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Cooking up a requirements engineer – the right talent makes all the difference

Job descriptions for requirements engineers[1] contain information on the business area and the advantages of the potential employer, as well as the desired “profile” of the requirements engineer. But is this enough to find a suitable candidate?

Cooking up a requirements engineer

A requirements engineer should have the following skills and abilities:

  • Working conceptually
  • Communicative
  • Analytical
  • Independent
  • Structured
  • Goal-orientated

If we take a closer look (but not too close, then we’ll slide into the depths of semantics and philosophy), a discussion will definitely flare up when it comes to defining properties and knowing what is meant by each point. What does “working conceptually” mean? Is “communicative” chatting at the coffee machine or does it mean the keynote speaker from the last conference? Which structure should you follow to work “structurally”? Here, the definition will not only differ between businesses and candidates, but also between different businesses, depending on the business culture, the procedural model or the living processes in the business.

Let’s apply the IREB theories. The requirements for the requirements engineer they are looking for are probably not explained well enough. They formally violate the fundamentals of requirements management. Because we know from the IREB CPRE foundation level course that a requirement must fulfill certain quality criteria[1], namely:

  • Agreed – “A requirement is agreed upon if it is correct and necessary in the opinion of all stakeholders.”
  • Unambiguous – ” …can be understood in only one way. It must not be possible to interpret the requirement in a different way.”
  • Consistent – “Requirements must be consistent with regard to all other requirements.”
  • Verifiable – “…tests or measurements can be carried out that provide evidence of the functionality demanded by the requirement.”

What sort of experiment could we conduct with the HR department?

First, the terms that are used in the ad should be defined more precisely (e.g. consistency, unambiguous). Then the applicant will also have a better understanding of the position. If businesses and applicants have a common understanding (agreed), then you’re already one step ahead. When applicants have been found for the position, then the business should have the option to check the applicants’ requirements. For this, they have to be able to produce evidence[2] that they possess the desired properties.

We have to find candidates with suitable talents!

Secondly, businesses could break new ground with their job posts. They could take a closer look at personal talents[3] and actively seek them or check them over the course of the application process. Businesses shouldn’t just rely on descriptions of work performance or documents, they should also use the options offered by tools.

How to determine talent

The Gallup StrengthsFinder[4] could be used for this experiment. It defines talents as natural ways of thinking, feeling or behaving. It separates talents from knowledge (something learned) as well as abilities and skills (which are steps of an activity).

According to Gallup, each person has a profile of 34 talents that are more or less pronounced. The StrengthsFinder presents people’s strengths with an individual StrengthsFinder profile. Each of these talents is defined by Gallup including a description of how this person should be lead so as to best be able to use the strengths connected to their talents.

Talents mean that people with a particular talent mix can carry out certain tasks with ease – they are talented at this activity. Other people would need more energy for this activity, and would probably produce a worse result. So this means that people with these talents are better suited to some tasks, which makes them more satisfied with their work and in turn they are more valuable to the business. This system explains weaknesses as a lack of talent for this activity and holds that improving in this area will be a lot of effort – perhaps too much.

What are the tasks of a requirements engineer?

By using the Gallup StrengthsFinder, requirements can be checked according to the natural talents of the applicant. Because the talents are defined in the StrengthsFinder and are determined with a test, they will be consistent, uniform and verified.

According to IREB, a requirements engineer has four main tasks[5].

Elicitation

When eliciting requirements, different techniques are used to gain, detail and refine requirements from stakeholders and other sources.

Documentation

Documentation enables you to adequately describe requirements. You can use different techniques here to document requirements in natural language or in models.

Validation and negotiation

Documented requirements have to be verified early and confirmed to guarantee that the requirement quality criteria is sufficient.

Management

Requirements management happens continually during all other activities and includes the measures that are necessary to structure requirements, prepare them for different roles and to change and implement them consistently.

