Uncover the user’s true intention.

Find out what the really want.

When gathering requirements from the business, it can be challenging to bridge the communication gap between what the user would like to see and the vision that gets explained to you. It’s imperative that you get the requirements right because making corrections later will be quite expensive. Here are three tips for getting better information.

First, restate the problem in different words. It may be that the person you’re talking to chose the wrong words in the first place, or struggled to explain what they really meant. When they hear the explanation echoed back to them in different terms, it may reveal some of the flaws in the assumptions.

Second, keep asking “what if” and “why”. Just keep digging for explanations and possible alternative outcomes. It may be that the actual requirement is hidden under a bunch of other assumptions. Sometimes people ask for one thing because they believe it will get them something else. That “something else” may be the actual requirement.

Third, use visual aids. Get some colorful markers and attack the whiteboard. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it’s certainly worth several attempts at sketches. Map the workflow, create a process diagram, visualize the various states of the desired system. When you get to an agreement with the results, take pictures of the board and add it to the requirements documentation.

People rarely spend a lot of time on requirements, and more time is almost always warranted. The business person wants to rush through the process and assumes you’re reading his mind. More ignorant ones assume making changes later will not cost much. Try to avoid that situation.

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