I was talking to some IT-friends the other day about requirements gathering. This subject has long been a source of problems (sorry – challenges) for our industry, for a whole range of reasons we all know well – vagueness, change, estimation, conflict etc. But the discussion moved onto high-level ‘strategic’ or ‘transformational’ projects where you might not have any requirements at all. You might get some high level goal like “we want to build an online shop” or “we want a replacement system to support more suppliers” but these aren’t really ‘requirements’ as we have known them. And the more i talk to people the more there seems to be an increasing sense that the concept of traditional ‘Requirements’ is diminishing or often doesn’t exist at all: If there is a requirements list then it pretty much consists of:-

#1: “Make it work”

So are we witnessing the death of the ‘requirement’?

You can contrast this with earlier years where the end users would often approach technology proactively with a rough idea. In my experience this would need shaping, but generally be pretty well formed to begin with. Technology then went ahead and built or implemented it. I daresay at his point there will be some people that will throw their hands up with horror at such a simplistic view of the world, but trust me it can work. The notion of end users suggesting a project and technology responding with “Yes. I see what you mean. Lets do it” can actually result in success. It really can be that simple.

This I suppose, suggests a ‘bottom-up’ culture where people lower down the food chain feel confident enough and empowered enough to make such a suggestion. Furthermore management ensure they are trusted and supported to see it through. I’m not disputing it can have a downside of course – individual parts of the organisation doing their own thing and uncoordinated chaos as a result. “Local Optimisations” can spring up. But not always. If people talk and share, it can work perfectly well.

The alternative is where people stop making suggestions, stop attempting to change or innovate and just accept what they have. What sort of a bizarre world is that?

So what of the requirement, then?

I don’t know the answer, frankly. What I do know is that some will say it is a non-issue because the same people “further down the food chain” will know the intimate details of their jobs and processes so well they can easily bring about the necessary change. This is dangerous nonsense. Technology people need to be in there to assist the users. It’s not unreasonable for them to expect technology people to help educate them and to explain the better or ‘right’ ways of doing their jobs. Personally, this is a major driver behind why I went into this industry in the first place.

The death of requirements – if that is what it is – is not a good thing. Perhaps It is indicative of technology’s commoditisation and marginalization. If that is the case it is wrong and ultimately catastrophically bad for everyone inside and outside of our industry.

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