Communicating Stakeholders’ needs
Vision Videos to Disclose, Discuss, and Align Mental Models for Shared Understanding
By: Oliver Karras (@KarrasOliver)
Associate Editor: Muneera Bano (@DrMuneeraBano)
One central task in requirements engineering (RE) is to understand, document, and convey the needs of diverse stakeholders among all parties involved. The process of coordinating and communicating these needs so that the development team can implement a solution that the stakeholders accept is called requirements communication. Requirements communication involves developing and negotiating a shared understanding of the goals, plans, status, and context of a project among all project partners, which requires disclosing, discussing, and aligning their mental models of the future system, i.e. their visions. A mental model is a conceptual idea in the mind of a person that represents the person’s individual understanding of how a system will work. Shared understanding leads to a common vision that summarizes the essence of the mental models of all stakeholders of the ultimate system that satisfies their needs. This common vision, in turn, describes the boundary of the system and thus its scope. Therefore, shared understanding is one of the most important objectives in RE since it enables the stakeholders and development team to assess and agree on what the relevant requirements are and what the meaning of these requirements is regarding the future system.
The Challenge of Establishing a Common Vision
Stakeholders and the development team can achieve shared understanding more easily if they use practices that support proactive information exchange among them. However, current RE practices mainly describe a vision as text. This representation is less suited for communication with a proactive information exchange due to two main reasons. First, the inherent restrictions of natural language such as ambiguity and abstraction increase the likelihood of undetected misunderstandings that limit shared understanding. Second, textual documentation cannot capture all information that is relevant to stakeholders and the development team. Mental models are difficult to capture since they are intangible due to their tacit representations in the persons’ minds. Thus, mental models require other communication mechanisms that are more suited for proactive information exchange to disclose, discuss, and align them to establish a common vision and thus shared understanding.
Vision Videos for Shared Understanding
In contrast to text, video is a more promising communication mechanism for shared understanding when representing a vision. Such a video, so-called vision video, visualize a vision of a future system, i.e., the video producer’s mental model. This visualization discloses the mental model by externalizing the model and thus making it tangible. However, even this external representation does not encapsulate shared understanding but merely aids to develop shared understanding. The explicit representation provides a reference point for the active discussion among the parties involved to align their mental models. The desired result of a common vision can be more easily achieved since critical issues of the mental models are identified, discussed, understood, and, at best resolved by making them explicit and obvious. The established common vision, in turn, reduces the risk of misunderstandings due to false assumptions.
A vision video is a video that represents a vision or parts of it for achieving shared understanding among all parties involved by disclosing, discussing, and aligning their mental models of the future system.
Current Research on Vision Videos
Vision videos are no new practice. One well-known example of a vision video is Apple’s Knowledge Navigator (1987). Since 2017, the YouTube channel “EU Science and Innovation” provides a playlist of vision videos of research and innovation projects funded by the European Union. These videos highlight the future impact of the projects on the life of Europe’s citizens and society as a whole.
Despite the benefits of vision videos, videos are not an established communication mechanism for shared understanding. In a survey, I investigated the obstacles that prevent software professional from producing and using videos in RE. In particular, I found that software professionals (1) perceive the effort of producing and using videos in RE as too high; and (2) lack knowledge about how to produce good videos. Based on these findings, I currently work on an affordable video approach that enables software professionals to produce and use vision videos for shared understanding at moderate costs and sufficient quality. This approach consists of two concepts. First, I work on including videos as a by-product of established RE practices and techniques, such as prototyping and workshops, to reduce the production effort. Second, I am working on a quality model for vision videos to guide video production by software professionals. This quality model will offer a basis for software professionals to estimate the consequent effort and activities to produce a good vision video. I believe that these two concepts can help to integrate vision videos in RE to support effective requirements communication with a proactive information exchange for establishing a shared understanding among all parties involved.