Requirements for My New Car: a Fable (A Case for gathering and eliciting requirements collaboratively)


A lot of IT folks and or BA’s believe that if you create the requirements without the business, and then review the requirements with the business for confirmation, you can save a lot of time.

After all, creating requirements collaboratively just takes too long, and the business doesn't know what they want, anyways. In addition, we (IT or BA) know the system better than the business, so it just makes sense for us to create the requirements, and then let the business say yes or no.

Let’s see this concept in practice in the “Requirements for My New Car”: a fable.

Fred needs to buy a new car. Fred talked with a coworker, named Mary, about having to buy a new car. Mary told Fred about a car sales person she knew, Alice. Mary told Fred how helpful Alice was to her when she bought her car. Mary told Fred that it was a Chevy Dealership on the other side of town

That Saturday, Fred goes to the car dealership and finds Alice. Fred tells Alice that Mary recommended her, and he needs to buy a new car.

Alice says, “Great, do you know what kind of car you want?”

Fred states, “I am not sure. What kind of cars do you have, Alice?”

Alice asks, “Do you need the car to go to work and back?”

Fred says, “Yes, and I want it to be blue or red, and I want it to have satellite radio.”

Alice says, “Ok Fred, let me go check our inventory.”

About 30 minutes later, Alice drives up to the front of the dealership in a fancy red sports car and says to Fred, “Will this work?”

Fred smiles and says, “Yeah, but how much is it going to cost me?”

Alice says, “$35 k.”

Fred says, “I really like it, but do you have one cheaper, may be with out all the fancy stuff?”

Alice says, “I will go check.”

45 minutes later, Alice drives up with the same car but in blue and says to Fred, “How about this one?”

Fred says, “How much is that cool car?”

Alice says, “This is the base model, so it doesn't have satellite radio or other minor things like power windows etc, but it is only $28 k.”

Fred hesitates about the missing features

Alice sense she may be losing Fred and says, “We could add Satellite radio at a later time Fred”

Fred says enthusiastically, “We can that is Great, I'll take it!”

After about 3 hours at the dealership, Fred is driving home. Fred discovers that he cannot pull in the driveway, since his three sons are playing tag with squirt guns. They all run over to Fred and say, “Is that the new car Dad?”

He says proudly, “Yes, what do you guys think?”

“Its cool, can we all go for a ride and blast the satellite radio, Dad?” they all say excitedly. Then it hits Fred the car has only two seats; how is the family going to ride in this? He also realizes that his one son will be 16 next month and needs to learn how to drive. Fred’s wife comes out and asks in a frustrated tone, “Fred why did you get that car?”

So what happened? Who was at fault? Is it Fred? Maybe it is Alice. On the other hand it could be Mary.

Some would say Fred had no idea what he wanted. Therefore, it was Fred’s fault.

However, Fred did know what he wanted; he just didn't have a way to express his needs, wants, or his goals and objectives.

Therefore, Fred did nothing wrong.

Some could say it was Alice’s fault, because she did not have enough requirements to help Fred. She missed other important people that could have provided key requirements like Fred’s wife and or the kids.

However, in Alice’s defense, Alice knew customers do not want to wait a long time in dealerships. Alice knows the cars better than Fred does. Alice ask Fred some key questions and Fred gave her some additional requirements, thus Alice could help Fred decide faster than going through all those techniques of getting Fred’s requirements for his new car. Moreover, since Fred knew Mary, then Alice can assume that Fred has some of the same likes as Mary, because Mary is only good friends with people who have similar tastes as herself.

Therefore, Alice did nothing wrong.

Ok, so it’s Mary’s fault. If she had kept her nose out of Fred’s business, then none of this would have happened.

All Mary did was help Fred with some friendly advice based on what Fred said he needed. She was only being helpful, and Fred will never know that Mary will receive a free round of golf from Alice for the referral.

Therefore, Fred keeps his car, Alice keeps her commission, and Mary gets free golf. Everyone is happy, right!?

Credits for our Fable:

Mary plays the role of Business Management

Fred plays the role of Business User

Alice plays the role of BA Contractor / Tech Lead / Software Provider

A lot of IT folks and or BA’s believe that if you create the requirements without the business, and then review the requirements with the business for confirmation, you can save a lot of time.

