Product Innovation Trends

REConf Highlights: Creativity in agile requirements and the importance of thoughtful implementation

George Edwards | April 6, 2017

Attending this year’s REConf Conference in Munich, Germany was an eye opener for me. Turns out a lot of very smart people care about creating good product or application requirements and then ensuring their safe management.

The four-day conference, co-sponsored by Jama Software, took place in the center of the city and brought together Requirements Engineers, System Analysts, various flavors of engineers, and RE solution application providers, all sharing an interest in creating better products through better requirements. More than 400 people attended, and the program spanned keynote speakers, breakout sessions, networking time, and full day workshops.

Creativity in Agile Requirements

The first REConf keynote speaker interested me in his assertion that teams need to think more creatively in agile requirements processes to inspire greater results. Neil Maiden, Professor of Digital Creativity at City University of London, explained that requirements fail when they simply seek to address customer wants. Innovation occurs when designers get creative and think about what will appeal to customers—think of Steve Jobs’ accomplishments for example. Professor Maiden said that benefits come when teams take the time to creatively spark their imaginations and then reflect on those ideas before moving forward.

Requirements fail when they simply seek to address customer wants. Innovation occurs when designers get creative and think about what will appeal to customers. – Neil Maiden

Following the keynote, ideas started flowing fast and furious in parallel 50-minute breakout sessions. Several talks focused on solutions available through commercial applications. Others focused on being agile and lean.

Several representatives from Intel discussed the implications of bad requirements, how they can impact multiple product releases, and the challenges in building effective writing skill across an organization. The Intel speakers, John Terzakis and Stefan Mattern, reported making good progress against that problem through a mentoring program they developed. The program built up the expertise of requirements analysts by pairing them with trained mentors. The methodical approach interested me because mentoring programs can lend themselves to addressing cross-functional issues across an organization.

The Importance of Thoughtful Implementation

I found that talk on the need for mentoring particularly interesting because I saw a direct connection with my presentation on active project teams transitioning from document-based processes to a product delivery platform, specifically Jama Software. As Manager of Agile Practices for MilliporeSigma, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, I work extensively with project teams across the globe as they shift to Jama Software. Although Merck KGaA was an early adopter of Jama Software, we still have plenty of teams, often small to medium-sized, that are new to the application and eager to take advantage of its functionality.

A key theme I covered is thoughtful implementation planning and “starting slow to go fast.” It may seem obvious to consider training needs, evaluate what project documentation can be imported, or think about how to adjust team workflows in a digital environment at the onset. Yet, I’ve worked with project managers who were so eager to take advantage of Jama Software’s feature-rich and highly usable application, that they didn’t invest in thoughtful planning. They thought the system would sell itself. As with any new system, however, laying the right groundwork is instrumental in avoiding problems later.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Scrum@Hardware Certified Scrum Master workshop. Led by the endlessly enthusiastic Joe Justice of Scrum Inc., this two-day workshop introduced its 35 attendees to the world of effective scrum mastering—particularly for those coming from hardware-oriented companies. Many people left feeling inspired to promote change back at their companies. I was certainly one of them.

For more on planning a successful software deployment—“starting slow to go fast”—check out our blog on Why Your Rollout Strategy Must Put People First.