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Tag: Lean

Seven Tips to Ensure Requirements Management Success

The path to building great software goes through requirements management.  It’s easy to forget some times, but the world relies on great software.  Software operates the cars we drive, the planes we fly in, the cell phones we can’t live without and the tools we use every day to get our jobs done.  Software is everywhere.

As a software professional, you know all too well that software development isn’t easy.  A software product is never completed.  There’s always an opportunity to improve functionality and there’s no shortage of challenges to overcome along the way:

  • Lots of people involved in the process
  • Customers have difficulty articulating their real needs
  • Requirements constantly change
  • Teams are spread across multiple geographies
  • There’s growing pressure to release products faster
  • The complexity of software doubles every 2-3 years
  • More projects fail than succeed

Whether you’re building a revenue-generating product or an internal system, your company’s overall success largely relies on your software team’s success.  And, the path to building great software goes through requirements management.  Organizations that embrace this concept enjoy greater results.  They experience fewer errors and frustration, faster planning and development cycles and they’re able to deliver higher quality products to their customers.

What You’ll Learn:  The goal of this article is to provide you seven essential tips to help you be more successful with requirements management.  For some, these tips might be new.  For others, these tips will serve as a good reminder of the fundamentals that are easy to lose sight of during the heat of a project. 

Tip #1. Stay Connected

You can eliminate most issues by keeping everyone connected.

Much attention is placed on the high failure rates of software projects, and for good reason.  Any time there’s billions of dollars at stake and failure rates ranging between 60%-80%, people are going to pay attention.  But, what you don’t hear as much about is the root cause.  Last year, in The State of Requirements Management Report we polled over 200 professionals about the top challenges they faced in eliminating project failure, and the resounding theme boiled down to one thing – communication.  If you can get connected and stay connected throughout the entire development process, you can eliminate the vast majority of issues.


Simple Definition


Keeping your entire team connected throughout the development process


Keeping all the requirements, artifacts and other related information connected

There are two parts to staying connected.  First, there’s the connectedness of your team, which has been popularized recently as “collaboration” – new buzzword, same meaning.  Analysts, project managers, developers, testers, product managers, executives, stakeholders and customers – is everyone on the same page about what you’re building and why?

Keeping everyone connected is often easier said than done, but it’s absolutely critical to the success of your project.  Depending on the size and location of your team, you can do this manually through meetings, phone calls and documents or you can use a tool to help keep your team connected.  It depends on your situation and the complexity of what you’re building.  See Tip #7 for the tipping points when a tool might be valuable.

Second, there’s traceability – the act of connecting up the requirements and other artifacts such as use cases, test cases, tasks, defects and even user documentation – all the details that are related to each other within a project.  For complex development projects, there can easily be hundreds or thousands of items involved and it’s critical to establish the traceability relationships between these items – both upstream and downstream.  

For example, when a high-level business requirement changes 30 days into a project, through trace relationships you can immediately assess the impact it has on any downstream functional requirements, tasks and defects that a developer or tester might be working on.  This helps minimize errors and costly rework because the team members affected are aware of the specific change and its impact.

Implementing traceability and a change control process that’s appropriate for your situation is one of the most important steps to ensuring success.  As a simple first step to establishing change control, you can use a change request form manually to document changes right now.

Tip #2. Take Action Now

Don’t wait for your process to be “perfect.” 

Doing something is better than nothing. It’s easy to fall victim to what you might call “process perfectitis” – a condition reached by teams that get paralyzed by process and analysis versus delivering working software.  How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, we’ll get to that project as soon as we really lock down our process? ”  Is any process perfect?  More importantly, should that really be your team’s highest goal? 

Whether your team is practicing some flavor of Agile or not, there’s one thing we can all take away from the principles of Agile – it’s that working software is the primary measure of progress.  Don’t get us wrong, optimizing your process is important, very important.  We’re constantly tweaking our process.  However, if you have a better process and no product, you still have nothing to show your customers.

