-level requirements and kick start the project on the right foot:

Tip 1: Laser focus on requirements in the initial stages of your project.
Focus on understanding the high-level requirements of your project in its initial stages–this includes getting a grasp of your customer's pain points as well as needs and proposing relevant solutions.

Tip 2: Get started with the business requirements.
Think of your business requirement as a high-level project scope that includes the features, qualities, and functionalities that your product/service must have to cater to the business goals and customer requirements. Remember that you can create a separate “Business Requirements” document or include it in the Project Charter.

Tip 3: Ask the right questions at the right time.
When creating a high-level requirements document, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is it that you are going to build for your internal and external customers? (This will help understand the project scope and end-goals)
  • Why are you doing this project in the first place? (This will help understand the needs and benefits of the project)
  • What will happen if the project never takes off? (This will help understand whether the project is truly high-priority or not)
  • Who is the end customer? (This helps understand the chain of command that may be providing the requirements and acting as the decision-makers)
  • What is the problem/pain point you are trying to solve? (This throws light on the technical requirements of the project and helps your technical team build effectively)
  • Who is going to provide you with high-quality information and who are your project champions? (This prevents informational gap)
  • Who else will be impacted by the features you roll it? (This will help highlight the hidden interdependencies and contradiction between the scope items)
  • What does the time frame look like and do you have enough resources to complete the project?

Tip 4: Prioritize your requirements.
This step involves assigning priorities to the scope items/features that you identified in the previous stage. You could categorize the segments as follows:

  • Priority 1 (“Must Have”) 
  • Priority 2 (“Should Have”)
  • Priority 3 (“Nice to Have”)

Tip 5: Steer away from ambiguous words.
One of the most frequently overlooked aspects of scope definition is using unclear and ambiguous words such as “fast”, “very”, “big”, “small”, “cutting-edge”, etc., in the high-level requirements document. Since these words have a subjective understanding, it is best to stay away from them, so they don't define the requirements.

Tip 6: Always focus on describing the underlying problem. 
Your high-level requirements should describe the real underlying pain points your project is trying to solve instead of talking about the stakeholder's idea of a solution.

Tip 7: Keep a clear distinction between the real project constraints and customer preferences. 
When defining the customer requirements, make sure to factor in all limitations and constraints that you may face as the project progresses.

The learning: High-level requirements, if done right, can help project managers start the project with the right information and move ahead with greater confidence. So, it is critical that you spend time creating your high-level requirements document so that there are no roadblocks ahead.

Closing Thoughts

Defining your project's needs forms the very basis of successful project management. Instead of jumping the gun and starting directly with a solution, project managers should focus on defining their high-level project requirements to truly capture the business goals as well as cater to the stakeholder's expectations. So try these strategies and hacks mentioned above, and create a comprehensive and clear project requirement statement that outlines the needs and how they will be met–on time and satisfactorily.