Live From RE’11: Day 1: Workshop Impressions

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Greetings from Trento, Italy!  I am here at the IEEE RE’11 on behalf of ArgonDigital.  As part of my conference duties, I helped conduct a workshop on Monday on Requirements Engineering Education and Training (or REET) with Ljerka Beus-Dukic. The full program is here.

We played a version of ArgonDigital’s  requirements-oriented game “Guess What We Want.”  This game is similar to Pictionary, in that the participants are given requirements at different levels of requirements throughout the day, and asked to draw the solution as the requirements become more detailed.   Most of those in the workshop appeared to enjoy it.  Unfortunately, the memory card slot in my laptop isn’t reading the card from my camera, so pics will have to wait :(.

So, what was the point of all this fun?  This is a great question which some of the participants rightfully asked.  Generally, ArgonDigital uses the “Guess What We Want” exercise during our Requirements 101 course.  The primary benefit is to get requirements practitioners used to thinking about solving a business problem throughout the requirements process—not just at the beginning of a project.  Business Analysts, Requirements Engineers, Developers, Test Teams, and even stakeholders tend to lose sight of the problem a project is attempting to solve.  Additionally, it helps foster teamwork and creativity in the requirements process—a skill that even seasoned practitioners could use a refresher on from time to time.  It was interesting to see the perspectives of more experienced practitioners on the exercise.  Some seemed frustrated by the lack of being able to ask questions throughout the activity—but this is partially the point of the exercise.  Others wanted each section of the process to be more developed and involved—this is understandable, but the point of the exercise was to be brief and help people to think on their feet and get used to thinking about the questions they would like to ask.

In addition, we conducted a “Marshmallow Challenge” (with Marshmallows all the way from Texas).  The workshop attendees had to build the tallest structure possible given 20 sticks of spaghetti (appropriate given the conference venue), a yard of string, a yard of tape, and a Marshmallow which had to be on top.  Below is the structure that our team created.  I think ours might have been a bit overengineered, as it was the shortest structure; however, it was also the most stable as others’ structures toppled after a few minutes, while ours stood tall.   This exercise showed the importance of planning and rapid prototyping, as those who did so tended to find out quickly which combination of spaghetti/tape/string/marshmallow yielded the best results (i.e., the tallest structure).

Additionally, there were three papers presented during this particular workshop, which seemed to be just the right amount.

Some feedback we received and suggestions for improvement—the workshop should be facilitated more like a requirements-gathering session, with goals listed for the day and work done to solve these goals.  I agree that this is a great idea if enough planning could be done up front.  However, we were limited somewhat on the format of the workshop—papers had to be selected and the workshop needed to fit around those papers.  Additionally, such workshops take a great deal of preparation.  We also had time constraints.  Not including breaks, the workshop was only 6.5 hours long.  This might be only enough time to begin honing in on a problem statement in Requirements Engineering education.  A true workshop to solve problems in RE Training and Teaching would last more than a week with several participants more than likely.  That being said, I’m a proponent of this idea, and with the right set of dedicate folks with enough free time, maybe this is an idea for future workshops.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the conference.  Today, (Wednesday), I participate in an American Dragon’s Den type reality show as a judge.  Various tool ideas from academic research will be presented to an industry panel, and we will vet the best ones as well as give them a bit of ribbing.  Neil Maiden (whom we’ve blogged about previously) is one of the presenters and is always engaging.

There is also a bit of controversy brewing here at RE’11—a revolution or coupe d’etat, if you will, but more on that as it develops.  I’m off for more espresso, so until next time, Ciao!

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