Jakob Nielsen’s article Interviewing Users, is focused on interviews for usability testing, but he makes a lot of great points that apply to requirements elicitation as well. Here are a couple of my favorites:
In the section “What Interviews Can’t Do”, Nielsen states:
You can’t even ask “How useful is feature Y?” for features that already exist. Indeed, in many studies, facilitators asked users to comment on specific features that didn’t exist but were seeded into the interviews as ringers; the users provided copious feedback.
And, in “Beware the Query effect”, he says:
Whenever you do ask users for their opinions, watch out for the query effect: People can make up an opinion about anything, and they’ll do so if asked. You can thus get users to comment at great length about something that doesn’t matter, and which they wouldn’t have given a second thought to if left to their own devices.
Most of us already know these things, but sometimes forget. These reminders underscore the importance of understanding the business value of features and taking everything users say with a grain of salt. Making sure we’re doing the right things is one of the biggest challenges we face. Focusing on business value and remembering that users can sometimes focus on less valuable (even imagined) features can help us meet this challenge.