Empirical Software Engineering manuscript No.
(will be inserted by the editor)
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering
Contemporary Problems, Causes, and E↵ects in Practice
D. M´endez Fern´andez ·S. Wagner ·M.
Kalinowski ·M. Felderer ·P. Ma fra ·A.
Vetr `o ·T. Conte ·M.-T. Christiansson ·
D. Greer ·C. Lassenius ·T. M¨annist¨o ·
M. Nayebi ·M. Oivo ·B. Penzenstadler ·
D. Pfahl ·R. Prikladnicki ·G. Ruhe ·A.
Schekelmann ·S. Sen ·R. Spinola ·A.
Tuzc u ·J. L. de la Vara ·R. Wieringa
Received: date / Accepted: date
Abstract Requirements Engineering (RE) has received much attention in re-
search and practice due to its importance to software project success. Its inter-
disciplinary nature, the dependency to the customer, and its inherent uncertainty
still render the discipline diﬃcult to investigate. This results in a lack of empirical
data. These are necessary, however, to demonstrate which practically relevant RE
problems exist and to what extent they matter. Motivated by this situation, we
initiated the Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering (NaPiRE) initiative
which constitutes a globally distributed, bi-yearly replicated family of surveys on
the status quo and problems in practical RE.
In this article, we report on the qualitative analysis of data obtained from
228 companies working in 10 countries in various domains and we reveal which
contemporary problems practitioners encounter. To this end, we analyse 21 prob-
lems derived from the literature with respect to their relevance and criticality in
dependency to their context, and we complement this picture with a cause-e↵ect
analysis showing the causes and e↵ects surrounding the most critical problems.
Our results give us a better understanding of which problems exist and how
they manifest themselves in practical environments. Thus, we provide a ﬁrst step
to ground contributions to RE on empirical observations which, until now, were
dominated by conventional wisdom only.
Keywords requirements engineering ·survey research
Requirements Engineering (RE) aims at the elicitation, analysis, and speciﬁcation
of requirements that unambiguously reﬂect the intended purpose of a software
Daniel M´endez Fern´andez
Technische Universit¨at M¨unchen, Germany
© Springer. This is the authors’ version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Springer for your personal use.
Not for redistribution. The ﬁnal publication is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10664-016-9451-7
2 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
system considering and aligning the viewpoints of all relevant stakeholders. Pre-
cise and consistent requirements directly contribute to appropriateness and cost-
e↵ectiveness in the development of a system  whereby RE is a determinant
of productivity and (product) quality . Yet, RE remains a discipline that is
inherently complex due to the various inﬂuences in industrial environments. The
process itself is driven by uncertainty as many aspects are usually not clear when
setting up a project . The pro ject setting, however, inﬂuences the choice of
methods, approaches, and tools in RE as in no other software engineering disci-
pline. This makes it impossible to standardise the discipline and to propose holistic
solutions to RE. The interdisciplinary nature of the discipline and the dependency
to various socio-economic and process-related factors that pervade RE make it
diﬃcult to investigate and improve .
Over the last years, we have observed a strong research community arise and
propose a plethora of promising contributions to RE. Yet, we still know very little
about the practical impact of those contributions or whether they are in tune with
the practical problems they intend to address . The state of empirical evidence
in RE is particularly weak and dominated by, if at all, isolated case studies and
small-scale studies investigating aspects that hardly can be generalised. It remains
often unknown for which situations the observed e↵ects of applying a speciﬁc
method holds or what the long-term views are on cost and beneﬁt when adopting
and applying those methods. In most cases, accurate evaluations starve in the
future work section of publications .
Theoretical and practical contributions to RE are heavily steered by conven-
tional wisdom rather than empirical observations. In our current understanding,
there are two reasons. First, we still do not exploit the full potential of empirical
software engineering principles in RE  to reveal theories and practically rele-
vant improvement goals, and, in consequence, for evaluating contributions on the
basis of clear and practically relevant hypotheses. Both, however, are a prerequisite
for problem-driven research. Second – and more important – it is per se diﬃcult
to provide proper empirical ﬁgures that could demonstrate, for instance, problems
in RE or even particular success factors . This leads to the current situation
where we still lack empirically grounded and comprehensive theories for RE. To
reach this aim, we need, as a ﬁrst step, to expand our knowledge about which
problems exist in RE and what their causes are while covering the particularities
of the project contexts for which those phenomena hold. This knowledge about
the state of practice and potentially resulting problems in RE would allow us to
better steer future research in a problem-driven manner.
This overall situation motivated the Naming the Pain in Requirements Engi-
neering (NaPiRE) initiative under the umbrella of the International Software En-
gineering Research Network (ISERN). NaPiRE constitutes a globally distributed
family of practitioner surveys on the status quo, problems, and their causes and
e↵ects in RE. The overall objective of NaPiRE is to establish an open knowledge
base about the status quo as well as practical problems and needs in RE. In the
long run, the obtained data shall support us in deﬁning a holistic theory of RE cov-
ering a broad set of context factors for which particular phenomena hold. NaPiRE
is currently run by 26 researchers from 14 countries around the world.
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 3
1.1 Research Objective
Our objective is to use the NaPiRE data from the 2014/15 survey run to explore
which problems practitioners experience and what their causes and e↵ects are.
This shall allow us to provide a basis for steering RE research in a problem-driven
In this article, we contribute with an analysis of:
1. RE problems practitioners experience in their project setting and an analysis
of the problems with respect to their criticality for project failures, including a
di↵erentiated view according to chosen context factors such as the development
process model used (agile or plan-driven).
2. Most reported causes of the RE problems, as reported by our survey respon-
dents, and their inﬂuence on the most cited RE problems.
3. Causes and e↵ects, providing an overview on the survey results on causes and
e↵ects of the most critical RE problems.
The analysis is based on data obtained from 228 companies in 10 countries.
We expect our contributions to
–increase the awareness of practitioners of problems reoccurring in RE and
causes that lead to those problems, thereby allowing them to directly assess
their own situation with respect to the state of practice, and
–provide an empirical foundation for researchers to base their investigations on
a set of practical problems and causes.
The article is organised as follows. In Section 2, we describe related work and
also provide information on the background of the NaPiRE initiative including
previously published material. Section 3 introduces the study design including
research questions and the data collection and analysis procedures. In Section 4,
we report on our study results, before concluding our article in Section 5.
2 Related Work and Background
In the following, we will discuss work related to our study, before introducing the
NaPiRE initiative and previously published material in that context in detail.
2.1 Related Work
There is a large body of research on requirements engineering in general and on
speciﬁc RE methods in particular. Our study touches on the results of many of
them, but we cannot discuss them all here. There exist surprisingly few compre-
hensive systematic literature reviews. For instance, there is a systematic review
4 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
on e↵ectiveness of requirements elicitation techniques  and mapping studies
on creativity , requirements speciﬁcation improvement methods  as well as
the empirical work on requirements speciﬁcations techniques . In the latter, the
authors emphasise that most studies are experiments, and that the practitioners’
view is missing.
We will focus on related work which performed survey research in the area of
requirements engineering or at least with a strong RE component.1In RE survey
research, we see two major areas: investigations of techniques and methods and
investigations of general practices and contemporary issues in practice. Both areas
investigate to some degree problems in RE and their causes.
Contributions that investigate techniques and methods analyse, for example,
selected requirements phases and which techniques are suitable to support typical
tasks in those phases. Cox et al.  performed a broader investigation of all phases
to analyse the perceived value of the RE practices recommended by Sommerville
and Sawyer . Studies like those reveal the e↵ects of given techniques when
applying them in practical contexts.
Surveys on general practices and phenomena in industry include the well-known
Chaos Report of the Standish Group, examining especially root causes for project
failures of which most are to be seen in RE, such as missing user involvement.
Whereas the report is known to have serious ﬂaws in its design negatively af-
fecting the validity of the results , other studies, such as the (German) Suc-
cess study , conduct a similar investigation of German companies including a
detailed and reproducible study design. Still, both surveys exclusively investigate
failed projects and general causes at the level of overall software processes. A sim-
ilar focus, but exclusively narrowed down to the area of RE, had the study of
Kamata et al. . They analysed the criticality of the single parts of the IEEE
software requirements speciﬁcation Std. 830-1998  on project success.
The focus of those studies, however, does not support the investigation of con-
temporary phenomena and problems of RE in industry. Nikula et al.  present
a survey on RE at the organisational level of small and medium-sized companies
in Finland. Based on their ﬁndings, they inferred improvement goals, e.g., on opti-
mising knowledge transfer. Staples et al.  conducted a study investigating the
industrial reluctance on software process improvement. They discovered di↵erent
reasons why organisations do not adopt normative improvement solutions, for ex-
ample, CMMI and related frameworks (focussing on assessing and benchmarking
companies rather than on problem-driven improvements, see [32, 36]). Exemplary
reasons for a reluctance to normative improvement frameworks were the small
company size where the respondents did not see clear beneﬁt.
