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How Superheroes Can Help Us Understand eRA System Requirements

Contributed by Jessica Burnette, Marley Thrasher, and Gwen Hazlehurst

“At one point, I worked up a list of five requirements for a superhero: superpowers, a costume, a code name, a mission and a milieu. If the character had three out of the five, they were a superhero. But that’s just my definition.” -Kurk Busiek, American comic book writer

What do superheros and the eRA project have in common? Requirements of course! We need our superheroes to have certain abilities, just like we will our eRA system! We recently started holding focus groups for all the people and groups who are invested in our new system. The goal of these sessions is to gather input on requirements. So, what are requirements and why do they matter?

According to, a requirement is defined as “a need or necessity.” Superheroes need superpowers! What do we need our new research administration system to do? That’s what we’re asking for your help with… defining system requirements or a condition or capability needed by a system user to solve a problem or achieve an objective.

So, what goes into a good requirement? Common traits include:


Think back to our superhero requirements. Do the requirements listed fit this description? Yes, our list (superpowers, a costume, a code name, a mission and a milieu) does. This list is clear, concise, feasible (if you’re a superhero) and verifiable too.

Because we are purchasing a system instead of developing one from scratch, we don’t need to write requirements that explicitly state what we want the system to do. In fact, we want to leave enough flexibility in the requirements to recognize vendors that solve problems in unexpected but effective ways or who provide functions we hadn’t considered or features we didn’t know existed but from which we could benefit.

Just like Kurk uses specific needs to define an effective superhero, defining eRA system requirements is a crucial step in choosing the most effective system for NC State. These requirements will lay the foundation for the RFP (defined here) we will issue for vendors to respond to. The requirements must be sufficiently detailed to define the processes to be supported, the needs to be met and the problems to be solved (i.e. the outcomes of the system) without prescribing how the system should do so.

A good requirement also has a priority/category associated with it to clearly convey its importance. Priorities/categories frequently used are:

  • Mandatory – the requirement is an absolute “showstopper” —  if a vendor cannot meet this requirement, the product will be eliminated from consideration.
  • Critical – the requirement must be met in order for the University to operate and there is no cost-effective workaround; if a vendor cannot meet this requirement, they will lose considerable “points” in the scoring of their product.
  • Important – the requirement must be met in order for the University to operate but there is at least one cost-effective workaround; if a vendor cannot meet this requirement, they will lose some number of “points” in the scoring of their product.
  • Desirable – the requirement is nice to have but the University can operate without it; if a vendor cannot meet this requirement, they may or may not lose “points” in the scoring of their product and the product will still remain in consideration

Once we come up with our requirements and categorize them appropriately, vendors will be scored on how well they align with our priorities. Additionally, they will be scored on their (full, partial, or lack of) support for each requirement. The more fully a vendor supports higher priority requirements, the better they will score. Think of the superhero again; it isn’t essential for the hero to have all five requirements, but if they don’t have at least three… then they are basically just an average human and may not meet our city’s needs.

You can find a detailed list of amazing tips for writing good requirements on the Business Analysts Learning website.

Stay tuned for highlights from some of our focus groups, and we hope to see you at a future session. You can click here to view the eRA Calendar where you can check for updates about when focus groups will be held. We’d love to hear how you think the eRA can be a true superhero for NCSU research administration. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

This post was adapted from the eRA Requirements Primer created by Gwen Hazlehurst (our eRA Superhero)