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Requirements fixation: How requirements inhibit creativity in software engineering?

Mohanani, Rahul; Ralph, Paul; Turhan, Burak; Mandic, Vladimir

"Desiderata" is a general term for stakeholder needs, desires or preferences. Recent experiments demonstrate that presenting desiderata more formally (as "requirements") leads to less creative solutions. However, these experiments do not establish how the presentation of desiderata affects design creativity. This study, therefore, aims to explore the cognitive mechanisms by which presenting desiderata as requirements reduces creativity during software design. Forty-two software designers, organized into 21 pairs, participated in a dialog-based protocol study. Their interactions were transcribed and the transcripts were analyzed in two ways: (1) using inductive process coding and (2) using an a-priori coding scheme focusing on fixation and critical thinking. Process coding shows that participants exhibited seven categories of behaviour: making design moves, uncritically accepting, rejecting, grouping, questioning, assuming, and considering quality criteria. Closed coding shows that participants tend to accept given requirements and priority levels while rejecting newer, more innovative design ideas. Overall, the results suggest that more formal presentations of desiderata reduce creativity due to requirements fixation, a cognitive bias in which designers anchor on explicit requirements, hindering critical thinking. More formally, requirements fixation mediates the negative relationship between the formality of desiderata presentation and design creativity.

Under-review at IEEE TSE
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