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Creativity in Requirements Engineering: What? Who? When? And how?

Guest post by Dr. Andrea Herrmann, who is Freelance Trainer and Consultant in IT Management. Her 19 years of work experience were an enriching mixture of practice and research: 7 years as consultant and project manager, 10 years in research and university teaching, up to two guest professorships. She wrote more than 100 publications, regularly speak at conferences, and is associate member at IREB, co-author of syllabus and handbook for the CPRE Advanced Level in Requirements Management. In her spare time, she is a writer of Fantasy novels.

Recently, the 5th CreaRE Workshop about Creativity in Requirements Engineering took place. It again was an inspiring event. After having organized this workshop five times, I want to look back on what we learned about creativity in RE.

What does creativity achieve in RE (requirements engineering)? Referring to the Kano model, one can say that creativity is needed to identify the delighters, the unexpected requirements which make a product outperform its competitors. While basic requirements can be found by a market analysis and performance requirements by stakeholder interviews, the delighters are not implemented anywhere and unknown to the stakeholders.

Who needs to or can be creative? Is it the customer or the requirements engineer? One can argue that the customer is the one who knows the problem and the domain best. One can also argue that the requirements engineer is the expert for identifying requirements. Finally, it can only be useful when both take part in the creative process, because it needs and uses different perspectives and experiences. The requirements engineer as the RE expert can take a moderator role in creativity workshops with customers and users and guide their creative process. He can also participate in the idea generation. Or you involve two requirements experts. When applying storytelling in RE, the customer tells  stories about past and future, and the requirements engineer is the expert who transforms stories into structured requirements.

When is the best time to be creative? Good ideas can come at any times and in any place, often outside the work place, as studies show. Creativity workshops can initiate ideas or can make implicit knowledge explicit. In agile projects, change is embraced, so good ideas are welcome at any time. However, in fixed-prize waterfall projects, the delighters should become known as early as possible. Otherwise, they generate change requests and extra cost. Anyway: RE should be the creative phase in the project, not testing.

How is creativity in RE fostered? Our speakers at the five CreaRE workshops have identified many factors which are important or helpful for creativity. You can find them in the workshop proceedings. Here, I summarize a short list of my favorites:

  • Systematic process: Creativity aiming at solving real-life problems is hard work. Solutions must be found. A systematic process generates more and better ideas.
  • Roles: A workshop can be organized as a role play, but usually it is easy to find participants who are born for being the 6 Thinking Hats or the 3 thinkers of Walt Disney’s method.
  • Creative atmosphere: The whole group must be open to new ideas, even such which might at first sound useless. Games, scenarios and improvisation theater are fun and involve people.
  • Inverting the question: If you want to develop an unbreakable product, ask how you can best break it. I have made good experiences with misuse cases for software quality requirements, others work with brainstorming paradox. While users find it difficult to say what they want, they can talk for hours about what they do not want. They can tell you all the ugly things that happened in the past, which they do not want to experience again. Voilà, there are your requirements.

If you want to know more, read the workshop report on my blog.

© 2015 Dr. Andrea Herrmann. All rights reserved.

Images: Herrmann Creativity Training Course