Keeping emotions out of requirements gathering

When was the last time you went to an amusement park with a group of kids?  Remember the car ride there, the excitement, the buzz going on in the back as each kid talked about their favorite parts of the park and what they were going to do that day?  “I want to ride Hydra!” “I’m going to the water park!” “I want to ride Steel Force!” So much energy, so much emotion, so…how are you planning to fit it all in one day?  You know you have to because if you don’t you’ll be headed home with some very disappointed kids in the back of the car.
Gathering requirements often has a bit of this involved as well, but with less funnel cake.  Stakeholders commonly have pet parts of a project that their primary focus and energy is repeatedly drawn to.  It can be user experience, graphic design, dashboards, data integration, etc. but it’s something that at some point became a hot button for that person. In the process of gathering business and functional requirements these emotionally enhanced requirements will rear their heads again and again, circling unrelated conversations back to these topics with the threat of derailing the conversation once more.  How do you make sure you address all the needs while still keeping peace in the backseat?
All requirements are not created equal…but should look that way
As requirements are gathered, one of the biggest challenges is to avoid the appearance of weighting one set more strongly than others due to the stakeholder providing them.  Strong emotional arguments, passive aggressive tendencies, and unwillingness to compromise can lend a gravitas unwarranted to certain requirements.  Capture all the requirements as a scientist would take laboratory measurements: noting the source, details, and other observations but not passing judgment on the value and impact in the initial steps.
If a topic demands an audience, give it a private showing
If you have a topic such as design or user experience repeatedly derailing your main requirements gathering efforts, schedule a session focused just on that topic.  This provides you the opportunity to parking lot this topic away from the other discussions.  Additionally the stakeholders benefit from the sense their hot button topic is receiving the important exposure it deserves.  Think of it as having the kids who aren’t riding the rollercoaster waiting at the bottom until the ones who are finish.  It doesn’t take long but in the end you’ve defused a potentially difficult situation.  Just make sure if you do these special sessions you maintain a balance with the other topic areas as well.
Measure based on measureable things not based on opinions
When you near the end of gathering your business and functional requirements and are ready to start setting priorities, you could be walking into a minefield if you don’t plan ahead.  Set your measures for prioritization around factors such as cost, time, difficulty, scope impact, etc.  Do not score requirements based on intangibles such as impact, value, customer satisfaction, etc.  Basing your measures on those types of intangible measures is just setting yourself up for derailment with one or more requirements being pushed due to a perceived but unproven value touted by the emotional champion of the topic.  In other words, a 50-yard touchdown is a 50-yard touchdown, no matter how much cheering the fans do.
To paraphrase a classic 80’s song, “people are people so…”
It will be a rare instance indeed when you do not encounter some emotionally driven requirements on a project.  People formulate their own measures based on experience and motivating factors.  While you have to take these into account, you don’t have to let them set the tone for your entire project.