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The importance of effective requirements elicitation

Effective requirements elicitation is an area that is critical to the success of projects. Ironically, it is a process often overlooked by many analysts. This oversight can be costly to the project in terms of time and budget but, more importantly, could lead to incomplete requirements or, even worse, a failed project.

What is project requirements elicitation? Elicitation is an active effort to extract project-related information from all relevant stakeholders. The objective is to clearly define the business or project objectives. Requirements elicitation uses various analytics and techniques that allow for complete, concise and clear requirements to be gathered.

Why is it important? A Standish Group report lists “incomplete requirements” as the leading cause of software project failure and reveals that poor requirements account for 50% of project failures. Poor requirements are a result of sub-standard elicitation which may also lead to scope creep, budget overrun and inadequate process redesign.

Elicitation is important as many stakeholders are unable to accurately articulate the business problem. Therefore, analysts performing the elicitation need to ensure that the requirements produced are clearly understandable, useful and relevant. A well defined problem and clear requirements will go a long way to creating the correct solution that adds value to the business.

How to perform requirements elicitation? Business analysts often think requirements gathering is like collecting sea shells, fairly easy to identify and collect. However in reality, requirements gathering is much like archaeology, the real value is hidden deep down and takes real, active effort to find. The type of elicitation technique used can dictate the thoroughness of the search and the value of the information found.  It is therefore important for analysts to use the most appropriate techniques to gather complete, concise and clear requirements from all relevant stakeholders.

We have outlined a number of situations and techniques to ensure quality information gathering and effective requirements elicitation:

Existing artefact analysis can be used when a business has an existing system and keeps documents up to date. This technique is useful for when you are unable to engage with stakeholders, allowing you to get a head start on understanding the business processes.

Root cause analysis using the “5 Whys” helps to ensure that the underlying cause of a problem is identified, rather than simply correcting the output. This can be achieved, during a requirements workshop, by asking stakeholders to explicitly state what the main business problem is. Once this is agreed upon, the analyst asks the group of stakeholders why this problem occurs. Usually after asking “why” 5 times, the analyst is able to uncover the root of the problem within the organisation. This technique helps to fully understand a business problem before moving into solution mode.

Observation is useful if aspects of a system are overlooked. Observation allows you to watch how the stakeholder interacts with the system from beginning to end.

Brainstorming is a good way to come up with multiple ideas, as generally stakeholders will try to give their input and perspectives. It is the most effective method to receive a vast amount of information at once. This method also helps you to uncover the unknown information such as processes that have not been mentioned or requirements and processes that have not been thought through.

Interviews allow you to gain an in-depth understanding of the business need and creates the opportunity for a discussion and clarification on any statements made by the stakeholder.

Surveys allow for information to be elicited from multiple people, which is necessary if the project has many stakeholders.

Requirements workshops are one of the most effective techniques in requirements elicitation. Gathering requirements can be done quickly, it is the most powerful way of gaining group consensus on requirements and it can help with team building.

Prototyping is a useful tool for business analysts to determine if the solution being designed is really what the stakeholders need. Stakeholders can offer suggestions or improvements on the prototypes before the design is implemented.

We hope that you found this article useful and that you have gained some valuable insight into the importance of requirements elicitation.

Are you struggling with requirements elicitation? 

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