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What is a ‘Requirement’?

I have set out my intention before to argue that Requirements Gathering does more harm than good. The first step was to argue simply that ‘Gathering’ is a passive affair. Now I want to raise a more substantive objection. I want to explore what we mean by ‘Requirements’. I believe that what we mean:

  1. is too varied and contradictory to be useful
  2. does not differentiate between ends and means and is therefore dangerous

If I’m right, it means that the term ‘Requirements’ cannot be used effectively in practice and does more harm than good.

So, taking each point in turn.

1. What we mean by requirements is too varied and contradictory to be useful.

At its simplest a requirement is a noun

1 something required; a need.

2 something specified as compulsory.
(Oxford Compact Dictionary)

At once we can see that there is at least a dichotomy if not a contradiction.

A need can be challenged and explored. ‘Why do you need that’? ‘What goal are you trying to satisfy’? ‘Is the need you have expressed the best way to satisfy that goal’?

Something specified as compulsory is not.

Moreover, the something specified can be any ‘thing’. It can be a goal that must be satisfied (without stating how) or it may be a way of satisfying a goal, a solution, (without stating or justifying the goal or the efficiency and effectiveness of the proposed solution in satisfying it).

These two meanings are quite different from each other and I want to argue that in an IT Solutions industry, quite dangerous.… Read more (in a new tab)

‘Gathering’ is so passive

I have previously stated a view that Requirements gathering does more harm than good

‘Gathering’ generally has the connotation of collecting something that already exists. As if ‘Requirements’ were sitting out there fully formed waiting to be collected. What value does a Business Analyst add who asks a client for their requirements and writes down whatever they are told? I wish this was uncommon practice but I fear it is not. If I were to ask my clients what their requirements are I am mightily impressed when they say ‘we don’t know’. By demonstrating the ambiguity and inconsistency in the answers who claim that they do know, it is relatively simple to discover that they do not. I don’t believe they should know, and I believe that we are doing them a disservice to let them think it is expected of them to be able to articulate an unabiguous and consistent set. But all this begs the question ‘What is a ‘Requirement’ if such a thing exists at all?’. That’s for next time. For now, I will sign off by saying that in my view whatever we do needs to be active and not passive. We need to help clients to identify and remove ambiguity and inconsistency. Without giving the game away we also need to help them seperate ends and means, to distinguish their goals from the features of the solutions which satisfy them.

I have previously stated a view that Requirements gathering does more harm than good

‘Gathering’ generally has the connotation of collecting something that already exists. As if ‘Requirements’ were sitting out there fully formed waiting to be collected. What value does a Business Analyst add who asks a client for their requirements and writes down whatever they are told? I wish this was uncommon practice but I fear it is not. If I were to ask my clients what their requirements are I am mightily impressed when they say ‘we don’t know’. By demonstrating the ambiguity and inconsistency in the answers who claim that they do know, it is relatively simple to discover that they do not. I don’t believe they should know, and I believe that we are doing them a disservice to let them think it is expected of them to be able to articulate an unabiguous and consistent set. But all this begs the question ‘What is a ‘Requirement’ if such a thing exists at all?’. That’s for next time. For now, I will sign off by saying that in my view whatever we do needs to be active and not passive. We need to help clients to identify and remove ambiguity and inconsistency. Without giving the game away we also need to help them seperate ends and means, to distinguish their goals from the features of the solutions which satisfy them.

‘Requirements Gathering’ does more harm than good

I believe that we can do a much better job of doing two things. Firstly linking business goals to the projects and programmes that deliver them. Secondly, co-ordinating business change in delivery projects and programmes with IT change. Systematic treatment of these two things together capture the essence of what I think of as ‘Business Architecture’

In order to explore these two topics, and to make it more fun, I’m going to suggest that requirements gathering does more harm than good. I have some clear views about why I think it does, some of which differ from current widely held views. I also have some ideas about how we can do better.

I’m hoping that you will join in by providing your views about whether you think it does more harm than good, if so why, and what you think we can do about it.

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