Requirements Gathering: 2 Sides of the Same Coin

John McNulty 
Head of Academic Systems Adm...
David Sammon 
Senior Lecturer, Business In...
Aonghus Sugrue 
IT Analyst, Academic Syste...

John McNulty, David Sammon, Aonghus Sugrue - UCC - Requirements gathering.pdf

Requirements gathering is known to be problematic and an often misunderstood activity in Information Systems (IS) projects. Treating requirements gathering as an obvious, straightforward, quick, and order-taking linear process is misguided and is all-too-often the view taken by IT. However, the requirements gathering process needs to be iterative and actively engage and provoke a response from business users to ‘explore hidden themes’ and ‘unlock the art of the possible’ in order to tease out desired business outcomes and system functionalities. Therefore, to avoid a ‘general disappointment and resentment’ between business and IT, the opportunity for collaborative activity to explore requirements is a key ingredient for project success in terms of quality. But how do we facilitate this collaborative engagement? This paper reports on a novel approach adopted by UCC to facilitate this collaborative engagement for requirements gathering. For those considering embarking on a similar journey this paper draws upon practical examples of the process as it unfolded to present practical guidance in the form of lessons learned and ultimately attest to the efficacy of this novel approach.

UCC leveraged in-house expertise, in the form of IS academics, to facilitate a series of requirements gathering workshops. These workshops were not driven by IT and were not focussed on solution delivery, but were focused on the business-oriented problems to be addressed. The workshops took the form of a dialectic where a discourse between business stakeholders was encouraged with the aim of uncovering all possible points of view and potential business needs to take the business on a journey from the manual as-is business process to the end to end automated to-be business process. The dialectic process surfaced and managed user expectations in a nonthreatening and open manner and proposed a mindset change from the traditional ‘systems first’ approach. These workshops were business value and quality centric in their focus and put the business first, as opposed to the technology, which facilitated the design, build and evaluate activities of the to-be business process being led by the business for the business. The resultant workshop output was an IT and system agnostic blueprint for the to-be business process that reflects the complexity of the underlying business processes and acts as a quality laden foundation upon which IT could be built.

The real business value of this collaborative engagement is achieved when the process stimulates participants’ ongoing critical reflection and meaningful engagement which introduce further innovative and imaginative thinking; something that is needed to design and build for business value.

Following in the footsteps of adopting an iterative approach to requirements gathering this paper outlines the importance of constantly refining and adapting this approach to ensure quality output. Towards this, the paper extends beyond outlining the efficacy of this approach for producing quality laden outputs to include critical reflections of both the practitioner and academic to ensure the constant enrichment of the approach. Indeed, although bearing high quality output, the process is not entirely straightforward and is always in need of constant refinement.

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