How can we help our business stakeholders prioritize their requirements?

We're getting conflicting messages about the relative importance of some requirements compared to others. How can we help our business stakeholders prioritize their requirements?
Your job as a business analyst is to help ensure that the right solution is delivered on time. This obviously requires that the project be highly organized and carefully scrutinized. Thus, helping the business stakeholders prioritize their requirements is a key part of the job.

Don't be surprised if your stakeholders insist that every one of their requirements is equally important, absolutely critical, and simply cannot be cut or changed. Many stakeholders will ask for the world, a habit that can be particularly disconcerting when multiple stakeholders compete over requirements that are mutually exclusive or can't remotely be delivered without missed deadlines. Your job as business analyst is to help everyone understand that there's a natural priority to the requirements, even theirs, and to help them understand what must come first, and why. Try the following time-tested prioritization tools:

  • Not-gonna-give: Ask your stakeholders to come to the Requirements Workshop or requirements discussion with the one requirement on which they won't budge. They may have to bend or flex on their other requirements, but it will help you—and them—to know what they're most passionate about.
  • Sticky notes: In a workshop setting with multiple stakeholders, ask them to write their highest-priority requirements on sticky notes, or come with the sticky notes prepared. Have them walk to a wall or whiteboard, without talking, and place the sticky notes on the wall in sections marked high, medium, and low. They're allowed to move other people's sticky notes, or to move their own notes back when others move them. The silence and the strong visual effect of posting the requirements on a board will help everyone gain clarity about the true high-priority requirements.
  • $100: Ask each stakeholder, or the stakeholders as a group, to tell how they would divide $100 among the requirements. Which ones are most valuable? Which ones wouldn't they pay for? An advantage of this exercise is that it reminds the stakeholders that there are dollar amounts associated with the requirements—that each requirement has a cost, and we should spend money on the requirements that deliver the greatest business value.
  • Customer view: For projects where the stakeholders aren't the end users or customers of the system, "customer-view" prioritization can help the stakeholders put themselves in the customers' shoes and get a feel for the requirements that bring the customer the most value.

When choosing among the great variety of requirements prioritization techniques, it's important to select one (or more) that resonates with the stakeholders, and that helps them see that the requirements are not all equally important, even if it feels that way at first.

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