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Requirements Discovery

Updated on December 3, 2010

What is Requirements Discovery

Requirements discovery is also often referred to as requirements elicitation, requirements gathering, requirements analysis, and requirements definition. We prefer to use the term because it's a little less high-brow, more meaningful, and more appropriate to the activity it is intended to describe.

Requirements Process Flow
Requirements Process Flow

The Requirements Discovery Process

The typical process for requirements discovery involves the following six activities:

> Requirements Planning 

> Requirements Elicitation 

> Requirements Analysis & Documentation 

> Requirements Verification & Review 

> Requirements Validation & Acceptance 

> Requirements Change Management

Legal Discovery
Legal Discovery

Origin of the Term Requirements Discovery

The term was initial coined by Ross Little in the late 80's. Ross, now a principal with IAG Consulting, adapted the term from the legal profession. As a practicing Business Analyst, Little was working to evolve methods, practices and standards from the worlds of structured systems analysis, software engineering, total quality management and business process reengineering. Little credits his father, a lawyer, introducing him to the legal discovery process - and the genesis of the idea to apply some of those concepts to how organizations should gather information to define requirements for business solutions and change.

In the legal community "discovery" is the approach used to determine the facts about a case. Legal discovery mechanisms may be traced back to procedures of the ecclesiastical courts in England as early as the 16th century in which litigants delivered pleadings and obtained answers by means of examination under oath. As legal discovery in American law is the pretrial phase of a lawsuit, requirements discovery is the pre-design phase of a business transformation, or application development project.

In the legal discovery process, 'witnesses' are 'examined' prior to trial by means of 'questions' in an 'examination'. Their 'testimony' is recorded by an 'examiner' and written as a 'deposition'. In the requirements discovery process for application development, 'subject matter experts' are 'engaged' prior to the 'design and development' by means of 'modeling and questioning' in a 'Requirements Discovery Session'. Their 'requirements' are record by a 'business analyst' and written in a 'requirements document'.

Fundamental to the process, as in the legal world, discovery absolutely requires the direct involvement of the subject matter experts (the witnesses). Imagine a legal process where the lawyers determined the facts of the case without questioning the involved parties. Similarly, a requirements process would be doomed to failure if the business analysts and project managers wrote the specification (the testimony) themselves without the users and experts. (It would be nice if business analysts could compel subject matter experts to participate through subpoenas, though)

Like the legal discovery process there are a variety of methods of discovery: oral discovery in joint meetings, discovery by written questions and answers (surveys), documentary discovery (examining pre-existing documents, systems, models, etc.)

What if Requirements Discovery Were Really Like the Legal System

(A lighter look at the legal and requirements discovery processes)

Wouldn't it be nice if some of these legal rules applied to business analysis?:

(based on various rules, laws around the world for the legal process)

- business analysts could compel subject matter experts to participate through subpoenas (US)

- requirements discovery is legally required for projects over $50,000 as an examination for legal discovery is required for civil actions where the claim is in excess of $50,000 (Ontario, Canada)

- no proper question may be objected to on the ground that the information is (necessary)

- where a party refuses to answer a proper question within 60 days before trial (release date) the party may not rely on that information (may not add it is a requirement later)

- where a person being examined does not produce all relevant documents at the examination, they must be presented within two days.

- where there is default or misconduct by persons examining or being examined, the court may impose a range of cost sanctions and other justified orders.

And maybe there are some good legal procedures that could be adapted to your requirements discovery process such as:

- oral examinations must be recorded and transcripts provided within four weeks of a request

- the examination must occur in the jurisdiction where the person to be examined resides

- when a list of written questions is served on the person to be examined, the questions must be answered within 15 days by affidavit in a prescribed form. Where the examining party is not satisfied with an answer, or where an answer suggests a new line of questioning, a further list of questions may be served within ten days

And then there may be some legal rules that should apply, such as:

- information given at an examination (a Requirements Discovery Session) may be used to impeach a witness (fire an employee). (Yes - that might be going too far)

Let me know if you have any others...

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