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Why Bother?

Why even bother? When’s the last time you asked yourself that? Was it something trivial — “Oh, I forgot to get canned lentils on aisle 6, but I’ll be back in the store tomorrow, so why bother to go back and get them now?” Or was it something more meaningful, like, “Nobody ever reviews my process flow diagrams for this project, so why bother to spend any real effort on them?” Hopefully the majority of your “why bothers” are trivial, but I’d expect there’s a more serious one every now and then.

My personal favorite “why bother” is around making the bed. I’ve had this argument with every person I’ve lived with for decades now, from my mom and dad, to my college roommate, to my wife. For the longest time, I simply couldn’t see the point to making the bed! I go to sleep at night, get up in the morning, and then will go to sleep at night again … so why do I need to make the sheets neat and tidy for a few hours in between? Their answers, invariably, were “because it’s the right thing to do,” and I simply didn’t buy it. It wasn’t until I saw a more personally meaningful benefit that I believed in the importance of making the bed.

So what does my opinion on making the bed have to do with requirements? Well, probably not much … but hopefully it’ll provide a good parallel with a common frustration on requirements projects. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day challenges (aka frustrations) of software development efforts, and when you’re caught that way, it’s easy to have those challenges carry over into your perspective on your own work. At home, you may feel like you’re already doing too much housework and making the bed is just one more chore you’re too tired to do. At work, you may feel like your deliverables don’t matter, or like there’s nothing you can do to have a positive impact on the project, or like … well … why bother?

If you’ve been involved with requirements engineering for a while now, this may sound like an all-too-familiar scenario. I know that I’ve found myself feeling this way more often than I’d like over the years. What I’ve discovered, though, is that these “why bother” moments are opportunities for me to learn and, more importantly, make a positive impact on my project.

Chances are that if you’re feeling frustrated, others on the project are too. If you can recognize the challenge, you can use your requirements role to help shake the entire project out of its slump. Play games in your next requirements workshop. Bring cookies to a document review “just because you think everybody deserves a cookie.” Open a meeting by saying that you don’t see any reason to keep creating requirements and see what the reaction is (OK, maybe this one isn’t the BEST idea!). By shaking yourself out of the “why bother” mindset, you make a difference to the other people on your project, and hopefully you can also see how your work makes a difference to those people and the overall project itself.

One simple change of perspective can impact countless numbers of people – and that’s why we bother.

(Editorial Note: I now DO make the bed, and I do it because it’s important to my wife, it’s what I want my son to learn to do, AND it’s the right thing to do!)

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