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Thursday, February 02, 2006


Is it Scope Creep, or a Negotiation?

A couple of bloggers have touched on requirements over the past few days. This is always a tricky subject, because success depends a lot on the personalities and motives involved on the IT and business sides and that of course varies across all organizations.

The standard colloquialism "gathering requirements" is a misnomer, as it gives the appearance that we scoop up or harvest requirements from the business much like a farmer reaps a harvest some length of time after planting and tending to his crops.

In real life, requirements are not often gathered, they're negotiated, and a good deal of those negotiations occur after the 'requirements gathering' phase of projects have passed. I have unscientifically polled students with IT backgrounds in my project management courses posing the question "How many of you have had any project in your career where 100% of the requirements were known up front and that's exactly what was delivered at the end of the project?"

The answer, of course, is zero. Requirements are always continuously refined and/or negotiated as development proceeds. Perhaps we should call the often-dreaded moniker 'scope creep' with what it actually is in reality: 'continuous negotiation.'

I usually use the term "elicit" rather than "gather" when it comes to requirements -- that seems to describe the activity more accurately. I've recently been reviewing a couple of clients' projects where requirements weren't negotiated, just gathered verbatim from the business users and used as a functional design, and the "design" (if you can call it that) has suffered incredibly from the lack of negotiation at the requirements stage. In both cases, a large SI Was involved and I feel that the SI's encouraged this activity either through their own lack of discipline, or because they knew that a huge users' wish list would lead to a ton of work for them.
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