Topic importance in requirements elicitation interviews

Consider this problem:

A new system needs to be made, say, some software, and you need to define what it should do. There are different people who are investing in it, who will use it, and others, so you need to interview them all, to understand what they expect from this system.

What topics do you discuss with them, at these interviews?

A common way to start making new systems (software or otherwise), or changing existing ones, is to interview stakeholders – investors, users, and others – to try to understand their expectations; in technical terms, to elicit their requirements.

Requirements elicitation often involves interviews.

One difficulty when preparing interviews, is to decide which topics to cover, and how.

If you let the stakeholders talk spontaneously, they may privilege some topics, and not mention others. Yet it could be that the overlooked information is important.

Corentin Burnay, Stéphane Faulkner, and I attacked this problem by trying to understand what topics stakeholders tend to spontaneously talk about, and which others they tend to discuss only if they are asked.

The result, which is based both on theoretical research and exploratory empirical results, is what we called the Elicitation Topic Map (see below). It shows many topics, and how likely the stakeholders (in our sample) tended to spontaneously share information about them.

In the Elicitation Topic Map, the closer a topic is to the marker “Explicit”, the more likely it will be discussed spontaneously by stakeholders. The closer it is to “Implicit”, the less likely it is going to be discussed, unless the interviewer proactively mentions it and asks questions about it.

Elicitation Topic Map

The Elicitation Topic Map nicely illustrates that many topics can be overlooked, unless the interviewer is proactive in asking questions on them; these are the topics that stakeholders tend not to talk about spontaneously. It makes sense to prepare questions on them, before going into interviews.

Details of this research are in the following paper:

Corentin Burnay, Ivan Jureta, Stéphane Faulkner. An Exploratory Study of Topic Importance in Requirements Elicitation Interviews. 26th International Conference on Advanced Information Systems Engineering. 2014.

Published by

Ivan Jureta

I hold the Senior Researcher (Chercheur qualifié) position with the Belgian national research fund (Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique – FNRS, Brussels) and am Associate Professor with the Department of Business Administration, University of Namur. My principal research interest is in method engineering and method automation, focusing on the elicitation, modeling and analysis of knowledge that human experts apply in problem solving and decision making, the engineering of ontologies and processes capturing that knowledge, and the automation of the said processes. This interest falls within the various research fields concerned with the transfer, preservation and automation of knowledge. I am the author of “Analysis and Design of Advice” (Springer, 2011) and have published over 50 research papers on these topics within the fields of requirements engineering, business analysis, and conceptual modeling of information systems. I organize and chair the series of International Workshops on Modeling and Reasoning for Business Intelligence (MORE-BI), held in Brussels in 2011 and Florence in 2012. I serve on scientific committees of the IEEE International Requirements Engineering Conference (RE), the International Conference on Advanced Information Systems Engineering (CAiSE), and the International Conference on Conceptual Modeling (ER). In parallel, I am / have been involved with several startups at CxO level and have held lead roles in Product Design for web and digital services that today serve more than 500.000 people every day.