Requirements Gathering Techniques involves interacting with the stakeholders to understand the project needs. That means you probe the stakeholders to tell you the issues that the project is expected to solve.
At times, stakeholders do not know, what they want. So, requirements gathering techniques helps you to obtain all the requirements from relevant stakeholders.
So you sit with the stakeholder either by one-to-one discussions or through group discussions.
Sp before you start requirements gathering, you would need the stakeholder register handy to plan the requirements gathering.
If we don’t perform the requirements gathering phase correctly, the whole project end up in the mess at the later stage. And, getting issues at a later stage in the project is more expensive for the project.
As you can see, spending quality time in requirements phase, will certainly increase the chances of succeeding in the project.
Requirements Gathering Techniques
The following are the most important requirements gathering techniques.
- Focus Groups
- Facilitated Workshops
- Idea/Mind Maps
- Delphi Technique
- Affinity Diagrams
- Nominal Group Technique
- Context Diagrams
- Document Analysis
- Group Decision Making Techniques
Let us start to understand each of these techniques.
Interviewing the stakeholders is a very important technique for requirements gathering. It lets your stakeholders tell you how they are intended to use the product or service that you create.
Interviews can be either one to one or it can be in the groups. Usually one to one interviews will help you understand more detailed insights on how each stakeholder wanted to use the product or service.
By interviewing stakeholders and understand what they are expecting, you would better know what requirements your project is going to fulfill.
It is always a better approach to pre plan the interviews. For example, what questions to be asked, who are the stakeholders, when is the schedule for the interviews, and importantly how you are going to use that information, etc.
So, this will help you in interviewing stakeholders in a more organized way and have less surprises during the whole interview process.
Focus groups are gathering of stakeholders as a group and discuss on a topic or area of interest. Primarily, focus groups focus on a topic in one functional area. So the stakeholders are subject matter expert (SME) s in that functional area.
In focus groups, the stakeholders are selective. Meaning that, the quality of the stakeholder selection will impact the quality of the outcome of the focus group.
So focus groups is a gathering of selective people sharing their perspectives openly on the topic, pertaining to one functional area. Each of the participants in the focus groups will have almost equal opportunity to put their perspective.
A moderator will lead the discussion. The moderator pre plans the focus group agenda. For example, some of the aspects that the moderator considers are
- Who should be the stakeholders?
- How the focus group should be conducted?
- What questions the moderator should input to all the stakeholders and in what sequence?
- How to obtain and record the outcomes?
Focus groups enable the stakeholders to discuss and share their perspectives openly. Hence, if there are any conflicting opinions, they can resolve there itself, by talking to each other.
Facilitated workshops are also like Focus groups, as they are a discussion forum with group of selected stakeholders. However, the difference lies in the topic and stakeholders that they have in Facilitated workshops.
Unlike in focus groups, facilitated workshops primarily focus on a broad topic associated with cross functional areas. So that stakeholders in facilitated workshops are the SME (Subject Matter Expert) s belongs to multiple functional areas.
A facilitator will lead the discussion in facilitated workshops like focus groups with clear objective. A facilitator will conduct the facilitated workshops to arrive at a consensus, on a broad topic.
So the primary use case of the focus groups is to share opinion on one functional area. On the other hand, facilitated workshops helps in discussing with verity of stakeholders from different functional areas to discuss on cross functional topics with a clear objective.
So the advantage in facilitated workshops are, the stakeholder belongs to multiple cross functional areas are sitting as a group. Hence, if there are any conflicting opinions from the SMEs, they can resolve the conflicts at once in the forum.
One of the best examples of facilitated workshops is JAD (Joint Application Design). In JAD the users of the system and the development team work together in the workshop to come up with the requirements.
Idea or Mind Maps are the ways to visually organize information. Mind maps are shown as hierarchical diagrams. You organize similar type of information under a group and associate this group to the main topic.
Usually mind maps start with a single topic in the center of the page. Then you create the first level child elements to this topic. At level 1, all these elements are called siblings. Each of these siblings can have branches further at next level and so on.
As you go to more levels, you will next level of child elements to further detail the idea.
Usually mind maps can be drawn as a rough note on a piece of paper or white board to explain the idea in a group. You can also use mind map software available to create mind maps.
Above is an image of mind map created for a bug reporting tool functionalities. You can use different colors and different type of associations in mind map to distinguish and organize the information.
Delphi technique is a method of letting the stakeholders give their opinion on what should be part of the product, while keeping them anonymous. Whenever you here about Delphi technique, just remember the word “anonymous”.
The person, who coordinates the Delphi technique is known as facilitator.
So the facilitator will prepare a set of common questions and ask the stakeholders to answer them. Each of the stakeholders answer these set of questions and hand it over to the facilitator.
The facilitator will analyze the results and share the feedback with the group anonymously. Meaning that, the facilitator will not reveal the name of the stakeholders. Instead, he will share the different opinions or ideas to the same group so that everyone can learn and think about other’s ideas.
