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Resistance as a Major Source for Requirements Risk

mm1This article recognizes resistance as a source for requirements risk. Business analysts recognized assumptions, constraints and dependencies as the major sources of requirements risk. However, in every analysis there is some level of resistance to change. This article reviews the three traditional sources of risk and makes the case for including resistance as an additional source.

What is risk?

Risk is an uncertain event that can have a positive (opportunity) or negative (threat) impact on an endeavor (1). In this context, the endeavor is developing requirements (elicitation, analysis, documenting, and validation), which may be a change to a process and/or software. The result of the development effort is a business requirement document that reflects a stakeholder consensus. Typically, the business analyst recognizes three major sources of risk in planning requirements development:

mm2• Assumptions – business conditions that if changed would affect the requirements or requirements development
• Constraints – conditions that restrict the development of requirements
• Dependencies – requirements that are dependent on other requirements

Change Equals Resistance

The business analyst is a change agent. In developing requirements, the business analyst is inherently involved with change. And, where there is change, there is resistance.

mm3• Resistance is a barrier encountered by the business analyst in developing requirements from stakeholders

Resistance comes in all forms and degrees. Stakeholders typically expressed resistance as a concern or a reservation. However, it may also be to an out-right objection. The key for resolution is for the business analyst to engage in a dialogue with the stakeholder that leads to the reasons behind the resistance (see Figure 1).

Given the above, the business analyst needs to recognize resistance as a major source of risk and manage it as in the other major risk sources. The business analyst needs to identify its possible occurrences, analyze its probability and impact, and develop a risk response. Note that risks that stem from resistance are threats. In this case, the business analyst needs to avoid, transfer, mitigate, or accept the threat (see Figure 2).

A Homestead Example

mm6Dick and Jane are a couple with a nice home and are business analysts for a large firm in a downtown business center. One day Dick and Jane decided to upgrade the single pane windows of their home. Being experienced business analysts, they first listed their major sources of risk (assumptions, constraints, and dependencies) and then prioritized their requirements.

  • Assumptions
    • Continue to live in the home for at least 20 years
    • Able to recover window upgrade cost if home is sold
    • Energy cost will continue to rise
    • Reliable contractor available
  • Constraints
    • Budget is $25K
  • Dependencies
    • Compatibility with current window security screens
  • Requirements
    1. Save energy cost with their home
    2. Easy to clean
    3. Sound proof

After shopping around for windows, Dick and Jane settled on triple pane energy efficient windows with removable sashes for easy cleaning and a laminated glass sandwich that should squelch out some noisy neighbors. They then picked a contractor that could handle the current security screens and paid the upfront capital for work to begin. All was well until they met resistance.

mm7Remember Dick and Jane live in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, with a not-so-nice Home Owner Association. Upon the first week of window installation, they received a letter from their HOA advising them to cease all work until they submitted a request to the HOA detailing the change to their house. Although Dick and Jane own their nice home, they have come to realize there is a third stakeholder – the HOA and the HOA can be quite resistant. Lesson learned: always consider four major sources for risk – assumptions, constraints, dependencies, and resistance.


Business analysts need to manage risk associated with the development of requirements. Traditionally, they consider three major sources of risk: assumptions, dependencies, and constraints. However, business analysts are agents of change. Very few projects, if any, do not incur some level of resistance. Business analysts need to include resistance as a major source for risk along with the traditional three.


  1. Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge 4th Edition, (Dec. 2008)

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