Note: This is the sixth post in our series of Managing Your Requirements 101. Read the first five posts here:
- What is requirements management and why is it important?
- How to write good requirements and types of requirements
- Why baseline your requirements?
- What is traceability?
- The uses and value of traceability
Requirements elicitation is the process of discovering and clarifying the needs, capabilities, conditions, and constraints that a project must satisfy to deliver a solution or product that meets the client/market needs. Requirements elicitation is by far the significant activity taken by a business analyst or requirements engineer. Elicitation in a traditional world begins early in the cycle – consulting or development while determining the scope and objectives of the project. Generally it extends to the analysis and design phases. We will delve in detail how this differs in agile in a later post. In either case, elicitation is an iterative and ongoing process which takes care of clarifying, refining requirements and identifying constraints and new changes. The amount of elicitation of requirements depends on where you are with the engagement lifecycle. Elicitation happens at various levels - early on to draw down the initial requirements and later on to refine them to specifics.
So what are the sources of requirements? The main sources of requirements are the stakeholders themselves. The end users, SMEs in the domain are also prominent sources for clarifying requirements. Other sources could be the regulatory requirements, existing documents, past experience and business cases.
Essentially, the requirements elicitation starts with a method adoption workshop. A Method Adoption Workshop (MAW) helps in determining the key requirements activities, templates and outputs. The workshop essentially acts as a discussion venue to determine the optimal activities for the project. Various methods can be used for these workshops. Most of them prescribe how to collect and specify requirements and in some cases how to manage them also. Some of the most used methods are SE&A Method and Custom Development Method or proprietary ones like SAP. These workshops also help in putting in place effective project change management processes. Thus effective scope management is the combination of requirements management and change management. MAW is used to tailor and adopt the project management and technical methods for the product and determine the optimal activities needed. Post MAW, stakeholders are identified and various elicitation techniques are used for determining the requirements. Techniques can vary according to the group of stakeholders. A consolidated business requirements document is created for client review.
Understanding the project environment is the key to determining the requirements. This could act as the starting point of elicitation. INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook provides a classification of various sources of requirements - External environment (like the regulations, laws, culture, and competition), Enterprise environment (internal policies, technology), Project environment (budget, tools, project management) and Support functions in the organization. Before looking into the various elicitation techniques, some of the factors to consider are - the triple constraint - cost, schedule and scope; stakeholder influence, stakeholder access and willingness to participate, contractual deliverables and organizational experience in similar projects.
Broadly we could categorize the elicitation techniques into Structured techniques, Analytical techniques and Interactive techniques. I believe the genesis of structured techniques is from marketers. Generally these techniques include interviews, focus group discussions, surveys and workshops. Analytical techniques could include interface analysis, domain experience, and market research. Interactive techniques could include brainstorming sessions, prototyping, observation and reverse engineering. Many text books have dealt in detail these techniques and when to use them; however Unearthing Business Requirements: Elicitation Tools and Techniques by Kathleen and Rosemary deals with this topic in detail. We will look into some of the techniques in detail in a later post and also touch base of when to use which techniques.
Some useful resources