The term “evangelist” probably brings up a pretty specific picture for most people. For me, I immediately see someone on television, often yelling and gesturing wildly, trying to convince me that his or her perspective is worth my monetary investment. That person might be a religious figure preaching a certain set of beliefs, a celebrity or other public figure raising awareness of a social cause, or a used car or furniture salesman telling me that “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” In any case, my impression is a negative one, and I imagine that the term conjures similar pictures for most people in the US.
And while the dictionary lends some support to that common perception, it offers another definition, too. An evangelist is also simply “an enthusiastic advocate” (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/evangelist). So what’s wrong with being an enthusiastic advocte? Other than your friends and coworkers getting tired of hearing your opinions on a topic, not much! In fact, there’s a lot of power in evangelism (as evidenced by the abundance of examples of that “other” kind of evangelist), and with that power comes opportunity for requirements professionals.
I was recently speaking with a group of people who “do requirements” for a living. My job was to provide some suggestions for good ways to do their work. What I heard in response to many of those suggestions was, “Oh, but we don’t do it that way here,” or “That’s a great idea, but it would never be accepted here.” The group honestly seemed disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to apply these new ideas to their work. My first reaction was to feel bad that I didn’t have anything to offer which would be useful to the group. But then I started to realize that these new ideas might be even MORE useful to this group than to groups which are more open to new ideas.
It’s easy to get stuck “in a rut” with our daily routines and patterns. We find the paths of least resistance through indoctrination (“here’s what you need to do”), through trial and error (“well, I’ll never try THAT again”), and through our needs to simply get things done (“I have one week to write the SRS, and this is the only way I’ll have any chance to meet that deadline”). Over time, those paths become ingrained, and it’s hard to break out of them, even if such a change would be helpful. That’s where REvangelism can help.
In the case of the group I spoke with, there were fewer than ten people in the discussion, and there are probably hundreds of people in their company who work with requirements engineering in one way or another. Even if I helped energize ten people, giving them the ideas and enthusiasm to become REvangelists, what changes could they possibly make within such a large community? If all things were equal, the status quo of the vast majority would certainly overpower the new ideas of the few.
But all things aren’t equal. Remember that an evangelist is an ENTHUSIASTIC advocate. Do the celebrities, preachers, and used car salesman on television get your attention because they’re calm and quiet? No, the power of their evangelism comes not from the message but the delivery — they bring a great deal of personal energy to their messages, and it’s that energy that makes us take note. Requirements professionals can use that same energy to effect change within their organizations. In most cases, it will take that kind of energy just to get other people to see options outside the status quo, much less try them out. The energy a REvangelist exudes in her or his daily work inspires others, drawing those in a rut out of their patterns in order to share in the (dare I say it) fun of requirements engineering.
A journal of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and a REvolution in an organizations requirements practices can just as simply begin with a single REvangelist!