Doing something is better than nothing.  Start small, identify a few critical requirements and take the approach of continuous improvement where you build, reflect, refine and repeat.  Then, with each release cycle you’ll learn more about the needs of your customers and continuously improve and expand upon the software solution you deliver to them.  If you think your team suffers from process perfectitis, look for these symptoms:

•·         Requirements definition phase seems to drag on and on and on

•·         In the last month more time when spent talking about process, while your product stayed the same

•·         Lack of a decision-maker to make the call when to move forward with development

Tip #3. Eliminate Ambiguity

Successful requirements management begins with writing good requirements.

One of the things you can do immediately is make a “do not use” word list and post it up on the walls in your office.  Visual reminders will help you to avoid using ambiguous terms when writing requirements.  Karl Wiegers, a well-respected requirements management consultant, in his book Software Requirements provides a good list of ambiguous terms to avoid in requirements specifications.  Here’s a snapshot of a few them.

Ambiguous Terms

Ways to Improve Them


Specify the minimum acceptable speed which the system performs some action.


Describe the ways in which the system must change in response to changing conditions or business needs.

acceptable, adequate

Define what constitutes acceptability and how the system can judge this.

simple, easy

Describe system characteristics that will achieve the customer’s needs and usability expectations.


Try to state requirements as positives, describing what the system will do, instead of what it won’t do.


Define how the system is to handle exceptions and respond to unexpected operating conditions.

Source:  Software Requirements by Karl Wiegers, 2nd Edition, Microsoft Press, 2003

Tip #4. Reconnect with Your Customer

You don’t have to be an expert to capture the voice of your customer – just committed.

This may sound obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of customer needs as a project gets underway and the team gets to work building the solution.  Keep in mind, we use the word “customers” to refer the end-users of the product you’re building – these customers could be external consumers for commercial products or internal users in the case of internal IT systems where other departments and employees are your customers. 

Capturing the voice of the customer isn’t a one-time effort.  Most project teams do a thorough requirements gathering session at the beginning of a project, but rarely does the customer interaction carry through to the end.  Successful requirements management practices include constant communication with customers.  Otherwise you risk falling into the classic trap of delivering a product that end-users reject because it doesn’t resonate with how they expect to use it.

There’s definitely an art to eliciting feedback and requirements from customers and clearly some people are better at it than others.  There’s a plethora of books and courses out there to provide training for this specific skill.  However, you don’t need to be a requirements management expert to capture the voice of your customers. The fundamental skill required is commitment.  Commit to picking up the phone every week and talking to customers.  Commit to getting out of your office and sitting down with customers in their real environments.  These are things everyone on the team can do, and should do.  Even in Agile it’s not always possible to have an on-site customer present, so you have to commit to getting that feedback other ways.  

Here’s a quick list of Dos and Don’ts to follow as reminders for how to stay connected to your customers.



Be a journalist – ask open-ended questions

Think you know best what customers want

Talk to your customers every week

Assume past experience is representative of current needs

Be open and flexible to change

Assume customer needs are static

Just pick up the phone and call customers

Elicit requirements & feedback only at the start of a project

Listen with an open mind during elicitation

Sell customer on your idea for how a solution should work

Sit with a customer and watch how they work

Assume customers know how to articulate their exact needs

Close the loop with customers when their feedback has been implemented in the product

Forget to capture and share the evidence you gather with your team

Tip #5. Prioritize Objectively

Avoid building functionality that customers don’t need and may never use.

Development time is so valuable.  There’s nothing more frustrating for everyone than wasting time building features that customers don’t actually use and don’t provide value back to your company.

This is where requirements prioritization is essential.  You need to avoid the common pitfalls of building features that seem cool or that someone thought a customer might need.  Too often, requirements prioritization happens subjectively.  The team holds a meeting and in a debate over the requirements the loudest voice wins; or a request comes in from a salesperson who just spoke to a customer and the most top-of-mind request becomes the hottest priority du jour.  With each new feature request or high-level requirement, ask these questions to determine if this is a must-have or a nice-to-have feature:

  • What percentage of our customers will benefit from it?
  • Does it fit our brand values and enhance a competitive differentiator?
  • What is the trade-off if we prioritize this ahead of other requirements?

