The ideal requirements workshop

The execution of requirements workshops with stakeholders is the most effective technique for the development of requirements in an agile context, provided that the stakeholders are familiar with this form of interactive cooperation, which means they are used to participating in meetings about problem solving or decision making. What should you keep in mind when preparing, carrying out and following up requirements workshops?

Requirements workshops bring stakeholders together to one table. They can be used to

  • Demarcate the scope of the system,
  • Determine the stakeholders’ goals,
  • Recognize requirements together or derive them from the goals or scenario,
  • Refine requirements,
  • Create consensus amongst the stakeholders,
  • Evaluate requirements.

One of the many reasons for the efficiency of requirements workshops is that they connect the establishment of requirements with the coordination of whether the requirements have been correctly understood and formulated from the points of view of the participants.

If you would like to carry out requirements workshops, there are a few things you should pay attention to during, before and after the workshop. Because as a requirements engineer, you are responsible for the preparation, execution and following up of requirements workshops.

Preparing requirements workshops

  1. Determine the goal and scope of the workshop and define the desired result.
  2. Clarify which stakeholders you need to reach the goal of the workshop.
  3. Plan the theme of the workshop: which themes do you have to cover to reach the goal of the workshop?
  4. Plan the process: which (interactive) techniques come into play for processing individual themes (brainstorming, card survey, theme clusters, evaluation techniques like cherry picking with sticky points, discussion, story boarding) Which media do you want to implement (pin-up boards, flip charts, whiteboard, tablet computer with a projector, etc)? What materials do you need for that? (moderation cards, pens, etc)?
  5. Find a space with the required infrastructure and get the materials.
  6. Develop an agenda for the workshop. Make sure every workshop begins with a greeting and an introduction and ends with having kept to the to-dos, if necessary, and a summary of the results.
  7. Prepare questions for each agenda point with which you can control and invigorate halting conversations or work.
  8. Estimate the time needed for each agenda point and determine the duration of the workshop. Don’t use the figures that you desire, but rather ones that are realistic and possible for the stakeholders. Not every stakeholder can, for example, leave their workplace one day “at a time”. You might have to plan multiple shorter workshops.
  9. Invite the stakeholders. State the goal of the workshop in the invitation and add the agenda. Sounds self-evident? Actually this will require an a work of art so that the stakeholders are motivated to participate constructively in your workshop because of the invitation.
  10. Prepare the material for the workshop introduction. If necessary, you need a few(!) powerpoint slides or a flip chart presentation with the goal. Depending on your target audience, rules for the workshop can also be helpful. How should distractions be handled? Can smartphones stay on?
Requirements workshops - determine requirements together

Requirements workshops – determine requirements together

Carrying out requirements workshops

  1. Stakeholders’ time is valuable (like yours). So you should prepare the area and test the equipment with enough time before meeting the participants that there is a last chance to get missing materials or swap equipment.
  2. The introduction to the workshop could go something like this: Greet the participants and introduce yourself as the moderator of the workshop. Explain the goal and the planned process, even if it already says so in the invitation. If not all participants know each other, then a quick round of introductions is indispensable. Structure it so that you name some questions that all the participants have to answer (What is your name? What is your position in the business? What role do you have in the project?) Suggest some rules to which the workshop should run and gain a consensus on this.
  3. A tip to get the conversation started: ask the stakeholders to spend five minutes (or ten, but no longer) recording the goals that they would like the new system to achieve on note cards. Alternatively, ask them which problems should be solved or which benefits the stakeholders expect. Pin the cards on the wall. When the five minutes are over, cluster together with the stakeholders, and group related or redundant cards. Such a card survey provides a good starting point in the workshop to derive requirements from the system.
  4. If requirements are unclear, we suggest defining use cases in the workshop and using these to describe scenarios – of course, on the pin up board or whiteboard.
  5. Step in to your role as moderator if you notice that people are being spoken about instead of content.
  6. Keep to your plan, i.e., the agenda. If you have too much there, it is better to make another appointment than to run over the planned duration. Because then you face the danger that the participants might begin to leave the workshop before the complete result could be determined.
  7. Summarize the results at the end of the workshop and try to get the agreement of all participants on the result. If requirements are still controversial, then hold on to them and make a point on an open point list.
  8. Are to dos and follow up appointments necessary? Make a decision with the group.

Following up requirements workshops

  1. Document the workshop results – the recognized or modified requirements as well as new or changed goals.
  2. A tip: are you also one of the people who keeps the results of the discussion, by taking photos of whiteboards, pin-up boards or flipcharts with your phone? If so, definitely do it here. Don’t let the photos lie dormant on your phone. They are often all about hard-fought for project results. They belong in the project database and in the tool that supports your requirements management. So: transfer the photos, together with the agenda or other files that arose together with the workshop into the tool.
  3. Maintain the glossary. You will probably get to know lots of new concepts from the world of the stakeholders, especially in early workshops for determining requirements. Keep writing the glossary.
  4. Summarize the results of the workshop in one protocol and send it to the stakeholders. Don’t forget to emphasize the agreed-upon to-dos and the following steps.

Conclusion

The success of a requirements workshop is very dependent on moderation. The moderator helps with decision making and tries to keep discussions effective and efficient. So it is important to include all relevant stakeholders when determining requirements. That way you can stop requirements from remaining unfinished and acceptance will not suffer with stakeholders who were not considered. Practically, you cannot invite all the stakeholders to a workshop, but just those who can contribute something to the defined theme or area. Often the workshops result in new themes and aspects so that further meetings might be a good idea. Focusing on themes and stakeholders increases the quality of the requirements noticeably.

It is not a good idea to invite stakeholders who are not very motivated to a brainstorming. Carrying out a workshop with stakeholders that are not particularly good at communication or tormenting them with abstract questions is also not a good idea. Such stakeholders are better to visit at their workplace so you can see what they do and ask how it could be better. Alternative development techniques like field observation, apprenticing and contextual inquiry promise more success here.

What is important when following up the workshops is documentation of the requirements. This forms the foundation for further requirement analysis. Without a follow-up, requirements remain incomplete and aspects might be repeated in the next workshops. So the follow-up is also preparation for the next workshops.

References:

More tips and checklists on the theme of workshops in requirements engineering can be found in the (German-language) book by Unterauer, M. (2015). Workshops im Requirements Engineering: Methoden, Checklisten und Best Pratices für die Ermittlung von Anforderungen. Heidelberg: dpunkt.verlag

If you would like to record your requirements with a professional tool, we recommend objectiF RPM. We have summarized all the important information about objectiF RPM for you in the objectiF RPM whitepaper.

What makes a successful Project Management process? How do I find the right business process? Which methods are useful? A graduate mathematician and co-founder of microTOOL, Ursula Meseberg is Managing Director of the company alongside Bernd Nawrot. She is fascinated with current trends and has made a name for herself as an author of professional articles.

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