Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering – Call for Participation

By Daniel Méndez and Birgit Penzenstadler [written for the IEEE SW blog]

40 years after Requirements Engineering (RE) was acknowledged for the first time as an independent discipline in an issue of the Transactions of Software Engineering, it has received much attention in research and practice due to its importance to software project success. The importance of RE cannot be refuted as many decisions in software projects are rooted therein; same holds for the problems. As Nancy Leveson (MIT) was cited in an article in The Atlantic:

The serious problems that have happened with software have to do with requirements, not coding errors.

In fact, it has become conventional wisdom that many problems emerge from “insufficient RE” and that the later the problems are discovered, the harder (and, thus, more expensive) they become to fix. Yet it remains difficult to obtain reliable empirical figures that would describe what “insufficient RE” exactly means, how it manifests in the processes and artefacts created, and what root causes and effects this has. Such figures are, however, critical determinants for a problem-driven research, i.e., to support contributions that are in tune with the problems they intend to solve. As a matter of fact, the state of empirical evidence in RE is still weak and much of everyday industrial practices and research as well are both dominated by wisdom and beliefs rather than being governed by empirical evidence. This results in research contributions with a potentially low practical impact and, in the end, a continuously increasing disconnect between research and practice.

The Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering Initiative

Motivated by this situation where we need a stronger body of knowledge about the state of the industrial practice in RE , we initiated the Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering (short: NaPiRE) initiative in 2012.  The initiative constitutes a globally distributed family of practitioner surveys on Requirements Engineering (RE) with the overall objective to build a holistic theory on industrial practices, trends, and problems. It is run by the RE research community with the purpose of serving researchers and practitioners alike and is, in fact, the first of its kind.

In a nutshell, each survey replication aims at distilling

  • the status quo in company practices and industrial experiences,
  • problems and how those problems manifest themselves in the process, and
  • what potential success factors for RE are.

To achieve the long-term objective of increasing the practical impact of research, the community behind NaPiRE has committed itself to open science principles. All publications, but also results obtained from the studies, are open to the public, including the anonymised raw data, codebooks, and analysis scripts. This shall support other researchers in running independent data analyses, interpretations, and replications, and it helps practitioners in assessing their own current situation in context of a broad picture illustrating overall industrial practices.

Current State of NaPiRE

While our first survey round focused on surveying German companies and had a first replication in the Netherlands, the second replication was run in 2014/15 and already took place in 10 countries with the support of 23 researchers.

That run yielded fruitful insights into contemporary problems practitioners experience as well as into the criticality of those problems as shown in the following chart.


Top Problems in Requirements Engineering as reported in “Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering: Contemporary Problems, Causes, and Effects in Practice” (Empirical Software Engineering Journal)

The colour coding visualises the criticality of the problems in the sense of illustrating the extent to which problems are seen as the main reason for project failure. We can see, for example, that incomplete requirements constitute the most frequently stated problem. At the same time, we can also see that moving targets, although ranked as the fourth most frequent problem, becomes the top priority problem when considering the project failure ratios alone. An overview of the further results including more fine-grained analyses of the root-causes and the effects going beyond a simple notion of “project failure”, can be taken from the publications on the project website

Motivated by our past success in revealing insights into the status quo, but also in being able to transfer those analytical results into first constructive methods, e.g. in the context of risk management, we have initiated the third replication.

By now, the NaPiRE community has grown into an international alliance of nearly 60 researchers who share the vision of contributing our part in increasing the practical impact of research contributions to RE.

Call for Participation

We are reaching out to you, the IEEE Software readers, as a highly relevant community of software practitioners. Please volunteer 20 minutes of your valuable time to contribute your insights and experience by participating in the current run of the survey. To foster problem-driven research with high practical impact, we depend on your input.

The link to the survey is: (open until the end of December).