It’s best to establish an objective prioritization model that quantifies the variables that matter most and that each high-level requirement gets evaluated against.  That way, by getting agreement on the scoring model, it’s easier to get consensus on the highest priority requirements your team should focus on, objectively.

Tip #6. Minimize Overhead Select the right tools to get the job done.

If you’re a small team in the same office developing a fairly straight-forward product, you can use a whiteboard, task cards and daily face-to-face meetings to manage requirements.  A specialized tool in this case could create unnecessary overhead.  Likewise, if your team is building a product where the requirements are all agreed upon upfront and won’t change much throughout the course of development, then documents and periodic status meetings may work just fine. 

As projects grow in complexity and teams grow in size and geography, so do the communication challenges and overhead of trying to keep everyone and everything in sync.  It’s in these scenarios, where a requirements management tool can add value because the overhead of using the tool is far less than the manual overhead it takes to keep track of changes, manage trace relationships, update documents and communicate with everyone on the team.

Here’s a checklist of a few common tipping points where a specialized tool makes sense and can help reduce overhead by automating the process of keeping people and all the related information connected.


Tipping Point



The more complex the project, the greater the need.  If you have over 100 requirements.

72% of teams have projects that on average have 100+ requirements.

Team Size

The bigger the team, the greater the need.
If you have over 25 people involved.

Over 40% of teams have at least 25 members and stakeholders.


The more geographically distributed the team, the greater the need.  If 10%+ are virtual.

Over 60% of teams have at least 10% of their team working in different locations.


The more changes, the greater the need.  If you spend 10% or more of your time managing changes to requirements.

Over two-thirds of teams spend 10% or more of their time managing change.


If traceability is a priority for meeting standards or government regulation, a tool is valuable for automating the management of trace relationships, change control and version history.

Benchmarks:  The State of Requirements Management Report by Jama Software and Ravenflow, 2008

Tip #7. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel There are many existing templates and resources you can leverage right away.

Even though every company, project and team is unique, the resources needed to help you be successful, in most cases, already exist.  In minutes you can do a search on Google and find a wealth of best practices information.  As a starting point, here’s a link to more resources from Jama Software and Karl Wiegers for free companion resources to this article:

Eric Winquist is CEO and founder of Jama Software. In March 2006, Eric founded Jama with the vision of providing customers a more collaborative way to develop new products and eliminate the common frustrations with traditional approaches to requirements management. Eric is an accomplished entrepreneur, business analyst and project manager with over 14 years experience working with a wide range of organizations. Previous to Jama, Eric founded Redside Solutions, a software development consulting firm.

John Simpson is director of customer outreach, Jama Software. John represents the voice of the customer and leads Jama’s product strategy and communications.  John has over 12 years experience working at software technology companies including Microsoft, WebTrends and Omniture. He has contributed to several books, whitepapers and presentations.

They can both be reached through the following: 503.922.1058       [email protected]  I                                3/09

Real Reuse for Requirements

A telecommunications company in a hotly competitive market needs to deliver the next generation of cell phone to its customers quickly, and at the lowest possible cost. The company wants to adopt a baseline set of requirements for the next generation project, but must make necessary modifications to leap ahead of the competition.

An automotive supplier must produce embedded software components consistently and reliably for its OEM clients. To do so, the supplier’s development process must account for the slight variations required by each manufacturer.

Requirements reuse provides organizations, like those illustrated in the scenarios above, with the unique ability to share a requirement across projects without absorbing unnecessary duplication of artifacts within a repository. This is a critical capability that accelerates time to market and cuts development costs. Shared requirements can either track to the ongoing change made by the author or they can remain static if the needs of the project dictate. Further, change to a shared requirement can be made by anyone and the system handles the branching and evolution of that requirement appropriately.

The concept of reuse is a familiar notion within the software development realm, but less common when considered in the field of requirements management. There are various definitions and use cases which must be taken into consideration when implementing a solution to address requirements reuse.