A survey that directly focused on discovering problems in practical settings
was performed by Hall et al. . They empirically underpin the problems dis-
cussed by Hsia et al.  and investigated a set of critical organisational and
project-speciﬁc problems, such as communication problems, inappropriate skills
or vague requirements. Solemon, Sahibuddin, and Abd Ghani  report on a sur-
vey on RE problems and practices in Malaysian software companies. They found
several of the RE problems we also saw in our survey. Liu, Li, and Peng  de-
scribe a survey conducted in China about practices and problems in RE. They
1Parts of the following text are based on our related work discussion in  as the related
work has not changed signiﬁcantly.
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 5
discuss several problems we also investigated but concentrate on China. Verner
et al.  ran a survey in Australia and the USA. They concentrated on success
factors in RE and found good requirements, customer/user involvement, and ef-
fective requirements management to be the best predictors of project success. In
the study reported in this article, we identiﬁed problems and their causes which
can be used to reﬁne the abstract success factors identiﬁed by Verner et al. For
instance, we identiﬁed incomplete and/or hidden requirements as a main problem
to reach ’good requirements’ and weak qualiﬁcation as well as lack of experience as
its main causes. These causes are useful guidelines to reach more e↵ective require-
ments management. Further studies on RE problems and causes are still rare. For
instance, Al-Rawas and Easterbrook  present a ﬁeld study on communication
problems in requirements engineering.
In summary, we have existing work using survey research to understand speciﬁc
RE techniques as well as to understand practical problems. Yet, so far there has
not been a large, replicated and world-wide analysis of RE problems together with
their causes in practice.
2.2 The NaPiRE Initiative
The NaPiRE (Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering) initiative was started
by Daniel M´endez Fern´andez and Stefan Wagner in 2012 as a reaction to the lack
of a general empirical basis for requirements engineering research. The basic idea
was to establish a broad survey investigating the status quo of requirements engi-
neering in practice together with contemporary problems practitioners encounter.
This should lead to the identiﬁcation of interesting further research areas as well
as success factors for RE.
The initial team was convinced that because of the diversity of RE in research
and practice, we would not be able to achieve this high goal by ourselves and in
a single survey. Therefore, NaPiRE was created as a means to collaborate with
researchers from all over the world to conduct the survey in di↵erent countries.
This allows us to investigate RE in di↵erent cultural environments and increase
the overall sample size. Furthermore, we decided to run the survey every two years
so that we can cover slightly di↵erent areas over time and have the possibility to
observe trends. The conduct of NaPiRE is guided by the four principles described
in Tab. 1.
At present, the NaPiRE initiative has members from 14 countries mostly from
Europe but also North-America, South-America and Asia. There have been two
runs of the survey so far. The ﬁrst was the test run performed only in Germany
and in the Netherlands in 2012/13. The second run was performed in 10 coun-
tries in 2014/15. All up-to-date information on NaPiRE together with links to all
publications and the data is available on the web site http://www.re-survey.org.
The ﬁrst run in Germany together with the overall study design was published
in . A preliminary version was also published in  and the detailed data
and descriptive analysis is available as technical report . This ﬁrst run already
covered the spectrum of status quo and problems. It had additional questions on
the expectations on a good RE which we removed in the second run because they
provided the least interesting insights. The study design was described with the
bi-yearly replications and world-wide distribution in detail. Furthermore, a ﬁrst
6 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
Tabl e 1 Guiding principles of NaPiRE
Openness Openness begins by cordially inviting researchers and practi-
tioners of any software-engineering-related community to con-
tribute to NaPiRE and ends by disclosing our results and
reports without any restrictions or commercial interest.
Transparency All results obtained from the distributed surveys are com-
mitted to the PROMISE repository. This shall allow other
researchers an independent data analysis and interpretation.
Anonymity The participation in NaPiRE in the form of a survey respon-
dent is possible by invitation only. This supports a transpar-
ent result set and response rate. We collect no personal data,
however, and every data set obtained from the survey will be
carefully cleansed of information that might be traced back
to a speciﬁc company to ensure that no personal data will be
disclosed to the public. That is, we guarantee that no answer
set can be related to survey participants.
Accuracy and Validity With accuracy and validity, we refer in particular to the data
collection and to the data analysis. Each question in the sur-
vey is carefully deﬁned according to a jointly deﬁned theory to
speciﬁcally conﬁrm or refute existing expectations. The data
analysis is furthermore performed in joint collaboration by
di↵erent researchers to maximise the validity of the results.
version of a theory of the status quo and problems in RE was provided in the
form of hypotheses. Overall, we were able to get full responses from 58 companies
to test the theory. Most of the proposed theory could be supported and changes
were discussed based on the data. Finally, a detailed qualitative analysis of the
experienced problems and how they manifest themselves was made. The article
at hands concentrates on the replication of that part of the survey, with further
emphasis on the problems and their causes.
For the second run, we have published three papers so far, concentrating on
speciﬁc aspects and the data from only one or two countries. So far, there is no
comprehensive analysis of problems and causes based on the complete, interna-
tional data set.
In , we used the Brazilian data to explore how to analyse problems and
causes in RE in detail. In particular, we tested the use of probabilistic cause-
e↵ect diagrams on this data to better understand the relationship of causes and
problems. We introduced those diagrams for causal analysis purposes , and have
further detailed them subsequently . We decided to employ these diagrams in
our subsequent e↵orts, including this article, in which we use them for analysing
causes and e↵ects of problems based on the complete data set.
Thereafter, in , we concentrated on analysing the similarities and di↵erences
in the experienced problems between Brazil and Germany. We also used the prob-
abilistic cause-e↵ect diagrams for problem and cause analysis. Our key insights in
this article were that the dominating factors are related to human interactions in-
dependent of country, project type or company. Furthermore, we observed a higher
inclination to standardised development process models in Brazil and slightly more
non-agile, plan-driven RE in Germany.
Finally, in , we concentrated on the often mentioned problem of Incomplete
and / or hidden requirements and investigated common causes for this problem
based on the Austrian and Brazilian data. The most common causes we found were
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 7
Missing qualiﬁcation of RE team members,Lack of experience,Missing domain
knowledge,Unclear business needs and Poorly deﬁned requirements.
3 Study Design
The overall objective of the NaPiRE endeavour is to use survey research in a
globally distributed an replicated manner to build a holistic theory of the industrial
status quo in requirements engineering. To this end, we conduct the survey bi-
yearly while continuously adapting our questionnaire in response to data obtained
from previous years (see also Sect. 2.2).
In the following, we introduce those information on the study design relevant to
the analysis presented of this article. Details on the overall principles and process
followed in NaPiRE, as well as on the team involved, can be taken from our project
website RE-Survey.org. There, we also publish the full instrument used under the
3.1 Research Questions
Our objective is to get a better understanding of which problems practitioners
encounter in RE, and how those problems relate to the overall project setting
(causes and problems). To this end, we formulate three research questions, shown
in Table 2, to steer the design of our study.
Tabl e 2 Research questions.
RQ 1 Which contemporary problems exist in RE?
RQ 2 What are observable patterns of problems and context characteristics?
RQ 3 What are their perceived causes and e↵ects?
The ﬁrst question aims at understanding which problems practitioners experi-
ence in general in their RE and what their criticality is w.r.t. project failure. This
more descriptive view is complemented by the second research question, which
aims at understanding whether there exist problems that relate to speciﬁc context
factors, such as the company size or the type of used process model. Once we un-
derstand whether there exist speciﬁc patterns in the problems, we want to know
what their perceived causes and implications are going beyond project failure.
The overall instrument used in NaPiRE constitutes in total 35 questions used to
collect data on (a) the demographics, (b) how practitioners elicit and document
requirements, (c) how requirements are changed and aligned with tests, (d) what
and how RE standards are applied and tailored, (e) how RE is improved, and
ﬁnally (f) what problems practitioners experience in their RE. In the study at
hands, we focus on the problems practitioners experience in their RE while using
8 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
Tabl e 3 Questions (simpliﬁed and condensed excerpt).
Parts No. Question Type
Demographics Q 1 What is the size of your company? Closed(SC)
Q3 Doesyourcompanyparticipateinglobally distributed
Q 4 In which country are you personally located? Open
Q5 Towhichprojectroleareyoumostfrequentlyassigned? Closed(SC)
Q6 Howdoyourateyourexperienceinthisrole? Closed(SC)
frequently in your projects?
Q8 Whichprocess model doyoufollow(or avariationof
Status Quo Q 9 How do you elicit requirements? Closed(MC)
Q10 Howdoyoudocumentfunctionalrequirements? Closed(SC)
Q11 Howdoyoudocumentnon-functionalrequirements? Closed(SC)
... ... ...
you est ablishe d at your comp any?
... ... ...
Problems Q 28 Considering your personal experiences, how do the fol-
lowing (more general) problems in requirements engi-
neering apply to your projects?
Q29 Considering your personally experienced problems
(stated in the previous question), which ones would you
classify as the ﬁve most critical ones (ordered by their
Q 30 Considering your personally experienced most critical
problems (selected in the previous question), which
causes do they have?
