Event Report: Power and Politics in Requirements Engineering
Monde Kalumbilo, University College London (June 2012)

Thursday 14 June 2012, 6pm-8:30pm – BCS, 5 Southampton Street, LondonThe aim of this RESG event was to present work on an exploration of concepts of power and politics, and a proposal of a framework in which they can be modelled within the context of requirements engineering.

Emmanuel Letier (University College London & Chair) in introducing the event highlighted how the work, which is a joint effort by Alastair Milne (City University London) and Neil Maiden (City University London), had won the best paper award at the 2011 International Conference on Requirements Engineering (RE’11) in Trento Italy. In his opening remarks, Emmanuel commented on how unusual the paper was from typical technical presentations at RE’11, reading more like an essay.

Alastair Milne presented the paper. This RESG event was Alastair’s first opportunity to present the work as he had not attended the RE’11 conference. He started his presentation by sharing how his talk was inspired by his experiences in working on requirements as a developer, systems analyst, project manager, and on the business side, where he found that in reality people are often unreasonable, not very helpful, focus on trivial rather than important areas and do not make decisions on a ‘rational’ basis. Alistair’s assertion is that if power and politics are taken into consideration, such behaviour starts to make a lot more sense.

Power was defined as a potential possessed by an actor understood in terms of relationships with others, while politics was defined as power in action. Alastair presented arguments in support of acknowledging the importance of power and politics in requirements engineering including;

  • A range of individuals and groups with differing interests and motivations being involved
  • Differing views about the state of the world, and what the future holds
  • Decisions needing to be made in conditions that are uncertain or complex

While Alastair acknowledged that power and politics are very slippery things to pin down, his work proposes a framework that analyses power by looking at the structure of relationships between individuals or of individuals over groups using social network analysis, while politics is seen to be acted out in the decision-making processes involving individuals from different organisational domains.Alastair then described a case studyof a website development project, which he had been involved with, to illustrate the mapping of power relations and decision hierarchies.

In summary, Alastair reiterated the increasing importance of understanding how power and politics work in organisations and proposed that such an understanding should be a core skill of all requirements engineering practitioners, business analysts and project managers.

The talk was followed by a discussion panel with Alastair, Ian Alexander, and Steve Orr. The lively audience, drawn from both academia and industry, were very much engaged with questions and comments during the panel discussion.

The event was brought to a close, through the intervening power of the chair with attendants continuing discussions over tea and sandwiches!

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