Inadequate Requirements

—Andy Hunt

Published in Andy's Blog

A common complaint from programmers is that the requirements are too vague. Why is it that we expect anything different? There are plenty of precedents for “vague” requirements in other fields that work out just fine.

Take music, for example. By one estimate, only about 10% of what’s required for a classical music performance is actually notated on the paper. Even less for jazz. Despite the detail of an intricate score, there is still plenty of room to interpret the requirements according to the skill of the performer, the context of the performance, and so on. But musicians know this. They are taught it. It is expected.

Depending on context, a musician can view a performance along one of two roads: as artist or as craftsman. As artist, there is considerable freedom to interpret, to create more of a new work based on the composer’s intent. As craftsman, the performers responsibility is to honor the original intent of the composer as closely as possible—and determining that intent takes far more than just reading the notes on the page.

So maybe we need to change our expectations as well. Instead of looking at “just the notes on the page”, perhaps we, too, should spend more effort getting inside the user’s head. What is their intent? What is their context? Only then can we appreciate the true richness of “vague” requirements.

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