Q 31 Considering your personally experienced most critical
problems (selected in the previous question), which im-
plications do they have?
Q 32 Considering your personally experienced most critical
problems (selected in the previous question), which
mitigations do you deﬁne (if at all)?
Q 33 Considering your personally experienced most critical
problems (selected in the previous question), which
would you classify as a major cause for project failure
(if at all)?
the answers given to selected questions on the status quo to answer RQ 2. Table 3
summarises an excerpt of our questionnaire demonstrating the scope of our study.
The full questionnaire can be taken from the publication section of our project
In this part, we use a mix of open questions and closed ones. The type of
question is denoted in the table (last column). In case of closed questions, the
answers can be mutually exclusive single choice answers (SC) or multiple choice
ones (MC). Most of the closed multiple choice questions include a free text option,
e.g., “other” so that the respondents can express company-speciﬁc deviations from
standards we ask for. We furthermore use Likert scales on an ordinal scale of 5 and
deﬁne for each a maximum value (e.g., “agree”, or “very important”), a minimum
value (e.g., “disagree”, or “very unimportant”), and the middle (“neutral”). The
latter allows the respondents to make a selection when they have, for example, no
opinion on the given answer options. Finally, we deﬁne selected questions as condi-
tional ones to guide through the survey by ﬁltering subsequent question selection.
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 9
For instance, if respondents state that they have not deﬁned any company-speciﬁc
RE standard (Q 16), the remaining questions on the standards are omitted.
For the analysis of the problems (Q 28 to Q 33), we ﬁrst present a list of prob-
lems practitioners are meant to typically encounter in practice. This list emerged
from previously conducted external studies (see also our related work section 2)
and has been already used in our ﬁrst survey round (see also  for a richer
discussion on the elaboration of the list). For this survey round, we use the same
list which includes a set of 21 pre-compiled problems shown next in no particular
–Communication ﬂaws within the project team
–Communication ﬂaws between project team and the customer
–Incomplete and / or hidden requirements
–Insuﬃcient support by project lead
–Insuﬃcient support by customer
–Stakeholders with diﬃculties in separating requirements from previously known
–Moving targets (changing goals, business processes and / or requirements)
–Gold plating (implementation of features without corresponding requirements)
–Weak access to customer needs and / or (internal) business information
–Weak knowledge of customer’s application domain
–Weak relationship to customer
–Time boxing / Not enough time in general
–Discrepancy between high degree of innovation and need for formal acceptance
of (potentially wrong / incomplete / unknown) requirements
–Technically unfeasible requirements
–Underspeciﬁed requirements that are too abstract and allow for various inter-
–Unclear / unmeasurable non-functional requirements
–Volatile customer’s business domain regarding, e.g., changing points of contact,
business processes or requirements
The respondents are then asked to report the relevance of the presented prob-
lems for their project setting, before being asked to select the 5 most critical
ones (Q 29). The subsequent questions on the causes, the e↵ects, and potential
mitigation strategies consider then those 5 problems.
3.3 Data Collection
The survey is conducted by invitation only to have a better control over the dis-
tribution of the survey among speciﬁc companies and also to control the response
rate. The responses where, however, anonymous to allow our respondents to freely
share their experiences made within their respective company. For each company,
we invited one respondent as a representative of the company. In case of large
companies involving several autonomous business units working each in a di↵er-
ent industrial sector and application domain, we selected a representative of each
10 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
unit. For the data collection, each country representative deﬁned an invitation list
including contacts from di↵erent companies and initiated the data collection inde-
pendently as an own survey project. All surveys relied on the same survey tool2
hosted and administrated by the representatives for Germany. Information on the
overall data collection procedure can be also taken from our project website.
For the study at hands, we conducted the survey in the countries summarised
in Table 4. The data collection phase varied among the countries and some of
the countries also collected the data in multiple tranches potentially resulting in
longer inactivity phases.
Tabl e 4 Data collection phase (overview).
Area Country Data Collection Phase
Central Europe (CE)
Austria (AT) 2014-05-07 to 2014-09-15
Germany (DE) 2014-05-07 to 2014-08-18
Ireland (IE) 2014-05-07 to 2014-12-31
North America (NA)
Canada (CA) 2014-05-07 to 2015-08-15
United States of America (US) 2014-05-07 to 2015-05-01
Northern Europe (NE)
Estonia (EE) 2014-05-07 to 2014-10-31
Finland (FI) 2015-06-01 to 2015-08-28
Norway (NO) 2014-05-07 to 2014-09-15
Sweden (SE) 2014-05-07 to 2014-09-15
South America (SA)
Brasil (BR) 2014-12-09 to 2015-03-31
3.4 Data Analysis
To answer our research questions, we ﬁrst need to quantify the answers given for
the selection of the predeﬁned problems the participants shall rank as they have
experienced them in their projects. As part of this quantiﬁcation, we also sum up
to which extent the given problems have led to project failures in the experience
of the participants.
For analysing the answers given to the open question on what causes and
e↵ects the RE problems have (Q 30 to Q 32), we apply qualitative data analysis
techniques as recommended in context of Grounded Theory [15, 1]. In particular,
we considered the following basic coding steps:
1. Open coding to analyse the data by adding codes (representing key character-
istics) to small coherent units in the answers, and categorising the developed
concepts in a hierarchy of categories as an abstraction of a set of codes – all
repeatedly performed until reaching a state of saturation. We deﬁne the (theo-
retical) saturation as the point where no new codes (or categories) are identiﬁed
and the results are convincing to all participating researchers .
2. Axial coding to deﬁne relationships between the concepts, e.g., “causal condi-
tions” or “consequences”.
2We im p l e m e nted the s u r v e y as a Web appli c a t i o n u s i n g the Enterprise Feedback Suite.
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 11
3. Internal Validation as a form of internal quality assurance of the obtained
Please note that we deviate from the approach to Grounded Theory as intro-
duced by Glaser and Strauss  in two ways. First, given that we analyse data
from an anonymously conducted survey after the fact, we are not able to follow a
constant comparison approach where we iterate between the data collection and
the analysis. This also means that we are not able to validate our results with
the participants, but have to rely in internal validation procedures to reduce the
resulting threats to the validity (see also Sect. 3.5 discussing our validity proce-
dures). Second, we do not inductively build a theory from bottom up, as we start
with a predeﬁned conceptual model (i.e. the problems) whereby we do not apply
selective coding to infer a central category.
In our instrument, we have already a predeﬁned set of RE problem codes (given
RE problems, see Q 28 and 29) for which we want to know how the participants
see their causes and e↵ects. For this reason, we rely on a mix of bottom-up and
top-down approach. That is, we start with our pre-deﬁned core category, namely
RE problems and a set of codes each representing one key RE problem, and three
sub-categories: Causes,E↵ects,andMitigation Strategies, which then group the
codes emerging from the free text answers given by the participants. Within the
causes and e↵ects, we pre-deﬁne again the sub-categories. These sub-categories are
–For the causes, we use the sub-categories Input,Method,Organization,People,
Tools suggested in our previous work on defect causal analysis  as we want
to know from where in the socio-economic context the problems stem.
–For the implications, we use the sub-categories Customer,Design or Imple-
mentation,Product,Project or Organization,andVeriﬁcation or Validation
as done in our previous work  as we want to know where in the software
project ecosystem the problems manifest themselves.
For each answer given by the participant, we then apply open coding and
axial coding until reaching a saturation in the codes and relationships, and we
allocate the codes to the previously deﬁned sub-categories. A rich discussion on
the principles of analysing textual data and how we generally apply it in context of
the NaPiRE initiative can also be found in our previously published material .
For coding our results, we ﬁrst coded in a team of two coders the ﬁrst 250
statements to get a ﬁrst impression of the resulting codes, the way of formulat-
ing them and the level of abstraction for capturing the codes. After having this
overview, we organised a team of ﬁve coders within Germany and Brazil. Each
of the coders then coded approx. 200 statements for causes and additional 200
statements for e↵ects, while getting the initial codes from the pilot phase as orien-
tation. In case the coder was not sure how to code given statements, she marked
the code accordingly for the validation phase. During that validation phase, we
formed an additional team of three independent coders who then reviewed those
codes marked as “needs validation” as well as an additional sample, comprising
20% of the statements assigned to each coder, selected on their own. After the
validation phase, we initiated a call where we discussed last open issues regarding
codes which still needed further validation, before closing the coding phase. The
overall coding process took in total three months.
To interpret the resulting codes, in particular the answers to research question
2 where we want to know whether there exist patterns of problems and context
12 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
characteristics, we need to put the answers to the problems in relation to the
answers given to previous questions in the questionnaire. To this end, we apply
manual blocking to our results, i.e. we select subsets of results which include spe-
ciﬁc variable selections; for instance all results for which a speciﬁc process model
has been selected. We then discuss in the group of researchers whether there are
speciﬁc di↵erences in the problems visible, e.g. compared to the problems when
other process models have been selected. However, blocking the codes according to
all possible permutations of the variables in the questionnaire is not feasible. For
this reason, we intentionally block the codes according to a combination of the two
variables company s ize (Q 1) and the type of software process models used (Q 8)
(agile or plan-driven), which we believe to be suitable for an initial observation of
relevant patterns. Of course, further blocking variables from the status quo section
of the questionnaire could be used. However, the relation of the whole underlying
NaPiRE theory to the manifestation of the problems also involves signiﬁcant e↵ort
and is left for future work.
