In my previous post, I pondered how the inevitable lag time between the definition of requirements and the delivery of solutions is exacerbated by the business world fluctuating dramatically in short periods of time. Today’s business requirements may not only be different than yesterday’s business requirements, but today’s business requirements might be different before we even get to tomorrow.
“It is not only the lack of speed which causes problems,” Christian Fürber commented. “Another major issue is the lack of precision in which people express requirements. Imprecise requirements often lead to misunderstandings due to their ambiguity. Moreover, some requirements are never asked for, but always expected (cf., the Kano model). When people cannot see the future product they also may not ask for certain features, yet. I experienced sufficient results to solve these problems by providing a standardized vocabulary for expressing requirements. People not only save time, but are also precise when they are able to express requirements in a standardized way.”
Tappers and Listeners
In their great book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip and Dan Heath explained how Elizabeth Newton earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford University by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: tappers or listeners.
Tappers received a list from which they selected one well-known song (e.g., “Happy Birthday to You”) and tapped out (by knocking on a table) the rhythm to a listener, whose job it was to guess the song based on the rhythm being tapped. Over the course of Newton’s experiment, listeners correctly guessed the song only 2.5 percent of the time (3 times out of 120 songs).
“But here’s what made the result worthy of a dissertation in psychology,” the Heaths explained. “Before the listeners guessed the name of the song, Newton asked the tappers to predict the odds the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that the odds were 50 percent. The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2.”
“Why? When a tapper taps, she is hearing the song in her head. Meanwhile the listeners can’t hear that tune — all they can hear is a bunch of disconnected taps, like a kind of bizarre Morse Code.”
Stop Tapping and Start Talking
Therefore, I definitely agree with Fürber about the need for expressing precise requirements using a standardized vocabulary. Otherwise, IT Listeners will struggle to understand Business Tappers, and Business Listeners will also struggle to understand IT Tappers.
Stop tapping and start talking about requirements — in a language that everyone can understand.