3 Quick Tips for Requirements Sign-off

Sign-offs are an indication that stakeholders agree with and approve the requirements that have been elicited and documented. Though they provide a detailed view of requirements and consistent expectations of what the final solution will deliver, there are other reasons why BAs seek stakeholder sign-offs. In some cases, it is not always clear whom it benefits.

While methodologies like Agile do not involve a formal sign-off phase, requirements sign-off does add value. Here are 3 quick tips to keep in mind:

1. Ensure that stakeholders understand the Requirements Specification Document (RSD)

Though you might be lucky enough to get a stakeholder to sign off on the RSD without understanding its contents (Yes, some people still sign documents without reading them), the ethical thing to do is to seek their understanding and cooperation before asking them to sign. To further ease the sign-off process, stakeholders should be asked to sign off on only those requirements that relate directly to them. This is more likely to result in a successful outcome and have a lasting positive effect on the project.

Analysts should avoid insisting on getting sign-off from stakeholders on RSDs that stakeholders have not read, or have read but do not understand. They should instead, seek to gain their understanding and commitment to the project.

Key Takeaway: If you are planning to get a sign-off on your RSD, make sure stakeholders understand its contents. Discuss the contents of the document, note their concerns, answer their questions, seek their opinions and make them feel involved. This will help to build trust between you and your stakeholders and ensure you get a “knowing” sign-off rather than one that is given in ignorance or under duress.

2. Avoid spending an excessive amount of time on getting the RSD signed off.

One disadvantage of sign-offs is that they take time. Most times, Analysts have to invest valuable company time in explaining the RSD to stakeholders, after all, they should understand the content before signing off on it. This can introduce significant delays to the project, especially when stakeholders are difficult to locate or are in a different geographical location. How does the analyst justify placing lesser priority on other business analysis tasks to chase stakeholders' approval of requirements (signatures)?

Obtaining sign-off becomes even more challenging in situations where stakeholders have not requested for the change. How does a stakeholder sign off on a requirement that did not come from him or her? The fact that a stakeholder has been designated as “process owner” does not mean that he or she is ready to accept the change or the accountability that comes with signing off on the requirements.

Change projects may become necessary due to technical reasons, regulations or requests from other departments. Unless the benefits are obvious or the implications of signing off on requirements are mild to non-existent, don't expect stakeholders to give you an easy time.

Key Takeaway: Get all the relevant stakeholders involved as soon as you start the project. The more involved they are from the beginning, the more cooperative they will be when it is time for sign-off. Sign-off is also easier to obtain when requirements have been developed and documented in a collaborative fashion (using wikis, for example). In addition, requirements review sessions should be held where possible to confirm general consensus and get the RSD signed off on time.

3. Avoid idle time while awaiting sign-off

In some organizations, developers cannot write a single line of code until requirements have been signed off. A delayed sign-off process can create idle time for developers (and analysts) who have been hired to complete the job. In some cases, developers would have already started the work before requirements are signed off. This can be risky, however. Cancelled projects are only one consequence, though one can argue that the fact that the RSD has been signed off does not necessarily imply that the project cannot be cancelled.

Key Takeaway: Communicate constantly with stakeholders to ease the sign-off process. Where sign-off is not forthcoming, it's important to start asking yourself how important the project is to the stakeholders. Escalating to a higher authority when all else fails, may encourage the desired behaviour.

When sign-offs are sought without political undertones and with the right intentions, there are certainly benefits to be had. The sign-off process should be approached as an opportunity for discovery that allows stakeholders to ask questions and get clarification on their areas of concern. A huge benefit of obtaining sign-off on requirements is that it indicates stakeholders are aware of, and are committed to seeing the solution live and in action.

For more on Requirements Sign-off, read The 5Ws of Requirements Sign-off.