This whitepaper discusses the elements that make up a requirement and establishes common understanding of how requirements evolve, how that evolution is retained, and how organizations can reuse requirements to speed business innovation, reduce complexity and control costs.

Dissecting a Requirement

To understand the concept of requirements reuse, we must first look at the various parts of a requirement: data, metadata and relationships.

Describes an object, and is relevant to the object itself. An example of data may be a summary or description of a requirement.

This is data about the data, which aids in organizing or using the object within a process. It typically describes the current state of the object, and has the same scope as the data itself. For instance, metadata may describe the State/Stage within a requirement workflow (i.e., Approved, Rejected, Satisfied, and Tested).

This characteristic of a requirement allows you to model: 

  • structure (i.e., Consists Of, Includes); 
  • history (i.e., Revision Of, Derived From); 
  • conceptual links or traces (i.e., Satisfies); 
  • references (i.e., Defined By, Decomposes To); 
  • security (i.e., Authorized By, Enables).

Any given requirement can have information in each of the data, metadata and relationships categories. When requirements are reused, any or all of the information can also be reused.

An organization’s chosen requirements management tool needs to have an underlying architecture and the user capabilities that support the strategic level of reuse dictated by the demands of the organization. Since reuse can occur at a number of different levels by leveraging the data, metadata and relationship elements of a requirement, flexibility is also critical to solving the reuse challenge.

History, Versions and Baselines

When implementing a complex reuse scenario, or even a system where requirements persist release after release, one must be able to identify significant points in that requirement’s evolution. In the development world, these significant points are called “versions.” This term may mean different things to different people, so we will begin with a definition of the term “version” as it applies to requirements reuse and show how it relates to similar terms like history, baselines and milestones.

Consider a system where requirements are captured within requirements documents but are stored as individual items within the repository.

History is the term used to describe the audit trail for an individual item or requirement. All changes made to the item, whether it is to data, metadata or its relationships are captured in its history. History answers to the who, when and what questions with respect to changes to that item.

Version represents a meaningful point in an individual item’s history. Not all changes to an item are significant and warrant a new version of the item. For example, the reassignment of a requirement from Nigel to Julia would not require a specific version identifier. The change is recorded to the item’s history, but a new version is not created.

Baseline is a very similar concept to version but has a much different scope. Individual items are often organized into groups or sets. In the requirements management domain these sets are called documents and a baseline is a meaningful point in a document’s history. Some organizations use a slightly different definition for baseline. Rather than being a snapshot in time for a given document, a baseline, as defined here in the context of requirements reuse, is a goal to work towards. For the purposes of this discussion we will call the goal-oriented baseline a milestone in order to distinguish between the two.

Requirements management claims to allow for the versioning of individual requirements. Many tools support versioning by way of cloning or copying the entire requirement. Even fewer solutions relate the copy to the original requirement.

Although related, versioning and reuse are not the same. The concepts of versioning are often confused with that of reuse. In the next section, we will explore various reuse scenarios to illustrate the differences (and the benefits) of versioning and reuse.

Reuse or Not Reuse? – The Many Flavors of Requirements Reuse

Requirements Reuse without Reuse – Share

The ability to share an item between projects, documents or other work efforts could be considered a form of reuse. Under this definition all of the projects that are sharing the item see, and can possibly even contribute to, the evolution of the item. The metadata on the item is shared as are all the relationships and the data.

This is not real reuse. I question whether to call this reuse at all, but it is included here for completeness.

Requirements Reuse without Heritage – Copy

As mentioned previously, copying an object from one place to another can also be considered a form of reuse. In fact, this is the form of reuse that Microsoft Word (or any other non-Requirements Management tool) supports. When an analyst opens a document, selects some content and performs a copy/paste gesture into another document, they are reusing that content for a new purpose. This form of reuse has no knowledge of heritage or “where did I come from” and of course changes in one document have no impact on changes in the other. In fact, changes are completely independent and one document has no knowledge that change occurred in the other, let alone what the change might have been.

