Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

‘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.

8 Comments

  • Well, now you’ve tweaked one of my sensitive spots!

    In my practice of consulting on information systems, I’ve more-or-less expunged the idea of “requirement” from my vocabulary. My averseness is so extreme that I completed a consulting engagement last year — initially framed as a “needs assessment” — so that I wrote a text document of 75 pages without using the word “requirement” in it.

    Business mostly follows “commercial syndrome”. In Jane Jacob’s descriptions in “Systems of Survival”, churches are archetypes of guardian syndrome, where there are “rights” and “wrongs”. Business is much more about “commercial syndrome”, where everything is negotiable.

    The problem that I see with most projects is that “requirements” is seen by the analyst as a checklist. The consultant/analyst creates a long list of wants and needs, and then works with a client team to “prioritize” requirements. When funding is tight, the feature list becomes “lowest common denominator”. When funding is more forthcoming, there’s potential for bloat and over-engineering.

    This problem is somewhat exacerbated by the trend towards selection and configuration of software packages. The expensive option of Brand X may include Feature A and Feature B, but the cheaper option of Brand Y has Feature A as an option, and would require some customization work for Feature B. Does “requirements gathering” lead to overspending on software selection?

    One metaphor that I’ve used successfully is buying a car. No one gets to choose about having a catalytic converter — it’s necessary by compliance; and practically every car now has power brakes as a standard feature. For the option of a sunroof, however, I’ve rarely met a person who doesn’t want one. The question is really how much a sunroof costs. If the dealer really wants a car off his lot, and offers a sunroof for $20, almost anyone would take it. If the sunroof were $5000, though, hardly anyone would want one.

    In saying the “requirements” should be negotiable, one approach to establishing “best practice” in organizations is to introduce architectural standards. While this may preclude clients from “doing damage to themselves”, architecture becomes a two-edged sword. Architecture can become “guardian”, with pass-fail criteria, and becomes just as bad as requirements engineering.

    Jane Jacob’s prescription is that either governance syndrome or commercial syndrome work, as independent systems. When the two are crossed, corruption ensues.

  • Martin – great question. I couldn’t find an email contact on your site, so I’ll leave this as a comment.

    We started a poll asking this same question back on the 26th. The article Take this poll or we’ll shoot this kitten also includes links to a debate in a comment thread on an earlier post that raised exactly this issue. I hope you’ll take a look, and consider sending your readers to participate in the poll.

    Scott

  • I already know some of the reasons you make this point, Martin, so I won’t steal your thunder as you unveil the full brilliance of your thinking!

    I just wanted to mention that my perspective has been changing lately in a way that supports what your basic point. For various reasons I have been examinging the whole notion of services, and now have a perspective that we are leaving huge value and wealth creating opportunities on the table by not recognizing that people, and the relationships among people, constitute the true source of value in service industries and service economies.

    So, with that background, I would say we should stop focusing so much on “requirements,” and start focusing on “desires.”

  • I don’t know about ‘brilliance’ but I’ll be developing the argument over the coming weeks!I will certainly be addressing many of the points David makes. The notion of requirements in the context of the ubiquitous ‘package’ and hoping to draw Doug and others out on what requirements of the future or some complete repalcement of ‘requirements’ would make creating (not gathering) them worth doing. Scott I’ve pointed my Business Analysis community at your page, if you don’t get a few hits I’ll have a selection of them shot for you.

  • Gathering requirements (the way its generally practiced) limits most participants to think about what can be done given current constraints, avoiding the deeper and more valuable/insightful thinking aroudn developing an overarching better approach or solution.

    By first creating focus and alignment on desired outcomes, then on using design (as a problem solving tool) to overcome unnecessary constraints, we can get beyond “making a better way to do an old thing” to “making a way to do things better” which is what everyone is usually after anyway.

  • Nice to see you, Mike!

  • The Holy Grail of Requirements Gather – Don’t Gather Requirements

    Oh gee my worst fears – someone going in and asking the users to come up with a list of requirements. That’s like to asking a two year old to plan dinner menus for the month. It is far better to go in and ask “what is the biggest pain in the ass (pita) you face today?” This would seem to have nothing to do with so called requirements. Yet it enables you to grasp a business issue that needs to be solved while not asking the person with the problem to fix it. Which they can’t really do, otherwise your presence would not be required.

