Creativity in Requirements Engineering

Recently, I did a literature research on creativity in Requirements Engineering (RE). Now, I want to share some of the interesting insights which I got, plus my own practical experience.

I like this definition of creativity: Creativity is “the ability to produce work that is both novel (i.e. original, unexpected) and appropriate (i.e. useful, adaptive to task constraints)”. Sternberg [1]

It is a huge misunderstanding that peope expect that creativity is a gift from heaven, universe or genes. Creativity can be planned, guided and learned. Even artists, if they need to live from their art, need to be creative within very strict limits. These limits include length, cost or taste of the target group. For instance, it is easier to bring a theatre play on stage if it includes only four actors and not forty.

According to Wallas [2], being creative involves four main phases:
  1. preparation (accumulation of knowledge)
  2. incubation (cognitive release)
  3. illumination (the “aha” or “eureka” moment)
  4. verification (evaluation and elaboration of ideas)
These four phases not necessarily take place sequentially, but can also take place in parallel or being repeated in short cycles. In any case, knowledge is the basis of creativity, and in fact, I start any creative activity by noting down everything that I already know, all facts and objectives of the project, and then the open questions. Otherwise, the creativity can not lead to a useful result, or only by a lucky coincidence. Kerkow et al [3] recommend to do "domain, market, problem and requirements analyses" before a creativity workshop. This also helps to invite the right experts and to prepare the "gadgets, videos, and talks" [3].

Creativity includes domain-specific aspects. For instance, creating a new novel, a new dance or a new machine demand knowledge about writing, dancing, or engineering respectively. However, there also aspects which lie in the personality of the thinker and which make that someone is creative as a person and can easily create new dances or machines, when being competent in the domain of each of the domains. I believe that creativity is something that can be learned or, as I say in my creativity course at Udemy, it is something that all children are able to do, but most of them unlearn it later. So, many adults need to re-discover this ability which they have not used for a while. What helps me to be creative without self-censorship is that I know that I will do one or several rounds of severe quality assurance before I release the result to the public. So, the creative process includes doing thought experiments, thinking what-if-questions until I am satisfied with the result.

According to Adam and Trapp [4], a creative team needs to include six key roles: "First, an idea generator with a
domain (not technical) perspective is needed to generate unusual ideas in the workshop. As a kind of pendant, we need as second role an idea evaluator with a technical perspective in order to estimate feasibility and needed effort for the evaluation phase. Third, we need an idea generator with a technical perspective to produce innovative ideas based on technical innovation potential. As a pendant for this person, we need as fourth role the idea evaluator with a domain perspective that can judge whether a technology-driven idea would be accepted by the domain and what would be the impact. The fifth and sixth role are the moderators of the workshop."

According to my own experience, we do not need six persons which play these roles in one session. I can play the idea generator one day and the idea evaluator the next day. Or I generate an idea and ask someone for his opinion.

So, now you know all ingredients for being efficiently and effectively creative in RE! Have fun!

literature sources:
[1] Sternberg, R. J. (Ed.), 1999, ‘Handbook of creativity. New York’, Cambridge University Press

[2] Wallas, G.: The Art of Thought, Abridged ed. Watts and Co. (1949)

[3] Daniel Kerkow, Sebastian Adam, Norman Riegel, Özgür Ünalan: A Creativity Method for Business Information Systems. CreaRE: First International Workshop on Creativity in Requirements Engineering 2010, at REFSQ, Essen, 2010

[4] Sebastian Adam and Marcus Trapp: Success Factors for Creativity Workshops in RE. CreaRE: Fifth International Workshop on Creativity in Requirements Engineering 2015, at REFSQ, Essen, 2015

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