Requirements elicitation

Requirements elicitation is concerned with where software requirements come from and how the software engineer can collect them. It is the first stage in building an understanding of the problem the software is required to solve. It is fundamentally a human activity, and is where the stakeholders are identified and relationships established between the development team and the customer. It is variously termed “requirements capture,” “requirements discovery,” and “requirements acquisition.”

One of the fundamental tenets of good software engineering is that there be good communication between software users and software engineers. Before development begins, requirements specialists may form the conduit for this communication. They must mediate between the domain of the software users (and other stakeholders) and the technical world of the software engineer.

3.1 Requirements Sources

Requirements have many sources in typical software, and it is essential that all potential sources be identified and evaluated for their impact on it. This topic is designed to promote awareness of the various sources of software requirements and of the frameworks for managing them. The main points covered are

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Goals. The term goal (sometimes called “business concern” or “critical success factor”) refers to the overall, high-level objectives of the software. Goals provide the motivation for the software, but are often vaguely formulated. Software engineers need to pay particular attention to assessing the value (relative to priority) and cost of goals. A feasibility study is a relatively low-cost way of doing this.
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Domain knowledge. The software engineer needs to acquire, or have available, knowledge about the application domain. This enables them to infer tacit knowledge that the stakeholders do not articulate, assess the trade-offs that will be necessary between conflicting requirements, and, sometimes, to act as a “user” champion.
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Stakeholders (see topic 2.2 Process actors). Much software has proved unsatisfactory because it has stressed the requirements of one group of stakeholders at the expense of those of others. Hence, software is delivered which is difficult to use or which subverts the cultural or political structures of the customer organization. The software engineer needs to identify, represent, and manage the “viewpoints” of many different types of stakeholders.
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The operational environment. Requirements will be derived from the environment in which the software will be executed. These may be, for example, timing constraints in real-time software or interoperability constraints in an office environment. These must be actively sought out, because they can greatly affect software feasibility and cost, and restrict design choices.
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The organizational environment. Software is often required to support a business process, the selection of which may be conditioned by the structure, culture, and internal politics of the organization. The software engineer needs to be sensitive to these, since, in general, new software should not force unplanned change on the business process.

3.2. Elicitation Techniques

Once the requirements sources have been identified, the software engineer can start eliciting requirements from them. This topic concentrates on techniques for getting human stakeholders to articulate their requirements.


Requirements elicitation