Requirements gathering: listen, challenge, playback

Requirements gathering, sounds easy. Ask people what they want and gather their answers together. But how do you know you’ve got the right information?

People are creatures of habit and it’s harder than it may seem to take Picyourself out of the here and now. Not everyone is a natural futurist. That’s why understanding existing issues is so important.

Challenging the absolute

Everyone knows what’s wrong with their current set up. This is valuable information. The activity can be done in a one-to-one or a facilitated group discussion.

Either way, face-to-face is definitely best as requirements gathering isn’t writing up a wish list. It’s a conversation.

By challenging absolute statements you can dig deeper and transform an issue into a requirement. When recently working with staff reviewing their teaching spaces the following statement was made

‘I can’t see what’s going on around the lab’.

We then used the following questions to probe deeper

  • What do you need to see?
  • Why do you need to see it?
  • How do you get round this issue?
  • Do others share your view?

The answers to which provided the requirement for a clear line of sight from teaching position to the whole lab.

Playback and challenge further

It’s imperative not to be side tracked by solutions at this point. What does need to happen is to loop the conversation back round. Playback the requirement and challenge further.

A useful activity is to keep a log of the requirements detailing where it originated along with the narrative to any decisions. Tracking tools like JiRA or Trello are great but Excel will also do the trick.

As there will have to be a prioritisation of requirements at some point, mapping each requirement to a benefit will really help. Will this save time, money or improve student experience?

With all this focused review of the detail we mustn’t loose sight of the bigger picture. Make sure your low level requirement doesn’t conflict with your department or institutional strategic goals.

Is there an app for that?

A requirement to enable large numbers of students to practice simple lab techniques led us to consider virtual labs.  This would solve some logistical issues e.g timetabling and resource management. However, in this particular example the bigger picture illustrated by data from the National Student Survey (NSS) indicates that students value lab time, as it provides more contact opportunities with teaching staff. This isn’t to say that virtual labs should be ruled out as a solution. Just that the requirement still needs to be worked through.

There’s not an app that can do this activity for you. It’s all about communication and a repeatable process of listen, challenge and playback.

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