The overall NaPiRE endeavour includes several procedures for checking validity,
i.e., concerning the data collection and analysis phases, as described in detail in
our previously published material . For the analysis of qualitative data, which
is in the scope of this article, we deﬁned additional procedures as described next.
The major threat to validity arises from the actual coding process as coding
is essentially a creative task. Subjective facets of the coders, such as experiences,
expertise, and expectations, strongly inﬂuence the way we code free text state-
ments. A further threat arises from the fact that we cannot validate our results
with the respondents given the anonymous nature of our survey. Finally, coding
over a distributed team of researchers can additionally lead to a possibly limited
degree of saturation in the emerging codes.
To decrease the threats, we ﬁrst conducted a pilot phase in the analysis. After
agreeing on the ﬁrst resulting codes within the group of coders, i.e. after get-
ting a common understanding on the wording and the level of abstraction in the
codes, we then applied researcher triangulation for the actual coding process. An
independent group of researchers coded all the statements given by the respon-
dents, before we subsequently conducted a validation phase within the group of
researchers. The validation phase during coding should then minimise the amount
of incorrect codes. This validation focussed on codes declared as “needs validation”,
but also on further codes presumably being coded correctly. There, we focused on
the occurrences of the codes rather than on the choice of the labels for the codes
(e.g., CRs and change requests are seen as the same code).
4 Study Results
In the following, we present the survey results concerning the RE problems (RQ 1),
observable patterns (RQ 2) and their common causes and e↵ects (RQ 3) as re-
ported by our respondents. We ﬁrst summarise the information about the study
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 13
population, characterising the responding organisations, as this information is cru-
cial to enable a suitable interpretation of the results.
4.1 Study Population
In total, 354 organisations spread across 10 di↵erent countries agreed to answer
the survey. Out of these, 228 (63%) completed the survey by going through all
of its questions and successfully reaching its end. Table 5 shows the number of
completed datasets and the completion rate per country.
Tabl e 5 Study population including response rates, total datasets obtained, completed
datasets, and completion rates. The explanation of the country codes can be take from Table 4.
Response Total Completed Completion
Area Country Rate Datasets Datasets Rate
AT 72 % 18 14 78 %
DE 36.8% 50 41 82%
IE 39.7% 25 18 72%
CA 75% 15 13 87%
US 36.2% 25 15 60%
EE 25.7% 9 8 89%
FI 37.5% 18 15 83%
NO 70.8% 17 10 59%
SE 51.8% 59 20 34%
BR 35.3% 118 74 63%
Total: 354 228 64%
The results reported in this article consider the completed datasets only. These
228 organisations were active in a variety of di↵erent business domains. The do-
mains were provided by the respondents in free text format (see Table 3, question
Q2) and coded by the researchers. The tag cloud for the coded business domains
can be seen in Figure 1.
This ﬁgure shows the frequency of each domain code and highlights the most
frequent ones. At all, 215 of the 228 organisations provided answers for their busi-
ness domain. There is a huge variety in the business domains ranging from embed-
ded software systems (described by the respondents as “Automotive, Embedded
Software” or “Software for medical devices”) over business systems (“business in-
telligence for data centres” or “Software ERP”) to consulting (“IT Consulting” or
“Consulting for secure systems and software”). The most frequent code assigned
was cross-cutting which means that the organisation is actively working with prod-
ucts and/or services that can be applied to several di↵erent business domains (e.g.,
cloud computing and web applications, custom software development, enterprise
resource planning products, IT consulting services). Additionally, we identiﬁed a
very large amount of di↵erent domains with few data points in each one. Therefore,
considering the amount of organisations active in several domains and the large
variety of di↵erent domains reported, we decided to characterise the responding
14 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
telecom (9) transportation (8)
gas (5) geoprocessing (4)
intelligence (4) oil (5)
communication (3) construction (3)
defence (3) e-commerce (3)
entertainment (3) games (3)
railway (2) relationship (2)
scientiﬁc (2) software (2)
goods (1) industrial (1)
Fig. 1 Tag cloud of the business domains of the responding organisations.
organisations independently of their business domain, in terms of domain cross-
cutting characteristics of size and process model used (see also Sect. 3.4).
Concerning size, we grouped organisations as small, medium, and large-sized.
For this grouping, as in , we used the number of employees (software and
other areas). Organisations with up to 50 employees were considered small-sized
organisations, with 51 to 250 were considered medium-sized organisations, and
with more than 250 were considered large-sized. Out of the 228 organisations that
completed the questionnaire, 216 provided their number of employees. The sizes
of these organisations are shown in Table 6.
Tabl e 6 Sizes of responding organisations.
Central North Northern South
Size Europe America Europe America Total
Small 12 11 20 26 69
Medium 4 0 12 17 33
Large 36 16 34 28 114
Total 52 27 66 71 216
We can observe that the datasets include relatively large samples of both,
small and large-sized organisations. Considering the distributions of size per region,
except for SA, the responding large-sized organisations slightly outweigh the small
and medium-sized organisations.
Regarding the process models used, respondents answered a multiple choice
question with the following options: RUP, Scrum, V-Model XT, Waterfall, XP, and
Other (in this case informing textually which process model they use). We grouped
these process models into agile (Scrum and XP), plan-driven (RUP, Waterfall and
V-Model XT), and mixed (for those organisations that informed to use agile and
plan-driven process models or variations therein). Out of the 228 organisations
that completed the questionnaire, 196 selected one of the ﬁve predeﬁned options
for their process model. The process model of these organisations is shown in
Again, the datasets include relatively large samples of both, agile and plan-
driven organisations. Considering the distribution per region, except for CE, the
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 15
Tabl e 7 Software process models used in responding organisations.
Central North Northern South
Model Europe America Europ e America Total
Agile 12 13 35 32 92
Plan-driven 15 4 8 19 46
Mixed 17 8 19 14 58
Total 45 24 62 65 196
responding organisations following agile process models in the respondents envi-
ronment outweigh the plan-driven ones. The amount of organisations using mixed
process models (or more than one) is large. However, we decided to exclude the
mixed ones from our corresponding analyses to remove a potential confounding
factor, as in these cases we had no information on the extent to which each pro-
cess model is applied in the organisation.
As we believe that agile and plan-driven process models may have di↵erent
e↵ects on small, medium, and large-sized organisations, we also crossed these two
characterisation dimensions aiming at further exploring potential RE problem pat-
terns (cf. Section 4.3). The result of this crossing is shown in Table 8.
Tabl e 8 Responding organisations by size and process models used.
Process Central North Northern South
Model Size Europe America Europe America Total
Agile Small 2 4 10 14 30
Agile Medium 2 0 10 10 22
Agile Large 9 8 14 8 39
Plan-driven Small 3 2 1 5 11
Plan-driven Medium 1 0 1 2 4
Plan-driven Large 10 2 6 12 20
Total 27 16 42 51 136
Excluding the 58 organisations with mixed process models, 136 organisations
that completed the questionnaire informed the number of employees and prede-
ﬁned process model options. While agile process models are being applied by small
and large-sized representatives of the responding organisations, plan-driven pro-
cess models are mainly applied by the large-sized ones (although we still have some
samples of small sized plan-driven organisations).
We therefore could obtain a balanced characterisation of small, medium and
large-sized organisations of di↵erent regions enrolled in both, plan-driven and agile
4.2 Problems in RE (RQ 1)
Based on the set of 21 pre-deﬁned general RE problems listed in the NaPiRE
questionnaire, the respondents were asked to rank the ﬁve most critical ones.
The top 10 most critical RE problems, as informed by the 228 respondents, are
visualised together with the frequency in which they are meant to lead to project
failure in a simpliﬁed manner in Figure 2.
16 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
Fig. 2 Overall frequency of top 10 RE problems and their relation to project failure.
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 17
Table 9 further summarises the 10 most cited RE problems providing more
details. There, we report on how many of the respondents cited particular prob-
lems, how many considered them as a major cause for project failure, and how
often each problem was ranked in each of the ﬁve potential ranking positions, thus,
showing how the bars in Figure 2 are composed.
Tabl e 9 Most cited top 10 RE problems.
