Discovering Requirements

A final challenge in discovering requirements is that your customers may not do a great job of telling them to you. We sometimes describe requirements as falling into one of three categories:

  • Conscious
  • Unconscious
  • Undreamed

The conscious requirements are those your customer is aware of; correspondingly, they’re the easiest to gather because the customer shares them.

In contrast, unconscious requirements are those that are so deeply ingrained in the way the customer thinks and works that it doesn’t even occur to them that someone not involved in their work would not see it. A common example is units of measurement - a nurse or doctor thinks in terms of cc’s (cubic centimeters) as the default unit of volume whereas most of us might use tablespoons, cups, or fluid ounces.

This is why it is important for requirements gatherers to spend significant time with customers, ideally following them through their daily work processes - to see with ‘outside eyes’ the process they engage in. This is very similar to observation methods used in the field of anthropology - a few elective courses in that field will make you a far better requirements gatherer.

Finally, undreamed requirements are those that the user hasn’t even imagined. Most often, this category consists of things we could do because we are writing software and the technologies we can integrate into it, of which the typical user is unaware.

For example, one of the more common software development tasks is to take a process that used paper forms and translate it into software. Must customers will describe their needs as a one-to-one translation of the paper process into a digital one. But there usually are lots of opportunities for making the process more efficient by linking data in ways that isn’t possible for a paper process… sharing these opportunities is a great way to ensure you are making software that improves the lives of your customers!