Information Systems
College of Business Administration
University of Missouri - St. Louis
Portuguese Explorers

When the Portuguese expeditor Francisco de Almeida first arrived in Sri Lanka in 1505, they were resting in the coastal area of Sri Lanka. Those days the country was ruling by an ancient king “Vijayabahu IV” of Sri Lanka. When the king’s ministers heard that there are some foreign nationals have arrived in the coastal area, they notified the king and went to see who these “new” people were, and it was illegal to enter the country without proper authorization. Therefore, king and his ministers went to meet these new people. They met with the leader of the team, and asked what he needs, and why are they in Sri Lanka without any invitation. The leader replied we were on a long sea journey, and just wants a place to relax before we go anywhere. Knowing that Sri Lankan’s are very hospitable people, leader of the Portuguese group said please let us be here, if you think we will invade your land, just give us space where we can lay a piece of leather (cow hide). So the king and the group assumed that the Portuguese leader was asking to lay the cow hide where they are able to sit down. King gave a cow hide, and asked the Portuguese to be comfortable.

Next day when the king’s group came to check on the foreigners, they noticed that the foreigners have made a fence using small strips of the cow hide. Then they informed the king about the incident that has happened. When king came to meet with the Portuguese leader, leader asked what’s wrong. Then the king said you asked me for space to lay the cow hide, now you have made a fence using it all around the coastal area. This is not what I have given you permission for. Then the leader approached the king and said, sir I asked for space to lay the cow hide, but you didn't ask how I am going to lay it. When I asked you for permission, you gave me permission. My intention was to acquire as much as land I can from your country, not just to lay a small cow hide to sit and drink wine. So you are now in my area, and you are invading the property and chased the king away. After this incident Portuguese ruled in Sri Lanka from 1505 to 1629 until the Dutch arrives.

Moral: It’s important to be clear and concise with the requirement. Even though customer is vague about their requirements, they might be expecting something totally different than what you think. In this story if the Sri Lankan king has asked more questions about how these people are going to lay the cow hide, what is it will be used for, how it will be used for, what requirements will it satisfy such as lay it down on the floor to sleep or sit, then he could have stopped the destruction that would do for next 100 + years. Because of not asking enough questions, and easily jumping in to assumptions and conclusions, king has put Sri Lanka and the citizens of Sri Lanka in a bad situation and ultimately got assassinated by his own 3 sons. In this story, Francisco de Almeida was vague about his intentions, and king assumed the way how “kings” thought process works.

In systems analysis, it’s important to be clear with that customer wants and what you can deliver. If a systems analyst visits the customer to gather requirements for the project, customer may give vague information about how they want it done. The analyst may have worked on a similar project for another customer, and thinks that he understood the current customer’s requirements and expectations. Therefore he will give a delivery time line, budget and allocate required personal into the project based on his prior experience. However he won't realize that they didn't do what the customer really wants until the customer start using the new system and complain. Therefore it’s important to be clear at the beginning stage. The main activities of requirement analysis include the requirement gathering where the customers and users and the system analyst communicate to determine the main requirements, and then analyze the gathered requirements to ensure it’s not unclear, incomplete, or ambiguous. All the requirements should be given and reviewed at the beginning stage to ensure that the project is moving towards the correct direction.

These stories are adapted examples written in my class, IS 6840 (formerly MSIS 488).
© Vicki L. Sauter. All rights Reserved.

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