RE Problem Total
Cause for project failure
Ranked as #1
Ranked as #2
Ranked as #3
Ranked as #4
Ranked as #5
Incomplete and / or hidden requirements 109 (48%) 43 34 25 23 17 10
Communication ﬂaws between project team
93 (41%) 45 36 22 15 9 11
Moving targets (changing goals, business pro-
cesses and / or requirements)
76 (33%) 39 23 16 13 12 12
Underspeciﬁed requirements that are too ab-
76 (33%) 28 10 17 18 19 12
Time boxing / Not enough time in general 72 (32%) 24 16 11 14 17 14
Communication ﬂaws within the project
62 (27%) 25 19 13 11 9 10
Stakeholders with diﬃculties in separating
requirements from known solution designs
56 (25%) 10 13 13 12 9 9
Insuﬃcient support by customer 45 (20%) 24 6 13 12 6 8
Inconsistent requirements 44 (19%) 15 8 9 6 9 12
Weak access to customer needs and / or busi-
42 (18%) 16 7 10 8 8 9
Out of these critical RE problems we highlight the ﬁrst ﬁve, which were cited
by more than 30% of the respondents. Noteworthy is also, however, that some
problems even if they seem not to occur as often as others, seem to be still more
critical as they are meant to lead more often to project failure; for instance, In-
compl ete a nd / or h idd en requ irements being the most frequently cited problem
is, from a relative point of view, not meant to lead as often to project failure
as Communication ﬂaws between project team and the customer even if it occurs
more often. Furthermore, Moving targets do lead more often to project failures
than Underspeciﬁed requirements that are too abstract even if they show the same
total frequency of occurrence.
The analysis of the problem patterns described next, concentrates on the top
4.3 Problem Patterns (RQ 2)
Given the diversity of the responding organisations, in particular concerning their
sizes and process models, we block the results according to those context factors
to further investigate how the problems manifest within such clusters, aiming at
18 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
identifying potential RE problem patterns (see also Sect. 3.4). Table 10 shows
the ﬁve most critical RE problems per process model and organisational size.
We can see tha t b esides Gold Plating, which appears for plan-driven medium-
sized organisations, all other problems are also listed in the list of the overall 10
most cited RE problems (Table 9). Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that this speciﬁc
cluster had only 4 organisations and that this fact might not represent a relevant
di↵erence. Also the textual statements of the corresponding respondents did not
show much speciﬁcs of plan-driven, medium-sized companies in that respect. Only
the statement “The team believes to be very qualiﬁed to understand the business“
hints in the direction that in a plan-driven development process, the developers
are not exposed to as much customer feedback as necessary and think they already
know the customer’s business.
Concerning the occurrence of the problems within the clusters, the only prob-
lem being consistently in the top 3 is Incomplete and/or hidden requirements.Itis
also the most cited problem overall. We will discuss its causes and e↵ects in detail
in Sec. 4.4.2.
Very common is also Communication ﬂaws between project team and the cus-
tomer. It appears in the three most cited problems in all clusters except for plan-
driven and small-sized organisations. We can see one reason in the free-text an-
swers especially for large companies. They tend to split the work in several teams
of which some work directly with customers, while others don’t. One respondent
describes that their “sales or account teams, product managers [. .. ] act as proxies
for the end user”. Small and agile companies seem to su↵er especially from cus-
tomers not willing to participate with a considerable amount of time (“Not enough
customers willing to help out and also time constraints”, “Customer is busy and
skips meetings.” or “Customers have no time to explain what they actually need”).
The plan-driven, small companies who rated this problem as important, did not
show a consistent pattern of reasons in their free-text answers.
Another di↵erence concerns the Moving targets problem. This problem is faced
by all plan-driven but also large agile organisations. That plan-driven companies
cite this problem often in comparison to agile companies supports the basic premise
of agile software development that it helps to quickly adapt to changing needs. The
respondents from plan-driven organisations mention as reasons the “Lack of change
management on the customer side”, the “Unclear business vision and understand-
ing by stakeholders” and overall “badly written requirements”. The negative e↵ects
on their projects are manifold including “pro ject delays; extended engagement of
resources beyond original plan; customer dissatisfaction” and “expensive projects,
time consuming implementation, bad quality”.
But why do also large, agile companies often experience the Moving targets
problem? We do not see a clear answer from the free-text responses. Some of the
answers could be explained such that large companies in general have larger, more
complex projects which also might run for a longer time. Then the mentioned
problems are more signiﬁcant. For example, a change in the management of the
customers was mentioned and seems to have large e↵ects: “senior management
confusion/churn”. But also the chance that over time other people bring in new
ideas and constraints seems to be more likely: “There are always some stakeholders
involved in later part of the project who would come up with new things”. Even
agile development processes cannot compensate this.
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 19
Tabl e 1 0 5 most critical problems per process model used and company size.
Model Size Total Top 5 Problems Count
Agile Small 30 1. Incomplete and / or hidden requirements 18 (60%)
2. Communication ﬂaws between project team and
3. Underspeciﬁed requirements that are too abstract 13 (43%)
4. Communication ﬂaws within the project team 10 (33%)
5. Time boxing / Not enough time in general 13 (43%)
Agile Medium 20 1. Communication ﬂaws between project team and
2. Incomplete and / or hidden requirements 9 (41%)
3. Communication ﬂaws within the project team 8 (36%)
4. Stakeholders with diﬃculties in separating re-
quirements from known solution designs
5. Weak access to customer needs and / or business
Agile Large 39 1. Incomplete and / or hidden requirements 17 (44%)
2. Moving targets (changing goals, business pro-
cesses and / or requirements)
3. Communication ﬂaws between project team and
4. Time boxing / Not enough time in general 14 (36%)
5. Underspeciﬁed requirements that are too abstract 11 (28%)
Small 11 1. Incomplete and / or hidden requirements 7 (64%)
2. Communication ﬂaws within the project team 6 (55%)
3. Moving targets (changing goals, business pro-
cesses and / or requirements)
4. Time boxing / Not enough time in general 5 (45%)
5. Underspeciﬁed requirements that are too abstract 5 (45%)
Medium 4 1. Communication ﬂaws between project team and
2. Gold plating (implementation of features without
3. Incomplete and / or hidden requirements 2 (50%)
4. Moving targets (changing goals, business pro-
cesses and / or requirements)
5. Underspeciﬁed requirements that are too abstract 2 (50%)
5. Weak access to customer needs and / or business
Large 30 1. Incomplete and / or hidden requirements 14 (47%)
2. Communication ﬂaws between project team and
3.Underspeciﬁed requirements that are too abstract 10 (33%)
4. Communication ﬂaws within the project team 9 (30%)
5. Moving targets (changing goals, business pro-
cesses and / or requirements)
5. Stakeholders with diﬃculties in separating re-
quirements from known solution designs
Another di↵erence between the clusters concerns the Time boxing problem,
which appears mainly in agile and in small organisations. In both agile and plan-
driven, small companies, we found three (related) reasons for this prevalence of
time boxing problems: bad estimations, unrealistic release dates and scope changes.
Our respondents often mentioned that estimations were not accurate: “A combi-
nation of bad planning and bad estimation of time for development” or “Bad
estimates, unrealistic expectations”. Especially sales and marketing is blamed for
promising unrealistic dates: “Sales shouldn’t give wishful promises” or “Release
dates are sometimes arbitrary and often released early to customers creating a
20 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
hard deadline”. At last, frequent scope changes seem to contribute to this prob-
lem: “Last minute changes; change of priority; Business urgency”.
Finally, we noticed that Weak access to customer needs and / or business
information only appeared in the medium-sized clusters. For all medium-sized
organisations, including the ones with mixed process models, it was the third most
cited problem, with 13 citations, while it did not appear in the top 5 RE problems
for small- and large-sized organisations. We could not ﬁnd any consistent patterns
in the free-text answers of the medium-sized companies. We can only speculate
that small-sized organisations might adapt themselves to ﬁt the availability of their
customers, while large organisations might have more inﬂuence on their customers
to achieve the required access.
4.4 Cause-E↵ect Analysis (RQ 3)
In the following, we will summarise causes and e↵ects as reported by our respon-
dents for the discussed RE problems. After selecting the ﬁve most critical RE
problems, we asked our respondents to provide what they believe to be the main
causes and e↵ects for each of the problems. They provided the causes and e↵ects
in an open question format, with one open question for the cause and another
for the e↵ect for each the previously selected RE problems. Details on the data
analysis procedure can be taken from Section 3.4. In the following, we ﬁrst discuss
the main causes for the RE problems, before discussing the causes and e↵ects for
the top problems in detail.
4.4.1 Main Causes for RE Problems
In total, 177 of the 228 organisations that completed the survey provided textual
information for at least one cause and we received in total 820 textual answers
for causes and e↵ects of RE problems. The coding process yielded 92 di↵erent
codes for causes of RE problems and 49 di↵erent codes for their e↵ects. While
it does not make sense to analyse e↵ects out of the context of the RE problems
that provoke them, causes are at the beginning of the causal system . Thus,
an isolated view on causes (without consideration of their speciﬁc RE problem
context) may provide valuable information, for example, on how to prevent RE
problems in general. We therefore ﬁrst provide a descriptive view on the most cited
causes of RE problems.
The ten most reported causes and how often they have been reported within
each of the analysed clusters are shown in Table 11. For the percentages, we
considered the total amount of organisations that completely answered the survey,
given that empty answers could mean that they did not consider any speciﬁc cause.
