How to Run a User-Centred Requirements-Gathering Workshop: Fergus Roche

How to Run a User-Centred Requirements-Gathering Workshop: Fergus Roche

Roche began with a key soundbite: “If you can write down your problem correctly, you should be able to see the solution.”

His workshop gave a practical demonstration of how to run a user-centred requirements gathering workshop. He emphasised that the two most important reasons for doing this are that 1) you can gain insight, and 2) you can start to build consensus.

The three key stages in this were:

1) Creating a process map
2) Placing requirements in context
3) Prioritising

Roche argued that when you’re running a workshop, you get a sense of what is important to the stakeholders. There is often no right or wrong way to do something, so you have to do what the client wants and will be able to make work. He reminded us that whilst we like to think that WE make the stuff work, actually, the client is the one who has to use it at the end of the day.

Fergus Roche running a workshop at UX Bristol

He then launched into the practical demonstration, based around a specific scenario. Groups were given roles within an organisation tasked with increasing voting in the general election, in an X Factor-style campaign fronted by Simon Cowell.

Participants given a playing card when they entered the room and stood around flip charts, grouped by suits. Within each group, the number on the card dictated which part each person was to play in their group. They were given some basic information about the scenario and a persona, then challenged to create a process map of the existing process of voting in the general election.

Roche set a strict time limit on this, and observed at the end that all but one group had succeeded in mapping the basic process in this time. He suggested that giving a count down and a fixed amount of time will help people to focus. His basic tips were to establish who is the user, give a simple scenario, try to humanise it, and then go with it. He cited less successful requirements-gathering workshops where the client had insisted on a more detailed scenario, which bogged down the process.

The next task was come up with 50 ideas to improve the process. Each person had to put ideas on a post it note and stick it on the process map, with an emphasis on the quantity of ideas, rather than the quality. This provides a set of requirements in context of the process map.

Delegates in action

Roche broke the exercise here to discuss his top tips for running such a workshop, which included: standing up, not running a workshop on a Friday afternoon and keeping strictly to time by providing count downs. He suggested dividing and conquering by dividing up into groups of around seven, and only using fat marker pens to force people to be brief.

The next step was to take the 50 ideas and get the groups to cluster the ideas and cull the weaker ideas. You get the users to do this – you should be stepping back throughout the workshop so that the users are doing the work. You then need to prioritise the top five ideas.

Take these top ideas and prioritise them against the strategic requirements of the project, then score them against these strategic requirements. After the workshop you write up the requirements from a user perspective, together with the priorities.

Delegates collecting requirements

In conclusion, Roche ran through some further tips for running this type of workshop. These included having a plan, play to the strength of the group dynamics, enthusiasm, don’t have an empty room (it freaks people out!), know your room and reconfigure it, divide and conquer (groups of 7).

He also discussed troubleshoot, focussing on a really bad idea from the top dog. He suggested dealing with this by scoring it against the strategic objectives, which helps to reflect on it constructively. He advised estimating the effort involved in each idea in a separate session, using a scale that is not time or money based (such as dogs…)

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