After all, creating requirements collaboratively just takes too long, and the business doesn't know what they want, anyways. In addition, we (IT or BA) know the system better than the business, so it just makes sense for us to create the requirements, and then let the business say yes or no. 

Author: James Shoemaker

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pdte posted on Tuesday, April 8, 2008 3:47 AM
Great Article James, Thanks for sharing.
I have two small doubts , will appreciate your views.
What if the business says NO after your efforts?As first time Alice wasted 30 Minutes , I assume She can't do that infinitely cause she will not have time for other clients then.
And How long we can continue to work with the instincts without checking facts ? Here to her fortune Fred was not very demanding customer.
posted on Tuesday, April 8, 2008 10:47 AM
When you say business I believe you are referring to Fred.

I believe your 2 points prove the point that requirements need to done collaboratively.

Let’s say in the story Fred says no to Alice second suggestion. Fred may do one of the following: 1. Get upset and go to another Dealer, 2. Decide he does not want a new car, 3. Fred gets mildly angry and tells Alice to try again.

When Alice got Fred to the point of saying no or yes, before she knew what Fred’s Needs and Wants, is what I view is the core problem. She set her self up for 1-3 when it could have been avoided.

It’s like showing up to your new job wearing a t-shirt saying “Personalities are contagious and mine might kill you”. It is not getting off to a good start and the effect, well let’s just say it is devastating, and is not going to changed with a simple “it’s a joke”.

Yes Alice has other customers, so it goes back to the age-old question of Ethics. What is Alice’s motives does she want to help people and get paid for it or does she just want to get paid? (Another example other than money may be political power, fame, etc.)

The BA Role changes in a Collaborative environment. The BA is a facilitator of requirements gathering process, not a guesser or dictator. In the traditional Requirements gathering the BA had the power and the process and the Business was man handled through the process. In a Collaborative requirements gathering process The BA facilitates the process, and the Business is in charge and has the power.

That’s my take I hope It helps Thanks for the Comment Priyankadt
pdte posted on Wednesday, April 9, 2008 3:06 AM
Thanks James for taking time out to share your views.
Thanks for those great examples - like 't-shirt' one.
I will surely like to vote for collaborative environment , But I also believe that some flexibility should be there in all the approaches. It should depend upon the circumstances and judgment. You should be able to mix the two approaches to manage effectively. Business view will provide the context/canvass for you to come up with the focussed set of requirements. If you view them in a light of context then they provide required insight most of the time. I believe this context can be picked up from customers only. So successful Mix of the two approaches in appropriate proportions should do the trick !
As you rightly said Alice should have got a relevant question set ready to check with the relevance/parameters .It was core issue area. Also when Fred did not answer properly, she shouldn't have given up but should have again rephrased the question to get him on track.
Worst case he doesn't know the end objective and is not able to decide upon anything, then possible method is get his parameters/choices/conditions and suggest something 'close to fit' for approval....Which in fact Alice did but without the sufficient parameters. So Here it would be Mix methodology, as she gathers parameters collaboratively but comes up with end product selection with her own judgments/instincts.
That's my take. Hope it makes sense . Any comments upon it will be always appreciated. Thanks.
-- Priyanka
posted on Wednesday, April 9, 2008 12:01 PM
Priyanka, thanks for the follow up. This is where the fun comes in. I have a couple of more points, but first let me say I do not believe you are wrong or incorrect. I believe you just have a different style of approach, which is awesome, and it gives the readers more insight into the crazy world we call 'Requirements'. To quote a TV news network, "We let you, the viewer, decide".

Now, on to my points.

The requirements gathering process, to me, is a learning process for the Business, BA, IT, and any other group. The requirements gathering process is also an opportunity to unify people with a new solution, and to help reduce the chances of rejection. If they are a part of the solution, then they will most likely support the solution. The other benefit is that if the solution fails, the whole team fails - not just IT or the business. If you are lucky enough to be in an environment that views failure as learning, then all the better.

Fred does not need to get on track. In my mind, Alice needs to get on the same track as Fred to help him go down the right path, taking the appropriate stops and switches along the way.

