Giving requirements a bad name by Ivar Jacobson

A while back I was giving a presentation on requirements errors and someone made the observation that they thought the term "requirement" was, in itself, misleading. The  gist of his argument is that the very term implies something that is "required", that it has to be done.  In reality, most "requirements", at least as initially stated, are somewhat vague statements of things that could be done, but they often need quite a bit of work to determine what is really needed.  It would be better to call them, at least initially, "wishes".


Unfortunately we are probably stuck with the term "requirement", but it can help to realize that as initially identified "requirements" tend to be vague, filled with incorrect assumptions about what the real problems and solutions look like.  Some organizations call these sort of things "stakeholder requests", which gives them a way to capture them without anyone inadvertently assuming that these are the actual requirements.  They then go through an investigation and refinement process before discovering the actual "requirements".  Along the way, various other kinds of things may be discovered: needs, goals or objectives, desired outcomes, as well as terms (such as would be found in a glossary), among other things.


The important thing is not how you categorize (this can get out of hand as well), but that you recognize that even when someone tells you something is a requirement you should not just accept their statement at face value - you need to make sure you understand the real need, and especially what they need to achieve. Only by doing so will you know whether the thing they are asking for is really "required".