We can observe that the main reported causes of RE problems are Lack of time,
Lack of e xperience of RE team m embers,andWeak qualiﬁcation of RE team mem-
bers. While none of the causes was cited by more than 20% of the organisations,
this ﬁgure changes within the speciﬁc clusters, where some causes were commonly
reported. The cause frequencies above 20% within each cluster are highlighted in
bold. What can also be seen, even if implicitly, are cycles in the causes and the
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 21
Tabl e 1 1 Most cited causes of RE problems. Clusters yielding in more than 20% frequency
of the causes are highlighted.
Agile Agile Agile Plan- Plan- Plan-
driven driven driven
All Small Medium Large Small Medium Large
Cause 228 30 22 39 11 4 30
Lack of time 42 (18%) 2 (7%) 6 (27%) 3 (8%) 3 (27%) 0 (0%) 10 (33%)
Lack of experience of
RE team members
41 (18%) 5 (17%) 6 (27%) 4 (10%) 4 (36%) 0 (0%) 8 (27%)
Weak qualiﬁcation of
RE team members
31 (14%) 1 (3%) 8 (37%) 1 (3%) 2 (18%) 2 (50%) 4 (13%)
between project team
and the customer
30 (13%) 2 (7%) 2 (9%) 6 (15%) 3 (27%) 0 (0%) 7 (23%)
29 (13%) 4 (13%) 2 (9%) 5 (13%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 6 (20%)
21 (9%) 1 (3%) 2 (9%) 3 (8%) 1 (9%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Customer does not
know what he wants
20 (9%) 3 (10%) 0 (0%) 8 (21%) 0 (0%) 1 (25%) 1 (3%)
Missing direct com-
munic ation to cu s-
18 (8%) 1 (3%) 4 (18%) 3 (8%) 1 (9%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Language barriers 17 (7%) 0 (0%) 1 (5%) 3 (8%) 1 (9%) 0 (0%) 4 (13%)
Strict time schedule
16 (7%) 2 (7%) 0 (0%) 4 (10%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 2 (7%)
problems, i.e. some of the causes are, in fact, problems; for instance, Communi-
catio ns bet ween p roject team and the customer is given as one problem, but also
named by our respondents as a cause.
To analyse the inﬂuence of the most cited causes on the most cited problems
and, in turn, of those problems to project failure (as reported by the survey re-
spondents), we visualise the relationships via an alluvial diagram. This diagram is
shown in Figure 3. The decision to relate only the most cited causes to the most
cited RE problems was taken to enhance the visualisation.
Communication flaws between project team and the customer
Customer does not know what he wants
Lack of a well-defined RE process
Lack of experience of RE team members
Lack of time
Missing direct communication to customer
Requirements remain too abstract
Too high team distribution
Unclear roles and responsonsibilities at customer side
Weak qualification of RE team members
Communication flaws between project team and the customer
Communication flaws within the project team
Incomplete and / or hidden requirements
Insufficient support by customer
Moving targets (changing goals, business processes and / or requirements)
Stakeholders with difficulties in separating requirements from previously known solution designs
Time boxing / Not enough time in general
Underspecified requirements that are too abstract and allow for various interpretations
Weak access to customer needs and / or (internal) business information
Fig. 3 Relation of top 10 causes, top 10 problems, and the project impact.
22 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
As it appears, some of the ten most cited causes are more related to some spe-
ciﬁc problems than to others. Typical examples that can be seen are Lac k of time
leading mainly to the Time boxing problem,Lack of experience of R E team members
leading mainly to Incomplete and / or hidden requirements and Underspeciﬁed re-
quirements,orToo high team distribution leading mainly to Communication ﬂaws
within the project team.
Concerning project failure, the occurrence of some RE problems seems to lead
very often to project failure. Out of these, we highlight Communication ﬂaws be-
tween project team and the customer,Incomplete and / or hidden requirements,
Underspeciﬁed requirements,Communication ﬂaws within the project team, and
Insuﬃcient support from the customer. However, in particular relating to project
failure, it is noteworthy that this diagram is based on a reduced dataset, con-
sidering only instances which contain one of the main causes, one of the main
problems, and a project impact. The complete data on how often each of the most
cited problems was related by the respondents to project failure is provided in
4.4.2 Causes and E↵ects of Top RE Problems
To provide a more complete view on the causes and e↵ects reported for some of
the most critical RE problems, in particular, the three most cited ones (which are
also the three most cited ones for project failure), Incomplete and / or hidden
requirements,Communication ﬂaws between us and the customer,andMoving
Targets, we built probabilistic cause-e↵ect diagrams. Those diagrams have already
been applied in previous e↵orts in the NaPiRE context, based on data from Brazil
(see also Section 2.2). It is noteworthy to mention that, despite of the name of
those diagrams, within this paper we use them to represent relative frequencies,
i.e. how often each cause or e↵ect was cited out of the total citations, and not
Figures 4 and 5 respectively show such cause-e↵ect diagrams for the causes and
the e↵ects of the Incomplete and / or hidden requirements problem. For instance,
in Figure 4, we can see that the most frequently cited causes were related to the
categories Input (⇠34%, i.e. 31 out of 91 reported causes were from that category),
Method (⇠33%), and People (⇠29%). The ﬁve most frequent reported causes
for this problem are the Weak qualiﬁcation (⇠9%) and the La ck of experience
(⇠9%) of the RE team members, Time pressure (⇠5%), Stakeholders lacking
business vision and understanding (⇠4%), the use of Poor requirements elicitation
techniques (⇠4%), Specifying the requirements in an too abstract way (⇠4%), and
Missing completeness checks (⇠4%).
Concerning the e↵ects of this problem, it can be seen in Figure 5 that the main
a↵ected categories were Project or Organization (⇠43%, i.e. 37 out of 87 reported
e↵ects were from that category), Design or Implementation (⇠23%), and Product
(⇠21%). The most frequently cited causes were Time overrun (⇠10%), Post
implementation rework (⇠9%) and Poor product quality (⇠9%).
The causes and e↵ects of the Communication ﬂaws between project team and
the customer problem are depicted in Figures 6 and 7. The prevailing cause cate-
gories for this RE problem are Method (⇠38%, i.e. 30 out of 78 cited causes were
from that category) and Input (⇠33%). The ﬁve most frequently reported causes
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 23
Fig. 4 Probabilistic cause-e↵ect diagram for Incomplete and / or hidden requirements fo-
cussing on the causes.
Fig. 5 Probabilistic cause-e↵ect diagram for Incomplete and / or hidden requirements fo-
cussing on the e↵ects.
for this problem are Inherent communication ﬂaws (⇠12%), Missing direct com-
munication (⇠10%), Langua ge barriers (⇠9%), Time pressure (⇠6%), Missing
engagement by the customer (⇠6%), and a Too high team distribution (⇠6%).
In this case (Figure 7), the main a↵ected categories were Project or Organiza-
tion (⇠47%, i.e. 32 out of 68 e↵ects were from that category), Product (⇠22%),
and Customer (⇠19%). The main cited e↵ects for this problem were Customer dis-
satisfaction (⇠16%), Time overrun (⇠13%), and Poor product quality (⇠10%).
24 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
Fig. 6 Probabilistic cause-e↵ect diagram for Communication ﬂaws between project team and
customer focussing on the causes.
Fig. 7 Probabilistic cause-e↵ect diagram for Communication ﬂaws between project team and
customer focussing on the e↵ects.
Finally, Figures 8 and 9 show the probabilistic cause-e↵ect diagram for the
causes and the e↵ects of Moving Targets. As shown in Figure 8, the causes of this
problem are heavily concentrated on the Input category (⇠66%, i.e. 40 out of 61
cited causes were from that category). Its main causes were coded to Changing
business needs (⇠15%), Customers who do not know what they want (⇠13%),
Vol a t i l e i n d u s t r y s egment s t h a t l ead to changes (⇠10%), Poor project management
(⇠7%), and Weak management at the customer side (⇠5%).
Again, as expected for one of the most cited RE problems, the e↵ects are severe
(Figure 9). Most of the e↵ects are concentrated in the Project or Organization
(⇠68%, i.e. 38 out of 56 cited e↵ects were from that category) category, which
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 25
Fig. 8 Probabilistic cause-e↵ect diagram for Moving targets focussing on the causes.
might explain why this problem has such a strong relation to project failure. In
fact, 51% of the organisations that cited Moving Targets as a problem stated that
it led to project failure. In this case, the e↵ect Time overrun is clearly the most
cited one (⇠27%), followed by Budget overrun (⇠13%), and Overall demotivation
Fig. 9 Probabilistic cause-e↵ect diagram for Moving targets focussing on the e↵ects.
26 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
In this article, we contributed the analysis of contemporary problems practitioners
experience in their industrial project setting. To this end, we relied on the NaPiRE
initiative (http://www.re-survey.org), a global family of bi-yearly replicated sur-
veys where the aim is to overcome the problem of by now isolated investigations in
RE that are not yet representative. Our analysis of contemporary problems uses
data provided by 228 companies spread over 10 countries and included an investi-
gation of problems practitioners experience, what the causes of those problems are,
and how the problems manifest themselves in the process going beyond simpliﬁed
views on project failure.