When the BA suggests a solution without an understanding of the true needs and wants, it implies you do know needs and wants of the business. In my book, that is a dangerous situation.

I believe that Fred did know what he wanted. I also believe Fred did answer correctly, based on what was asked. I also think that Alice should have included more stakeholders, such as Fred's wife, or at least give Fred a chance to consult with is wife (like take a test drive to the house and back to the dealer).

Fred needed a way to express his needs and wants. It is up to the BA to help him do this.

I believe you have to put yourself in Fred's shoes; buying a new car invokes a lot of emotion and passion. A new car is very expensive (at least it is to a BA whose contract is expiring in less than a month).

Making a good decision is complicated when money, passion, and emotions are involved. If you add communication issues into the mix, the task becomes even more complicated.

I agree that just getting people together, without good facilitation, does no good either (just ask the folks in the UN).

I also believe you have a better chance with a group effort than a solo effort.
pdte posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 3:45 AM
James Thanks again for detailed explanation.
You are absolutely right when you say that BAs need to facilitate things for ppl if they can't do it for themselves,
Also I agree with you when you say that "Fred needed a way to express his needs and wants. It is up to the BA to help him do this."
Now lets go the another fact- "Making a good decision is complicated when money, passion, and emotions are involved'. I just feel that even though I put myself in Fred's Shoe, I would not enter a showroom unless I am sure about Budget Bracket. I know everybody has different approach. But I hardly find anybody who is not clear on price facts and don't utter any word about it when they try to buy anything. I have seen people Checking on price even when they buy groceries. Here Fred Hardly defines any price range. In every deal Buyer as well as seller have their own responsibilities towards making the deal appropriate. If customer is not able to express the words, I surely agree that BA should catch up with the Gaps and get him on board. But customer has to see the value of giving key information to providers cause if they are not able to share it then putting different questions , rephrasing and many other ways fail to get that productive information out. On top of it it adds Overhead of turn around times.
Hence BA has got to great interviewing skill considering customer can be introvert. To sum up , I would say If customer knows what he wants clearly, and can communicate it properly to all different layer audience, there are fair chances that I may become JOBLESS.
posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 9:26 AM
Beware the next 2 question are set up questions. And you do not have to answer I just want to get you thinking in a different way :)

1.How do you know how much to spend if you do not know what you want?

2.How do you know when you buy it is a good value?

In addition, to the last point about being jobless. I think that the goal of every BA is to work them selves out of job. Part of helping the business is teaching the business. ( you know the old give a man a fish or teach him how to fish) However, human nature will ensure that we will have plenty of work to do as long as humans are making decisions and taking risks.
pdte posted on Friday, April 11, 2008 6:29 AM
Thanks James for pointing out new perspective which I might be overlooking before. I surely agree to the fact that 'Look and Feel' of product has got immense power to push you to increase your budget.
That's why chunk of people still wants to get inside showrooms when the providers have got real greatwebsites to sell their products.
Well, It might be my own approach to decide upon budget roughly beforehand. I am sure there will be better approaches. But this surely helps
you to curtail down the turn around times as well as easy basis to tackle the selection chaos.
Appreciate that you reminded me of new dimension of consumer logic. I will keep that in mind in future.Getting a lot to learn from this discussion. Thanks for the great guidance !

alanli828 posted on Friday, April 18, 2008 6:12 PM
Hi, great articles. I have the following points:

Alice should have a standard set of questions in defining customer requirements for a new car. This might be in a form of questionnaires. These questions could be based around the customer objectives of buying the new car, for example, his/her behaviour, lifestyles and needs. Base on these needs, Alice can uses her expert knowledge in recommending several cars that suit Fred. So she can ask Fred to choose the one that suit him most. Give him the options to choose. He may eventually come down to the one he likes most. A set of questionnairs can reduce the time in the negotiation process. Alice the BA in this case should facilitate the process and guide Fred into making his final decision and ensure he is happy with the purchase. Keep in mind that Fred has the power in the end to select the end product. So later on, no one is to blame.

It is often the case that the Business User/Customer does not know what he/she wants. A good BA is the one who provides them the expert information or options and allow him to make the final decision.
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