    So, for my example, an automotive customer wanted to consolidate websites of several divisions to control cost. At the beginning of our work session I asked each automotive group what the biggest pita was. For each one – it was creating, printing and distribution the benefits guide. Note – this has nothing to do with a website. Each group was doing their own guide – 5 guides with the same material. Within 5 minutes the group realized they could consolidate the benefits guide put it on-line. Hardcopy would be sent by request. In less than 5 minutes, there was the major cost savings and time savings while leveraging the web. However, this was not done with the typical let’s do an “as is” and “to be”.

    Here is my number one example in a series of many. What about the rest of you; any similar experiences?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • RSS qoto.org/@daviding (Mastodon)

    • daviding: “Pre-announcing April 30 Dialogic Drinks session I'm leading …” April 23, 2024
      Pre-announcing April 30 Dialogic Drinks session I'm leading on "#Yinyang and Daojia into #SystemsThinking through Changes", online 18:30 Singapore, 11:30 London, 6:30am Toronto. Repeating May 2, 8:00pm ET. Official #EQLab notifications https://www.eqlab.co/newsletter-signup
    • daviding: “Diachrony (or diachronic shifts) resurrects a word from 1857…” April 10, 2024
      Diachrony (or diachronic shifts) resurrects a word from 1857, better expressing *changes through time*. A social practice publication in 1998 contrasts synchronic with diachronic. https://ingbrief.wordpress.com/2024/04/10/diachronic-diachrony/
    • daviding: “Web video introduction of 15 minutes for 1-hour Lunch and Le…” March 22, 2024
      Web video introduction of 15 minutes for 1-hour Lunch and Learn #CentreForSocialInnovationToronto on "Systems Changes Dialogues for Social Innovation" invites practitioners for upcoming monthly meetings. Evocative animated images, details deferred to conversations with mentors. https://coevolving.com/blogs/index.php/archive/systems-changes-dialogues-csi/#SystemsThinking
    • daviding: “Web video of slides from "From Unfreezing-Refreezing, to Sys…” March 21, 2024
      Web video of slides from "From Unfreezing-Refreezing, to Systems Changes Learning" for Dialogic Drinks of #EQLab represents only 1/5 of the time compared to peer-led discussions. Concise hosting called for brevity, and richer presentations. https://coevolving.com/blogs/index.php/archive/from-unfreezing-refreezing-eq-lab/ #SystemsThinking
    • daviding: “Hosting multiple Dialogic Drinks on "From Unfreezing-Refreez…” March 8, 2024
      Hosting multiple Dialogic Drinks on "From Unfreezing-Refreezing, to Systems Changes Learning" online, March 12 (Europe), March 14 (Americas), March 15 (Australia). #Leadership meets #SystemsThinking . Short presentations, longer discussions https://www.eqlab.co/from-unfreezing-refreezing-to-systems-changes-learning-david-ing
  • RSS on IngBrief