5.1 Discussion of Results
In this section, we discuss our research questions based on the obtained survey
results and their potential implications.
Problems in RE (RQ 1) Our ﬁrst research question concerned the contemporary
problems in RE. We identiﬁed and ranked the problems cited as the most critical
ones by the 228 organisations that completed the survey. This result reﬂects the
contemporary opinion of organisations spread throughout ten di↵erent countries,
of di↵erent sizes and using di↵erent process models. We believe that this result
provides further insights into industrial RE problem trends and that it helps to
lay the foundation to steer academic and industrial research in a problem-driven
manner where scientiﬁc contributions to RE can be put in tune with practically
relevant problems. Out of the identiﬁed problems, we highlighted Incomplete and
/orhiddenrequirements,Communication ﬂaws between project team and the cus-
tomer,andMoving targets, which were the most cited ones and also the ones
mostly related to project failure.
Problem Patterns (RQ 2) The second research question relates to identifying pat-
terns between problems and context characteristics. Of course, there are several
ways of blocking our results that could have been performed for this analysis. In
this initial e↵ort, we focused on the type of process model (agile or plan-driven)
and on the organisational size, blocking those clusters of survey responses. Within
these blocks, it was already possible to observe some relevant behavioural di↵er-
ences. For instance, considering the three most cited problems, Incomplete and/or
hidden requirements appears in all clusters, while Communication ﬂaws between
project team and the customer does not seem to be a major problem for small
plan-driven organisations and Moving targets occurs mainly in plan-driven and in
large organisations. Future work includes investing additional e↵ort relating the
problems to other relevant constructs of the underlying NaPiRE theory. Based
on our initial observations, we believe that speciﬁc advice to organisations with
di↵erent characteristics on how to prevent critical RE problems could be valuable
beyond the type of advice available in current guidelines and maturity models.
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 27
Cause-E↵ect Analysis (RQ 3) The third research question concerned the causes
and the e↵ects as they have been perceived by our respondents. We identiﬁed
the most reported causes and analysed their inﬂuence on the most critical RE
problems. We could observe that the causes tend to di↵er within the selected
blocks and that some of the ten most cited causes have more inﬂuence on some
speciﬁc problems than on others.
Additionally, and still in the context of RQ 3, we analysed the causes and e↵ects
related to the three most critical RE problems. We believe that the identiﬁcation
of the causes can already help organisation to focus their prevention e↵orts. For
instance, we identiﬁed that, in general, the main reported causes for Incomplete
and/or hidden requirements are the Weak qualiﬁcation and the Lack of experience
of the RE team members, Time pressure,Stakeholders without business vision,
Poor elicitation techniques,Too abstract speciﬁcations,andMissing completeness
checks. Based on this information, an organisation facing this or similar problems
could take ﬁrst counter measures, such as:
1. Checking on the qualiﬁcation and experience of its team members, providing
training if needed, in particular, on avoiding abstract speciﬁcations. This could
also be supported by including and training RE standards that put emphasis
on the way requirements should be elicited and speciﬁed.
2. Adjusting its portfolio management to avoid accepting projects under extreme
time pressure or involving stakeholders that lack business vision.
3. Assessing and improving the eﬃciency of their elicitation techniques.
4. Improving their completeness check, within the philosophy of their develop-
ment paradigm. Plan-driven organisations, for instance, could institutionalise
requirements inspections based on RE standards for the artefacts, while agile
organisations could introduce the Deﬁnition of Ready (DoR) practice, which
is commonly used in agile projects to avoid the beginning of work on features
that do not comply with clearly deﬁned completion criteria.
Future work in this direction includes setting up a knowledge base on typical
causes of RE problems and on actions that could be taken to mitigate or prevent
them (success factors). However, we reinforce that these are informal suggestions of
the authors based on the identiﬁed causes and that our analyses need to be backed
up by complementary investigations, ideally also by applying di↵erent empirical
research methods on project data (e.g., case studies and experiments). Moreover,
organisations should perform in depth causal analysis in their projects to assure
addressing the right causes, the ones that are really happening in their concrete
5.2 Relation to Existing Evidence
In this section, we relate the results of this article to evidence from previous
NaPiRE studies and other related RE surveys presented in Section 2.
Previous NaPiRE Evidence The ﬁrst NaPiRE run with data from 58 respondents
from Germany  provided a very similar picture of the top problems as we found
here. The by far most cited problem in both was surveys incomplete / hidden
requirements.Moving targets,time boxing and underspeciﬁed requirements are too
abstract being in the top 5 in both surveys. Diﬃculty of separating requirements
28 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
from known solutions,inconsistent requirements and co mmu nica tion ﬂaws in the
team occurred in both top tens with a slightly di↵erent ranking. Most interesting
is commu nica tio ns ﬂaws between team and customer . It moved from rank 6 in
the ﬁrst run to rank 2 in second run. Furthermore, the ﬁrst run included missing
traceability and gold plating (ranks 9 and 10) which were replaced in the second
run by insuﬃcient support by customer and weak access to customer needs (ranks
8 and 10). Hence, the extension to other countries and a larger sample emphasised
mainly customer-related problems. This suggests that these problems are not so
prevalent in Germany. Analysing the data from the second run in this respect
somewhat supports this: The problems insuﬃcient support by customer and weak
access to customer needs are mentioned less often than in most other countries. A
reason could be that more often than in other countries, the team and the customer
are geographically close and speak the same language. Yet, communication ﬂa ws
betwee n team and customer are also very prevalent in the German data of the
In , the the Brazilian data set was analysed w.r.t. the cited problems, causes
and e↵ects. The set of top problems in Brazil matches exactly the top problems
in the global data set. The ranking of the problems di↵ers only slightly. There are
di↵erences in the causes and e↵ects, but the general categories are consistent with
some variation in the weights.
The data sets from Brazil and Germany were also compared separately .
The top ﬁve problems from both countries are in the top 8 of the global data set.
Also all other results are very similar to the results from the full data set.
Finally, the data sets from Brazil and Austria was used to investigate in detail
the incomplete / hidden requirements problem . The causes found there are
also included in the results of this article. The distribution over the categories of
causes changed slightly from a strong focus on people (40%) to input (34%) and
method (33%). Yet, the results of this article contain far more causes than we
found in .
Furth e r Existing Evidence Our results corroborate and extend existing ﬁndings
reported by other researchers. For example, the German Success study  investi-
gated factors that inﬂuence project success in general, not limited to requirements
engineering. Most of the factors are consequently more abstract than ours. How-
ever, the study found that project success is independent of the degree of manage-
ment support. We can support this to a certain extent in the sense that missing
management support was not often perceived as a problem.
Kamata et al.  investigate relations between requirements quality and
project success or failure, which aimed at a more limited view than we took as the
requirements speciﬁcation was in scope of their investigation rather then the whole
RE process. Therefore, the results are not directly comparable. Nevertheless, their
ﬁnding that a relatively small set of requirements has strong impact on project
success or failure is relevant for our top RE problem of incomplete and / or hidden
requirements, because it further substantiates the problem of single missing and /
or hidden requirements.
Nikula et al.  ﬁnd in their state of practice survey on requirements engineer-
ing in small- and medium-sized companies that completeness, change management
and descriptions are the three most needed techniques to further develop RE in
the participating companies. These three top needs are directly related to our
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 29
three top RE problems and, thus, further underpin their high rating in our sur-
vey and the relevance of the provided cause-e↵ect analysis for these problems in
Solemon et al.  report requirements engineering problems and practices in
software companies. Di↵ering from our study, the focus of the researchers was to
identify RE problems rather than relating them to possible causes. They classiﬁed
RE problems into organisational and RE process related ones. The reported main
organisational problems are lack of customer and user communication problem,
lack of developer communication, as well as poor time and resources allocation.
The main problems in the RE process are related to changing requirements, incom-
plete requirements, ambiguous requirements and poor user understanding. With
regard to the mentioned communication, resource, change, completeness and un-
derstandability issues, our survey supports their ﬁndings, and additionally provide
a more ﬁne-grained distinction and relationships between causes and e↵ects.
Liu et al.  present results of a survey on why requirements engineering fails.
According to that survey, major failure reasons are an unclear understanding of
the system by the customer, constant change of user needs and understanding,
missing access to domain knowledge for software engineers, reuse of existing design
in wrong context and environment, lack of domain and technical expertise for RE
decision makers, tight project schedule, broken communication links, as well as
lack of standardised data and interface deﬁnitions. The authors do not clearly
distinguish between problems and their causes, but all listed major failure reasons
are related to our main RE problems and their causes.
