Ask "Why?" for Stronger Requirements

In a recent post, I listed a few ways that you can accidentally end up with a bad user experience. But there's another way to add bloat to your design: failing to ask "why."

The other day, a business analyst asked me to add a checkbox to one of my screens so that an administrative user could indicate, once every 6 months, that someone reviewed the screen for errors. Yet, we already have proof that the screen's data is being maintained because it's in the change log.

On the surface, adding a checkbox is an easy update to make. But, we don't know why we're being asked to make this update, or how this feature is going to be valuable to users. Simply put, our customer is requesting a solution without indicating what problem it solves. Though it might a good solution, how do we know it is the BEST solution?

Why ask why?

The next step isn't to drop the checkbox onto a wireframe, write up a few requirements, and head home for the weekend. The next step is to call up the client and ask "why."

  • Why does the client need this feature?
  • What information is the client hoping to collect via this feature?
  • How does the client plan to use this information?
  • Does the client know about the information we're already collecting?  

Once all these questions have been answered (and maybe a few more), we'll know how to proceed.

Needs vs. design

Good requirements describe a user need, but the need is never a "checkbox." The need is bigger. In my example's case, maybe the need is reporting for an audit, or maybe that checkbox is really supposed to notify someone of something. But we'll never know unless we stop and ask why, and solve the real problem.