    • The Nature and Application of the Daodejing | Ames and Hall (2003)
      Ames and Hall (2003) provide some tips for those studyng the DaoDeJing.
    • Diachronic, diachrony
      Finding proper words to express system(s) change(s) can be a challenge. One alternative could be diachrony. The Oxford English dictionary provides two definitions for diachronic, the first one most generally related to time. (The second is linguistic method) diachronic ADJECTIVE Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “diachronic (adj.), sense 1,” July 2023, https://doi.org/10.1093/OED/3691792233. For completeness, prochronic relates “to […]
    • Introduction, “Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, volume 2”, edited by F. E. Emery (1981)
      The selection of readings in the “Introduction” to Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, volume 2, Penguin (1981), edited by Fred E. Emery, reflects a turn from 1969 when a general systems theory was more fully entertained, towards an urgency towards changes in the world that were present in 1981. Systems thinking was again emphasized in contrast […]
    • Introduction, “Systems Thinking: Selected Readings”, edited by F. E. Emery (1969)
      In reviewing the original introduction for Systems Thinking: Selected Readings in the 1969 Penguin paperback, there’s a few threads that I only recognize, many years later. The tables of contents (disambiguating various editions) were previously listed as 1969, 1981 Emery, System Thinking: Selected Readings. — begin paste — Introduction In the selection of papers for this […]
    • Concerns with the way systems thinking is used in evaluation | Michael C. Jackson, OBE | 2023-02-27
      In a recording of the debate between Michael Quinn Patton and Michael C. Jackson on “Systems Concepts in Evaluation”, Patton referenced four concepts published in the “Principles for effective use of systems thinking in evaluation” (2018) by the Systems in Evaluation Topical Interest Group (SETIG) of the American Evaluation Society. The four concepts are: (i) […]
    • Quality Criteria for Action Research | Herr, Anderson (2015)
      How might the quality of an action research initiative be evaluated? — begin paste — We have linked our five validity criteria (outcome, process, democratic, catalytic, and dialogic) to the goals of action research. Most traditions of action research agree on the following goals: (a) the generation of new knowledge, (b) the achievement of action-oriented […]
  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • RSS on daviding.com

    • 2024/03 Moments March 2024
      More work than play for first part of month, in anticipation of trip to Vancouver to visit family.
    • 2024/02 Moments February 2024
      Chinese New Year celebrations, both public and family, extended over two weekends, due to busy social schedules.
    • 2024/01 Moments January 2024
      Hibernated with work for most of January, with more activity towards the end of month with warmer termperatures.
    • 2023/12 Moments December 2023
      A month of birthdays and family holiday events, with seasonal events at attractuions around town.
    • 2023/11 Moments November 2023
      Dayliight hours getting shorter encouraged more indoor events, unanticipated cracked furnace block led to replacement of air conditioner with heat pump, too.
    • 2023/10 Moments October 2023
      Left Seoul for 8 days in Ho Chi Minh City, and then 7 days in Taipei. Extended family time with sightseeing, almost completely offline from work.
  • RSS on Media Queue

    • What to Do When It’s Too Late | David L. Hawk | 2024
      David L. Hawk (American management theorist, architect, and systems scientist) has been hosting a weekly television show broadcast on Bold Brave Tv from the New York area on Wednesdays 6pm ET, remotely from his home in Iowa. Live, callers can join…Read more ›
    • 2021/06/17 Keekok Lee | Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 2
      Following the first day lecture on Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 1 for the Global University for Sustainability, Keekok Lee continued on a second day on some topics: * Anatomy as structure; physiology as function (and process); * Process ontology, and thing ontology; * Qi ju as qi-in-concentrating mode, and qi san as qi-in-dissipsating mode; and […]
    • 2021/06/16 Keekok Lee | Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 1
      The philosophy of science underlying Classical Chinese Medicine, in this lecture by Keekok Lee, provides insights into ways in which systems change may be approached, in a process ontology in contrast to the thing ontology underlying Western BioMedicine. Read more ›
    • 2021/02/02 To Understand This Era, You Need to Think in Systems | Zeynep Tufekci with Ezra Klein | New York Times
      In conversation, @zeynep with @ezraklein reveal authentic #SystemsThinking in (i) appreciating that “science” is constructed by human collectives, (ii) the west orients towards individual outcomes rather than population levels; and (iii) there’s an over-emphasis on problems of the moment, and…Read more ›
    • 2019/04/09 Art as a discipline of inquiry | Tim Ingold (web video)
      In the question-answer period after the lecture, #TimIngold proposes art as a discipline of inquiry, rather than ethnography. This refers to his thinking On Human Correspondence. — begin paste — [75m26s question] I am curious to know what art, or…Read more ›
    • 2019/10/16 | “Bubbles, Golden Ages, and Tech Revolutions” | Carlota Perez
      How might our society show value for the long term, over the short term? Could we think about taxation over time, asks @carlotaprzperez in an interview: 92% for 1 day; 80% within 1 month; 50%-60% tax for 1 year; zero tax for 10 years.Read more ›
  • Meta

  • Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
    Theme modified from DevDmBootstrap4 by Danny Machal