Requirements Workshops: Collaborating to Explore User Requirements


to define, create, refine, and reach closure on deliverables that represent user requirements. The workshop process nurtures team communication, decision-making, and mutual understanding. Requirements workshops are an effective way to bring together customers, users, and software suppliers to improve the quality of software products without sacrificing time to delivery. They tend to commit users to the requirements definition process and promote their ownership for the deliverables and, ultimately, the system.

Requirements workshops can bridge communication gaps among project stakeholders. Co-creating models in a requirements workshop expedites mutual learning and understanding. By asking focused questions in the workshop, the workshop facilitator helps participants define requirements at different levels of specificity. You might start with a scope workshop to outline the terrain, defining what the software will deliver and getting agreement on a starting set of functionality. If there’s agreement on scope, you might begin with user interactions and evolve your detailed user requirements models from that point. In any case, workshops provide a forum in which customers and users can make informed decisions about delivery trade-offs and priorities.

A successful workshop requires the participation of key project stakeholders. Each workshop is treated like a mini-project that’s woven into the fabric of a software or business project. Like any project, each workshop requires planning, role clarification, and infrastructure. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Deliverables are defined beforehand, but they’ll change as the group learns.

Requirements workshops are based on the premise that a small group of knowledgeable, motivated people is more effective than one or two development “heroes.” They’re also based on the premise that, as Jerry Weinberg said, “One of us is not as smart as all of us.” You tap the collective wisdom of the group to get your user requirements. This requires collaboration and facilitation.

Workshops: Collaboration and Facilitation

Collaboration occurs when all members of a group or team share a common purpose, there’s mutual trust, and everyone uses agreed-upon approaches for the work. The members operate like a jazz ensemble: multiple voices interwoven, playing together and individually, generously and inventively, sharing a single theme.

The most successful workshops are collaborative. This means that the participants share a common goal and join together to create deliverables that contribute to that goal. Collaboration doesn’t just happen, though; teams don’t just form and jell automatically. Collaboration needs to be engineered into a team’s work. Requirements workshop participants should include a healthy mix of business and software people who share a common goal and have stakes in the same project. A key element of successful and collaborative workshops is that the participants agree to the workshop purpose, principles for participation, and products ahead of time. They also determine a decision-making process ahead of time; this permits the group to reach closure on their deliverables and the actions they will take after the workshop.

“Facilitation is the art of leading people through processes toward agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership, and productivity from all involved.” — David Sibbet, Effective Facilitation, 1994, The Grove Consultants International, San Francisco CA.

A requirements workshop is a facilitated group meeting. Each workshop requires the design of a facilitated group process for the specific group needing to deliver requirements for a specific project. The interactions in the meeting enable requirements to be discovered, elaborated, clarified, and closed.

Roget’s Thesaurus says that the noun “facilitate” means easing, smoothing, expediting , while the verbease, grease the wheels, smooth, pave the way . It’s pretty likely that at least half of the meetings you attend in your work are unproductive (see sidebar “Meeting

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