Who wants to write this requirements document?

This post originally appeared on July 7, 2010 on BetterProjects.net.

Al Pacino is a great actor. In 1992, he played a blind colonel in the movie Scent of a Woman. I won’t go into the plot details, namely because I’ve never seen the whole movie, but there is one scene that I have seen. Al’s character takes a Ferrari for a drive, which isn’t a big deal until you remember, the character is blind.

So what does that have to do with business analysis? Consider this article that popped into my news reader this morning about a new, nonvisual interface for driving a car. Now, stop for a moment and imagine yourself on the university research team who came up with the idea. How do you go about eliciting requirements for such a project?

It occurs to me that most of the work done by business analysts in some way involves sight. Sure, we occasionally toss in a requirement for an audible queue or some tactile response, but when was the last time any of us, outside of a few disciplines, worked primarily on a nonvisual project? Even if you’re working on data interfaces or ETL, you still likely drew up an ERD and made something that was primarily a function into a visual representation.

So how would an ERD sound or feel? What if we made all of our screen mockups using elevation relief mapping techniques so that blind people could get an idea of what our screens looked like? How would these thoughts change the way we work?

Its good to think about these questions, even if they do seem a bit silly, if for no other reason than they allow us yet another viewpoint of the work we do. Consider that relief map idea… if we’re making mockups to help draw requirements from our stakeholders, what needs to be the focal point of our diagrams? The submit button? Specific data entry elements? Or is it the way the entire page leads our eye to one area that the user needs to see? If we consider the high points on the map to be the important information and it is surrounded by low points, does this make sense in drawing the user’s attention to that spot? Maybe, maybe not, but if we consider all elements of the page as ‘flat’ because they’re on a screen, we’re probably not helping the user to understand what elements are more important.

So what about you? What are some 'crazy’ viewpoints you’ve brought into your project lately?