However the position advertisements for requirements engineering are designed at the end of the day, the activities that we have to carry out as requirements engineers and those in the position advertisements don’s have to be dressed up. The specifications and tools vary according to personal working style and the processes to be followed in different businesses. So one should look for someone who brings suitable talents along to be able to carry out the main activities with ease and good humor.

Are there talents that make working as a requirements engineer easier?

What talents are needed, according to Rupp et al. to define the main activities of a requirements engineer without too much effort, with enthusiasm, passion and valuably for businesses and customers?

The Gallup talent [6]is marked in bold and the RE task that is supported by this talent is in italics.

Talent: Input elicitation

Definition: Input talents are interested in everything and collect information to build up their own archives in case the information will be helpful in the future.

Talent: Arrangerelicitation and documentation

Definition: In complex situations, arrangers can consider a range of factors and flexibly rearrange them for new situations. When unexpected development occurs, they don’t just hold on to the rules and guidelines, they look for new partnerships and efficient paths to keep all options open.

Talent: Adaptability – validation and negotiation (implementation)

Definition: People with this talent react with necessary flexibility. How we handle the present determines the future. Unpredictable things are unavoidable.

Talent: Intellectelicitation, validation and negotiation

Definition: People with this talent prefer contemplating things, no matter whether the solution is a concrete problem or talking out an idea. They enjoy occupying themselves with thoughts.

Talent: Learnerelicitation

Definition: Learning is their passion. They are excited to learn new things. The themes depend on their interests and experiences. The process of getting into a new area is the main focus, not the information.

Talent: Ideation – validation and negotiation, documentation

Definition: You are always looking for connections and effective explanations for complex dependencies. With unusual perspectives you bring new connections to light and create clarity and respond to inconsistencies.

Talent: Deliberative elicitation, validation and negotiation

Definition: Foresight is better than hindsight. Deliberative talents smell the threat and want to bring it to light, so they can identify and estimate it, then reduce it to a minimum. They weigh up the dangers and possible side effects of the process with this knowledge.

Talent: Responsibility validation and negotiation, implementation

Definition: People with a strong sense of responsibility stay true to their word. They feel responsible for their commitments and keep their promises. This is why they are valued highly by their others.

Talent: Communication elicitation, validation and negotiation, documentation

Definition: Communicative talents are comfortable explaining or describing things, they are glad to take the role of the moderator. This talent puts them in a position to make ideas and events lively through stories, images, examples and metaphors.

Limitations of the concept and summary

Of course, the Gallup StrengthsFinder is not the answer to everything. For one, it doesn’t make a distinction between the intensity of a talent, nor does it allow comparison between different people. With multiple people, you can only compare the order of the talents with each other. In the context of gaining employees it can’t replace a personal meeting. However knowledge of someone’s talents gives you an idea of how this person might like to work, and where and how they might like to be implemented and managed.

The StrengthsFinder is a very good approach to determine the talents and strengths of a person. This helps the applicant to be self-aware and explains past successes and failures for a lot of people. It also helps to adopt new paths for the future that allow participants to be more happy in their working life or private life. Businesses can use this method mixed with other HR methods to find the right applicant and then to select the employee who creates value for the business.

Happy engineering!

Find out more on René Busch at http://www.requireminds.de/

[1] Quality criteria for requirements, IEEE-Standard 830 [IEEE Std 830-1998] from Requirements Engineering Fundamentals, Pohl&Rupp 2009

[2] Because employer references are normally favorable, I don’t count them as verification.

[3] Talent according to Gallup

[4] Discover your strengths now! – Marcus Buckingham, Donald O. Clifton

[5] Requirements Engineering Fundamentals – Rupp et al., 4th ed.

[6] Don’t just read the headings – sometimes the talents are very Gallup-specific, so assumptions about the talents based on the headings might lead to surprise.

 

René Busch is a freelance requirements engineer and supports customers with his expertise in requirements engineering. He offers RE workshops facilitation ad RE processes audits amongst other things. In almost ten years, he has collected extensive experience in various IT project in Germany and abroad.

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