Client requirements: Why clients change their minds, and what you can do about it

By Gordon Rugg

This article is one in a series about the problem of identifying and clarifying client requirements. This episode looks at why clients often appear to change their minds dramatically, and how you can handle that problem within your development process.

Readers who like the extended metaphor of the client requiring an image of an elephant might like to know that we’re continuing with it in this article. Readers for whom the novelty of that metaphor has worn thin might like to know that we won’t be using it much.

So, why do clients appear to change their minds radically? It’s often because of a very simple reason that is easy to handle.

Continue reading

Idea Writing: Generating practical ideas quickly and efficiently

By Gordon Rugg

Generating ideas in groups is difficult. Dominant personalities can take over, or arguments can start between factions. Even for the most constructive and positive groups, most group-based methods involve only one person speaking or writing at a time, while the others sit and wait their turn.

This article is about Idea Writing.  It’s a simple, efficient way of generating and developing ideas.  The core concept is that each idea gets its own sheet of paper and that everyone writes their comments about the idea on each sheet.  They also comment on what other people have written.

Working in this way means that everyone is active simultaneously, without having to wait their turn. It also avoids problems with arguments and dominant personalities. It has the further advantage that you don’t need someone acting as scribe for the session.

It’s a useful method to have in your kit. This article gives an overview with a worked example.

Continue reading

Client requirements: Finding boundaries, constraints, and the shape of the elephant

By Gordon Rugg

This article is one in a series about the problem of identifying and clarifying client requirements, using the ongoing semi-humorous example of a client’s requirement for an image of an elephant. This episode looks at ways of establishing the key issues in the client’s requirements when you’re trying to trade off costs against risks.

Continue reading

Requirements that clients don’t talk about: The elephant in the room

By Gordon Rugg

He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision,–he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath–

“‘The horror! The horror!’

This article is one in a series about the problem of identifying and clarifying client requirements, using the ongoing semi-humorous example of a client’s requirement for an image of an elephant. The previous episodes have looked at some bad ways of tackling the problem. This episode looks at methods for tackling difficult areas of requirements gathering, where people are for various reasons reluctant to talk about a particular topic. It also looks at the underlying reasons for that reluctance.

That takes us into some uncomfortable and morally ambiguous territory, which is why I’ve opened with a quote from Heart of Darkness. If you’re trying to fix real problems, then you need to know how to find out the realities, and that isn’t always fun.

Continue reading

The Voynich Manuscript and the Unexplained Files

By Gordon Rugg

I’ve just watched the feature about the Voynich Manuscript on “The Unexplained Files”.


If you’ve just encountered the Voynich Manuscript for the first time via that feature, here’s a quick overview of how most Voynich researchers actuallly view the evidence.

Between 1912 and around 2004 the general consensus was that the text of the manuscript was too bizarre to be a language, and too complex to be a hoax, leaving a code as the only remaining plausible explanation. However, ninety years of work by the world’s best cryptographers found no sign of a code.

I showed that in fact it was possible to produce a meaningless hoax as complex as the text in the manuscript, and showing many of the same statistical properties as accidental side-effects, using very simple technology – basically a card with three holes cut in it, and a big table of gibberish syllables. This made a hoax a simple, feasible explanation; there was no need to look for a super-code so sophisticated that the world’s greatest codebreakers had failed to find it, let alone crack it. Many Voynich researchers still think that there’s a code in there somewhere, and are continuing to look for it. I think that a code is by no means impossible, but not very likely; I think that a hoax is a simpler and more probable explanation.

The documentary mentioned the carbon dates, but those are not terribly helpful; it’s perfectly feasible that a hoaxer would use already-old vellum to make a hoax look more plausible, and old vellum was available in antiquity. (It’s also logically possible that the manuscript contains older text re-copied onto vellum made around 1420, but I don’t think anyone seriously believes that.)

The story has also been complicated by a recent paper by Montemurro & Zanette, which contains numerous unfortunate and serious errors and misunderstandings, which I’ve discussed at length in other articles on this site. I’ve included links to reviews by professionals in other relevant fields, who have been scathing.

So, the documentary didn’t exactly give a clear insight into current research, but its suggestion of an alien code was … interesting…. and it featured some nice photography.



Client requirements: The shape of the elephant, part 4

By Gordon Rugg

This article is about the problem of identifying and clarifying client requirements. It uses the humorous example of a client’s requirement for an image of an elephant, and follows on from the two previous posts about ways of getting the requirement wrong.

The next article in this series will be about ways of getting the requirements right, but for the time being, we’ll continue with examples of wrongness above and beyond the call of duty, starting with a forgotten icon from history, in the form of cartoon character Horton the Elephant.

Bad solution 7:  Cartoons always amuse people.  


Client’s response: Wrong.

Continue reading

Client requirements: The shape of the elephant, part 3

By Gordon Rugg

This article is part of a series about identifying and clarifying client requirements. Handling client requirements isn’t always easy. However, that isn’t the same as “impossible” or “not worth trying”.  The previous article covered three ways of getting it wrong, and various ways of getting it right; this article follows on from that point.

As a running theme through this series, we’re imagining that you’re dealing with a client who has asked you to produce an image of an elephant. Here’s another inadvisable solution.

Bad solution 4: My design is in a witty dialogue with its environment  


Client’s response: Very funny, go get a job at the circus.

Continue reading