Verner et al.  further ran a survey in Australia and the USA. They con-
centrated on success factors in RE and found good requirements, customer/user
involvement, and e↵ective requirements management to be the best predictors of
project success. Disregarding the diﬃculties to precisely capture what “good re-
quirements” are, our results still can be considered in tune with their observations
as we identiﬁed problems and their causes which (if negated) can be used to reﬁne
the abstract success factors identiﬁed by Verner et al. For instance, we identiﬁed
incomplete and/or hidden requirements as a main problem and weak qualiﬁcation
as well as lack of experience as its main causes.
Al-Rawas and Easterbrook  ﬁnally present a ﬁeld study on communication
problems in requirements engineering. The results show that organisational issues
have great inﬂuence on the e↵ectiveness of communication, and furthermore that
in general users ﬁnd the notations used by software practitioners to model their
requirements diﬃcult to understand and validate. The topic of the study shows
that communication is an important RE problem, which is also reﬂected by our
results. Also the presented results are in tune with the causes for communication
ﬂaws that we present.
Our ﬁndings complement existing evidence on problems in RE in various ways.
First, we could distill a detailed picture of problems practitioners experience in
their project setting including a rich analysis of e↵ects going beyond project failure.
Second, the analysis of the causes and e↵ects in dependency to context factors
allows us to steer a ﬁrst empirically founded discussion on phenomena that hold for
30 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
particular contexts. Third, and most importantly, revealing not only the problems,
but also their causes, allows us to get a ﬁrst picture of requirements engineering
success factors which, if met, should mitigate the problems.
Based on this analysis, we can already steer further problem-driven research,
for example on agile requirements engineering. It also allows us to further explore
RE success factors suitable to establish maturity models and RE improvement
endeavours that are grounded on empirical data.
Overall, our contribution does not only support researchers to steer their re-
search, but also practitioners to evaluate their own current RE situation against
overall industrial trends presented here.
We have analysed the results from the survey conducted in ten countries yielding
a broad population, while applying the di↵erent procedures to control the validity
as described in section 3.5. Still, we are aware that our study has limitations. Most
importantly, our results are based on a reasonable but still limited number of re-
spondents. Also, the responses are not equally distributed over business domains
and families of systems (such as embedded systems). This probably has an inﬂu-
ence on the rankings of the problems if speciﬁc domains have speciﬁc problems.
We can, for example, not say reliably how the picture would change if considering
safety-critical systems only, let alone as they appear less frequently in our data
than information systems. We can only assume that the picture would change for
practices that tend to be seen as more important for the development of highly
dependable, safety-critical systems than for business information systems (such as
traceability). Furthermore, we cannot make concrete statements about how gen-
eralisable the results eventually are, because we still are not able to estimate the
representativeness of our population (given the unavailability of empirical data
characterising all industry segments in every considered country). This means in
consequence that we cannot generalise going beyond the contexts described and
that we might even expect partially di↵erent results in di↵erent countries. There-
fore, we need to follow our design of a family of surveys and further steer the
continuous replications and syntheses of the results while capturing precisely the
context to establish a more reliable and empirically solid theory.
Furthermore, inherent to survey research is that surveys can only reveal stake-
holders’ perceptions on current practices rather than empirically backed-up knowl-
edge about those practices. To some extent, we aim at revealing exactly those
perceptions. However, the answers given by our respondents might still be biased.
We mitigated this threat by conducting the survey anonymously, but need to back
up (and further explore) the insights revealed via this survey by adding more
investigations using other empirical methods, e.g., interviews and case studies.
A further limitation arises from the qualitative data and its analysis. Manual
coding of qualitative data is by nature a creative process where experiences, ex-
pectations and the expertise of the coders inﬂuence the results. We mitigated this
threat to a certain extent by applying researcher triangulation, yet the picture
might still change if involving other researchers.
Finally, a major threat arises from the way we designed our instrument as it
still includes too many (to a certain extent closed) questions which might enforce
Naming the Pain in Requirements Engineering 31
too simpliﬁed views by the respondents on the particularities of their project en-
vironments. We asked our respondents to categorise their software process model
used based on a pre-deﬁned list of options. This means that although the respon-
dents might have selected, for instance, Scrum, we still have no guarantee that the
process model followed was indeed Scrum or even agile. It could have also been a
plan-driven, iterative model baptised as “Scrum” in that organisational context.
That is, respondents might have misinterpreted the options or they might have
relied on a di↵erent understanding on the process model used (or even on how
the process model should be rather than how it actually is), let alone because of
the fuzzy notion of “agile” that allows for too many variations. So far, we can-
not mitigate the threats arising from this circumstance, but use the lessons we
learnt in this replication to further foster our learning curve during the follow-up
re-redesign of our instrument. Similarly, the part of our instrument used to reveal
problems relies, from a conceptual point of view, on a simpliﬁed understanding
of causes and e↵ects. We realised that such a simpliﬁed view on phenomena and
their sequential cause-e↵ect dependencies is not suﬃcient to capture the complex
dependencies of the various factors in a project; we need, in fact, to extend our
instrument with means that allow to capture complex systems of phenomena as
recommended in context of system theory (and system thinking respectively). The
re-design of our instrument therefore includes, inter alia, a more indirect approach
that relies on triangulation from multiple questions to support richer and more
robust results (see also our next section).
5.5 Future Work
We are currently analysing the overall data obtained from the current NaPiRE
survey round with respect to the responses on the status quo in RE. This current
analysis complements the investigation presented here with a ﬁrst holistic theory
on the current status quo in RE. Another work already in progress is the usage
of results from the cause-e↵ect analysis to establish a maturity model for RE
including practical recommendations on how to improve RE in response to certain
Besides current analyses of the survey data and subsequent work based on the
data, we are planning the next survey round to be started in 2017. To this end, we
will ﬁrst revise our instrument to better mitigate the limitations discussed above.
This re-design includes:
–A richer set of questions to describe the context of our respondents including
a more speciﬁc focus on teams and pro ject environments rather the overall
–A more di↵erentiated view on the particularities of the projects and the process
models used including a more indirect approach that relies on triangulation
from multiple, more objective questions on the practices actually used.
–A more di↵erentiated view relying on more open questions following an ap-
proach as recommended by the 5-why methodology to capture the complex
system of dependent phenomena rather than relying of single causes and ef-
fects of a set of pre-compiled problems.
32 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
Given that NaPiRE is a community e↵ort aimed at bringing forward the em-
pirical RE community, we cordially invite researchers and practitioners to join us
in our follow-up activities to steer future replications of our family of surveys.
We want to thank all members of ISERN who supported the design of this research
initiative. Furthermore, we want to thank all our contacts from industry for their
participation in the survey. Our gratitude also goes to the reviewers whose con-
structive feedback supported us improving our manuscript and in particular the
further re-design of our instrument for the follow-up replications. Finally, Dietmar
Pfahl was supported by the Estonian Research Council.
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Table 12 introduces the details of the authorships with respect to the roles taken in the NaPiRE
project and in context of this particular manuscript. To this end, we introduce a role concept
based on the classiﬁcation scheme as discussed by Brand et al. in . In our context, we
distinguish the following roles3:
–Conceptualisation⇤: Ideas; formulation or evolution of overarching research goals and aims.
–Project Administration⇤: Management and coordination responsibility for the research
activity planning and execution.
–Methodology⇤: Development or design of methodology; creation of models.
–Instrument Design: Development / re-design of the instrument used in this replication.
–Data Collection: Data collection as national representative in the respective country using
the provided infrastructure.
–Data Analysis: Application of textual analysis techniques to study and interpret the data.
–Data Curation⇤: Management activities to annotate (produce metadata), scrub data and
maintain research data (including software code, where it is necessary for interpreting the
data itself) for initial use and later reuse.
–Data Visualisation⇤: Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work,
speciﬁcally visualisation/ data presentation.
–Wri t i n g - O r i g i nal Draft ⇤: Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work,
speciﬁcally writing the initial draft (including substantive translation).
–Data - Review & Editing⇤: Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published
work by those from the original research group, speciﬁcally critical review, commentary or
revision including pre- or post-publication stages
The ﬁrst two authors are the initiators and coordinators of the overall initiative. Further,
we formed a group of lead authors for this particular manuscript (the ﬁrst six authors) to do
the data analysis and / or the writing process.
3Those roles marked with an ⇤are the exact same as introduced in .
36 D. M´endez Fern´andez et al.
Tabl e 1 2 Authorship details: Roles and contribution.
Writ i n g - D r a f t
Writ i n g - R e v i e w & E d i t i n g
D. M´endez Fern´andez X X X X X X X X X X
S. Wagner X X X X X X X X
M. Kalinowski X X X X X X X
M. Felderer X X X X X X
P. Ma f r a X X
A. Vetr`o XX
T. Conte X X X
M.-T. Christiansson X X
D. Greer X X X
C. Lassenius X X X
T. M¨annist¨o X X X
M. Nayabi X X
M. Oivo X X X
B. Penzenstadler X X
D. Pfahl X X X
R. Prikladnicki X X X
G. Ruhe X X
A. Schekelmann X X
S. Sen X X
R. Spinola X X X
A. Tuzcu X X
J. L. de la Vara X X
R. Wieringa X X X