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Requirements are a Waste of Time

“Requirements are a waste of time.” I’ve had experience with people who have this attitude. Seilevel’s message board has threads in which people are asking “How do I convince others that requirements are worth doing?” I think a lot of us have come up against this.

Most product managers can site the chaos report and the strong tie between requirements deficiencies and failed projects. Being analysts, we can give them facts supporting the value of requirement: identify problems when it is cheapest to fix them, synch the team on a common vision, build the right thing the first time, and etc. Yet, many people persist “Requirements are a waste of time”. Why?

Usually, they’ve had a bad experience. Or, even worse, multiple bad experiences, such as:

  • The requirements were poorly gathered; users weren’t heard and didn’t get what they asked for.
  • The requirements were poorly documented; users were promised more than they received.
  • There was a huge requirements effort, and nothing ever came of it.
  • The requirements were perfect, but the implementation did not match the requirements.

But, we’ve given them our facts—why don’t they understand that “Requirements are good?” Because, in many instances, we are now dealing with emotion, in addition to logic. I’ve read a statistic that people remember almost 100% of their negative experiences but only about 20% of their positive experiences. I’m not sure if this is an absolute, but I do think it is generally true. (And, the parents I’ve talked to are sure it’s true.)

As a result of the bad experience, the person may have been personally impacted. Maybe they feel they wasted a colossal amount of time. Maybe they were reprimanded by their boss. Maybe they were even fired because of a failed project. Maybe they wasted a lot of money, and they hate wasting money.

It’s important to realize that when we are interacting with such a person, we may be dealing with all of their internal, perhaps bio-chemical and subconscious reactions to their bad experience. How do we deal with this? Acknowledge it when possible. It’s amazing how identifying a problem can be a huge first step in overcoming it. Incremental success can also be great. Break the requirements effort down, show success early and often. Positive experiences will eventually trump negative ones.

In the end, when you succeed, celebrate to solidify the good feeling.

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