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Attention to Detail, Who Cares?

I do. And I’m well aware that I get some eye rolls from people who don’t agree – or just don’t have the attention to detail to understand. But really, why DOES it matter?
Honestly, I would not harp on this to the extent that I do if I did not think there is a link between attention to detail and ability to capture the right requirements.
Gathering the Details When gathering requirements, it’s important to hear the intricacies of what the group is saying. Are there assumptions that are unstated and possibly wrong? Are they contradicting themselves? Are there details that are being glossed over?
Typically unstated assumptions and contradictions are not going to be glaringly obvious. It takes someone who is tuned into the finer level of detail in the conversation to recognize such issues. This type of person will ask about 101 tiny details in those conversations, and maybe only 11 of them will turn out to be relevant. But those few that were relevant will lead to complete requirements, and in turn result in more successful projects.
Writing the Details When writing requirements, details absolutely matter. The obvious reason is that you have to actually write all the requirements you gathered – with all of the details so that they can be developed and tested correctly.
However, the attention to detail in the style and accuracy of writing also matters, such that the documentation is clean for ease of reading.
You need to use the same terminology throughout. If you don’t, the audience will not be able to make the connections that you have made in your mind. For example, if your users use the words “contract” and “SOW” loosely to mean the same thing in their business, then in the documentation you should pick one of the two words and use it throughout. In a glossary, you can define the word and include other common interchangeable words. But by doing so, you save the rest of your audience (maybe an offshore dev team) from having to learn the same connection you made between the two words.
Paying attention to proper grammar and spelling also is important. Without it, the audience will have to spend energy parsing instead of reading the real meaning. If I write a sentence like this one right hear now, can you understand what I’m trying to saying or did you have to slow down to understand the werds and turn them into a sentence before you could really get the actual gist of what I was tyring to convay?
Finally, the audience is also often detail oriented. If you aren’t paying attention to details in writing the documentation, they will be annoyed and need you to fix it.
Reviewing the Details Attention to detail is extremely important when reviewing requirements. It is important that a reviewer be able to identify any missing requirements in a set of requirements. Similarly, a reviewer needs to be able to find any inconsistencies in requirements that contradict each other. This means that when reviewing requirements, you need to be able to look beyond the surface level words on paper and understand if there are non-obvious issues. It’s much like in gathering requirements, looking for unstated assumptions and contradictions.
Managing the Details In managing a requirements effort overall, you also must have great attention to detail. From the beginning you should have a detailed plan to make sure you cover all parts of the system – a framework will help this. But you must also have the detailed personality that can follow a plan. So many people create the plan in the first week and never revisit it.
And finally, as you work through requirements, there will be many open issues that need to be resolved. Some of them will be small. The key is that you need to not lose sight of any open issues, no matter how small. Let’s say you are in a requirements session, and there is an open issue around whether a user really needs to be able to search using punctuation. The group realizes it’s time to move on, that it’s a small issue that can be decided later. Your job is to track that open issue all the way through to ensure it is closed. They won’t ask you to, but the detail oriented will automatically write it down and track it to completion.
Attention to Detail Matters In the end, I believe attention to detail is one of the most critical characteristics of a good product manager. When I see those that are lacking this attention to detail, I worry about what requirements they may miss. For such individuals, I would definitely pair them up with someone that does have a good attention to detail.

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