Skip to main content

Top 5 Reasons Requirements Gathering Feels Like Torture

If you were to search ‘requirements elicitation cartoon’ in google images, you would see there are several cartoons that compare Requirements Elicitation to Torture.

  • A side by side view of an inquisitor reading the art of torture and a business analyst reading the art of requirements elicitation
  • A business analyst talking to a subject matter expert with a lamp light pointed in their face
  • A business analyst with torture tools at the head of a conference table, labeled Requirement Elicitation Workshop

So why do people compare requirements elicitation to torture? After some research I have found that these are the top 5 reasons that subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders believe Requirements Gathering feels like torture.

People feel like they are being locked in against their will

They are forced to participate. People hate to be Volun-Told to do anything. Even if they know it needs to be done. I heard someone compare it to getting a root canal.

  • Changing the perception
    • Take requirements gathering out of a cramped and stuffy room
      • Go for a walk
      • Have a coffee with a SME
      • More frequent but shorter meetings OR take frequent breaks
    • Give them a cause, then ask for volunteers
      • Send a message out to the SMEs you would normally invite
      • Let them know why the information you need will make a difference
      • Ask them if they would like to participate and what time or place works for them

People feel badgered

They feel like their answers are either never believed or never good enough.

  • Changing the perception
    • Learn to read the room.
      • Recognize when people are getting board
      • Show gratitude or excitement when someone gives you the answers you need
    • Don’t focus on the same person for too long
      • Confirm responses with others in the room
      • Follow up questions to a different person
      • Encourage someone quiet to participate


Disagreements often lead to arguments

When people are providing their opinion, there always seems to be someone else who has a different opinion and sometimes conflicting opinion.

  • Changing the perception
    • Set the tone
      • Create a culture of acceptance of any information
      • Give everyone equal say
      • Remind everyone that requirements and information do not have titles only priorities
    • Cool their jets
      • Recognize when conversation is turning to debate
      • Keep emotions down. If people start to get emotional, take control and remind them to stay calm and professional.
      • End the meeting and reschedule. Nothing shows a room how much you will not tolerate argument like shutting it down completely.

Too much information to process at once

Ever see those movies where someone’s eyes are being forced open and they must watch images flashing on a screen? Well that is what someone described requirements gathering workshops. You are being bombarded with information and not given enough time to process it.

  • Changing the perception
    • Simplify the language
      • Reduce the tech jargon. You can talk tech, but most SMEs cannot. When they hear ‘JSON’ they think you are talking about a guy.
      • Ask clarifying questions, so others in the room can keep up.
      • Allow for enough time. Either have a get to know meeting prior for those who are not already familiar or share as much information ahead of time as possible so people can come prepared.
    • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
      • Reduce: Break down complex concepts by tackling one thing at a time with different sessions.
      • Reuse: Explain things with analogies. Ask for examples.
      • Recycle: If something takes a bit to get determined or figured out, then summarize it into a smaller statement or set of bullet points.

People feel like they are given impossible tasks

Making decisions in these situations can feel like being asked to defuse a bomb and not being told which wire to cut. A wrong answer could lead everyone to disaster.

  • Changing the perception
    • Be flexible
      • Recognize when people are feeling cornered and back off.
      • Allow the people in the room to ask you questions.
      • Break out silly techniques. Like reverse king for a day or brainstorm on the opposite.
    • Allow for imperfection
      • Be ok with incomplete answers. You can always find the best answer later.
      • Have a parking lot to put items that need further research or their own meeting.
      • Remind everyone that this stage is just the research part of the process, that there is still analysis, prioritization, and assessment, so any answer is a good answer.

Our job is to find the answers not host an inquisition. Let’s do our part to make it fun and exciting. Is that asking too much? Well at least keep it from being painful.