Answer: it has to be. Requirements elicitation is a communications-intensive process, so by definition, any tools which improve communications will improve your requirements. The only question is how best to utilize social media. In this post I will not attempt to recommend specific solutions, but instead try to get our minds around the advantages of social media and what those advantages mean for requirements elicitation.
First, let’s define social media. Wikipedia (and where else would we go for a definition of social media other than a socially-created encyclopedia?) defines it as “media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media use web-based technologies to transform and broadcast media monologues into social media dialogues.” I would like to note that this does not limit social collaboration to the publicly available web sites Facebook and Twitter.
Internal company networks can also host social media tools for the use of their employees. Also, all social media tools do not need to be public broadcasts to anyone who’ll listen. For example, Facebook restricts most user content to one’s small (or large) circle of friends.
In this article by Anthony Bradley, he outlines 6 core principles that underlie the value of social-media solutions.
Let’s walk through each one and think about how it applies to requirements elicitation.
Clearly, participation is crucial to requirements gathering. You get input from the right people in order to have accurate requirements. A lone person’s requirements are of no use unless the product will only be used by that lone person. Whether there are a few user representatives, or millions of users throughout the world, social media can help you hear what they have to say.
Social media collects and accumulates content, be it files, photos, videos, or anything else. Requirements fit in perfectly because they are a collection themselves. With social media, you can not only collect the requirements, but all the discussions and disagreements around them.
Most social media communication is not private, it is broadcast to the community. Users see each other’s contributions and can add to them, or dispute them. This is also a necessity for requirements gathering. Any requirements should be publicized, critiqued, and adjusted based on the feedback of the community. Social media tools specialize in enabling this type of interaction.
Anyone can contribute at any time and no coordination between collaborators is needed. This is also great for requirements elicitation, because there is no way to know when inspiration will strike. Requirements reviews are not perfect sessions where 100% of the issues come out. A week after the session one of your key users may think of something while driving to work that could significantly alter your requirements. That person needs the ability to communicate as quickly as possible, whether there is a formal meeting scheduled or not.
Content in social media persists and doesn’t disappear. This is a boon for requirements gathering, because so many times the rationale for decisions is forgotten. It would be so valuable to not only see all the decisions themselves captured forever, but also all the discussions that went into making them.
In my opinion, this is the true power of social media. Ideas emerge that otherwise would have remained hidden. If a social media tool encourages just a single team member to say something that wouldn’t have been said without the tool, the tool has great value. That opinion could spur a discussion that changes the entire project direction. If social media can cause these ideas to emerge sooner, it has tremendous value for requirements elicitation. How much better would our products be if all the relevant problems with the requirements came out during the elicitation process rather than in beta testing?
All these factors point to the great usefulness of social media in requirements gathering. In upcoming posts, I will write about specific tools and how to integrate them into your requirements process.