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Requirement management : a travelogue

Having travelled across four continents over the last twelve years, managing requirements, this piece seeks to share some interesting experiences while working with a diverse clientele.

Spring beckoned me from India to New York City in the early 2000’s. I worked with a team from both IT and business in defining requirements. Prior to my travel, a meticulous document was authored by the client’s business analyst working with the end users. My visit was facilitated by the client, so that the users could have a face to face interaction with the ‘development team’ from offshore, prior to commencement of delivery. As we dug deeper and deeper into the requirements, realization dawned on the author of the initial draft of the document, that when it comes to requirements, it’s truly a bottomless pit. As the days progressed, one could see the disappointment writ large on the author’s face, who while drafting the requirement document, had in a fit of complacency, presumed that all that was left was the ‘kick off’ meeting and that coding would commence immediately thereafter. The only consolation I could offer was that, my turn would come one day, when the users start their acceptance testing!

Travelling next to Latin America, an unusual experience awaited me. The users spoke only Spanish, while I was from the English speaking part of the world. We took the help of a translator, who unfortunately did not know the domain, and hence indulged in ‘transliteration’ rather than ‘translation’. Two days of time and effort went down the drain. Fortunately, the project manager realized that things were heading for a fiasco, and brought in an alternative translator who understood whole sentences in Spanish and translated them into English, as compared with the previous experience of a word-for-word transliteration. While the overall experience vastly improved, we were stuck in certain niche domain areas like international trade finance with arcane terminology. The day was saved as some of the users spoke English, could hear the requirements provided in Espanol being converted into Ingles, and having the benefit of knowing both the languages, stepped in now and then, to correct whatever was getting misinterpreted in the translation. Over the month and a half in the city by the canal, I managed to pick up a few words in Espanol, and scored a bull’s eye with my client community, by getting the intonation correct in addressing the senors and senoras, the correct Espanol way!

My next sojourn was to North Africa. I got to visit some of the wonders of the world, in the midst of my work. I happened to fall sick midway, and was taken care of so well, that I learnt a deep lesson in hospitality from my African client. The sessions evoked considerable debate amongst the users, at times descending into animosity. Fortunately, rapport with the client, allowed me to complete what I set out to do.

The next port of call, was in the heart of the Middle East. One of the best experiences ever, with a most courteous user/client. However, the acrimony internally among the users, who differed on requirements, again led to some bitter debates amongst themselves. I had to step in every now and then, and play the referee role! I landed up building a consensus among the user community and accomplished my objective of requirement definition.

South East Asia was a staid experience, with no memorable incidents that particularly stood out.

The ‘city of angels’ in North America beckoned me next, and provided me with some of the best ever experiences both professionally and personally. The hard work put in by the users in defining requirements and processes had to be seen, to be believed. The discipline in managing the whole requirement process was truly astounding. The warmth and hospitality accorded to us, who had travelled from India half way across the world, to meet the users on the West Coast, was touching. A long weekend saw us doing a road trip to the Grand Canyon and Vegas: an unforgettable experience indeed.

Some of the key learnings having managed requirements across so many countries and cultures: building a rapport with the users is paramount, relationship comes first, and everything else follows.

-The views expressed are personal


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