Post the feedback from facilitator to the group, everyone will be given another chance to adjust their original answers to the questions and hand them back to the facilitator.
These iterations continue a few rounds, until the group consensus on the list of product requirements.
In Delphi method, the stakeholders are usually a structured group of SME (Subject matter expert) s or experts in an area of interest. So this method fine tunes the opinions from experts and then finalize the requirements.
Affinity diagrams are good, when you are dealing with large amount of data and group them using their natural relationships.
First you create the problem statement of affinity diagram. Then you organize the high volumes of information in to groups. Finally, you prepare the headers for each group.
The best way to create affinity diagrams are using post-it-note on walls. You use stick notes to represent each idea or information and group them.
You can easily remove a stick note from one group and put it in another group, as relevant. This way you can move the ideas from one group to another, as and when you explore new ideas or new areas. Sometimes, just grouping the requirements into categories will help you to find new requirements.
Affinity diagrams are helpful only when you have lot of information to be organized. Otherwise you may not require this technique.
Nominal Group Technique (NGT)
Nominal group technique is a way to list down all the ideas and allow the group of stakeholders to vote for the ideas. Then you rank the ideas based on the votes. For example, 1st rank, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, etc.
Whichever idea gets most of the votes will win the race.
Nominal group technique also helps to eliminate less important ideas and use the remaining ideas in combination to create new ideas.
The process of Nominal group technique starts with individual members record ideas, issues, and opportunities. Each of these ideas will be recorded. Eliminate the duplicates and create the final set of ideas. Then allow the group to vote on the ideas and rank them as per the votes. Finally choose the best or shortlisted ideas.
Context diagrams describes the system functionalities, and its relationships with external systems and the environment.
While gathering requirements, context diagrams helps in describing all the features and procedures of product scope and how they relate to each other.
Brainstorming is a common and popular technique to explore more ideas about an area of interest. That is, a group of people sit together to think and explore new ideas.
In brainstorming the primary focus is to list all the ideas as they generate from the members without any criticism and discussions.
All the criticism and discussion will be on hold for later stage. The main step in the brainstorming is to allow all the members add their ideas to the list, as they occur.
Later each of these ideas will be evaluated and shortlist the best ideas. These shortlisted ideas can be used as is, or it can be used in combination.
Bench-marking is the process of comparing the procedures and metrics to the procedures and metrics of other organizations and industry standards.
So, comparing with benchmarks helps you identify and improve the requirements as per the competitor organizations or industry standards.
Analyzing the existing documentation is the way of going through all the documents for your product and figure out the requirements from it.
This includes preparing your own notes, raising queries, and getting them answered by stakeholders and record the clarified requirements.
Questionnaire is useful, when you want to know the opinion from large group of people. Certainly you can’t go offline to every stakeholder in the large group to get their opinion on the product.
For instance, you are creating a new version of the product, and want to take the end users opinions directly, so that you enrich the user experience of the product.
So, you publish a set of questions to the end users and enable them to respond the questionnaire. Later analyze the answers to see which are the most important features of the product, which the end users want in the product.
Lot of times, stakeholders do not know how to tell you the requirements. So it is always a better way to observe the how the stakeholders are dealing with problem or needs that the product is going to address.
By observing, you can better figure out the problem that the stakeholders are facing. And then accordingly you can record the requirements and validate with the stakeholders.
Prototypes are handy technique, when you have very complex problem at hand, and you do not know, how the final solution will be like. Prototype is a model and subset of the complex problem that gives confidence and an idea to the stakeholders on how the product is going to look like.
Based on the prototype, the stakeholders may find out more requirements or fine tune the existing requirements.
Group Decision Making Techniques
When you deal with a big project with lot of stakeholders, you get whole lot of opinions/requirements from them, which may be conflicting at times. So you must have a way to deal with the conflicts and make clear decisions to progress further on the project.
There are 4 decision making techniques you can use to make clear decisions. They are also called group decision making techniques. They are
Unanimity means everyone agrees to the same decision. In this case, there is no conflict of opinions.
Majority means you have conflicting opinions and more than 50% of the people in the group agree on one decision. The remaining people are may have agreed the rest of the decisions other than the majority.
Plurality means you have multiple conflicting opinions and you allow the group to vote for opinions. Whichever opinion gets most of the votes win the race.
There may conflicting opinions in the group. However, dictatorship means, one person making decision for the group. And the group follows the decision.
In this post, we have several requirements gathering techniques that are typically used in the projects. Depending on your organization’s culture or project that you are working, you may use different techniques to gather requirements.
What is important here is that missing any requirements during the initial phase may become very expensive to the project at a later stage.
Hence using these requirements gathering techniques based on the context, you can increase the quality of requirements for your project.
Now it is your turn. Which requirement gathering techniques you have used in your projects? Please do share by commenting below.