This is also not real reuse. Any flavor of reuse must minimally include a pointer to where the original content came from.

Requirements Reuse with Heritage

Given the above scenarios, let us assume you can answer the “where did I come from” question. Augmenting the copy with the pointer back to its origin provides several options for reuse. It is the manner in which this link is leveraged that will differentiate each of the following reuse models. Most RM tools available today have some notion of links or relationships – if not at the individual requirement level, at the document level. Document level links are better than nothing, but they are not very powerful. In the long run, they don’t really answer the traceability question in sufficient detail to be meaningful.

Having a link to an item’s origin is the start of real reuse though it is certainly not the end.

Requirements Reuse with Change Notification

In this situation, a requirement and all related information (data, metadata and relationships), is reused in its entirety. Project state determines the state of the requirements at the time of reuse, and any change to requirements in a reuse scenario causes a ripple effect, flagging all artifacts related to those requirements as suspect.

Requirements Reuse with Change Control

Reuse with Change Control is similar to Reuse with Change Notification in that data, metadata and relationships are reused in their entirety. This seems, and in fact is, the same as the Share topic discussed above, however, there is one significant difference; the two projects sharing the same requirement only share it until the point in time where one project needs to change it. When the information changes a new version/branch is created and only items referencing that new version are declared suspect. All other projects or documents are unaffected.

Requirements Reuse with Annotations

In the two reuse paradigms above, the requirements and related information (data, metadata, and relationships) are reused in their entirety. In Reuse with Annotations, only some of the information belonging to a requirement is identified as a candidate for sharing and reuse. The rest of the information is specific to the project or document. The shared information is held in the repository while the other information belongs to the project or document reference. Each instance of the requirement being reused has its own metadata and relationships. The project or document state is, or can be, independent of the state of the requirements that are contained within it. New versions of the requirement are automatically created when the shared information in the repository is changed. These changes that trigger new revisions can suspect other references, as well as other items in the system, by the ripple effect of that change. For example, changes to requirements may affect test cases or functional specifications downstream.

Once you have project or document independence in terms of the metadata, you have the ability to model both a dynamic (share) and static (reuse) form of reuse at the same time. The project manager or analyst decides if they want to remain consistent with the evolving requirement in a dynamic way or if they want to lock the requirement down such that the impact of change does not affect their project.

Requirements Reuse with Annotations and Change Management

Applying change and configuration management paradigms onto the requirements management discipline in a single integrated and traceable solution can bring the power of reuse to a new level. By incorporating a process on top of reuse and controlling how and when requirements can be modified and reused enables you to reap these benefits without unnecessarily branching and versioning objects unless it is authorized and appropriate to do so. Requests for Change (RFCs) come in, get filtered and are directed by various review boards. Some of these RFCs get approved and assigned to users to affect the requested changes. Ideally, this change management process can define what types of changes can be made; whether it is modification, branching, applying a baseline or other gestures. Only when an approved RFC is associated with a requirement can an analyst modify the requirement, causing the system to version and branch accordingly, and notifying the related constituents appropriately.

There are clearly, additional reuse models that are not described herein – Component level reuse, documents reuse and various combinations of these with annotations and change management for example. This paper provides only a sampling. The business needs and strategic goals within the group, business unit or business as a whole will help determine which model is most effective for the project or organization.

Is Requirements Reuse Right For Your Organization?

Requirements reuse is not for everyone. There is a broad spectrum of need in terms of requirements management tooling in the market today, and organizations first need to know where they lie on the requirements maturity curve.


1 The requirements maturity curve is not really a curve at all but a measurement of the current process and tools used and/or needed within an organization when it comes to requirements management. As organizations evolve along the curve, the need for more capabilities – such as change management, process and workflow, traceability, reuse, etc. – within their requirements management framework exists. 

Many companies are still in the infancy of requirements management. They have not yet adopted a requirements management tool, and are currently using business productivity applications such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel to capture and track requirements. They may look for capabilities such as ease of document import, rich text support, and downstream traceability to ease business adoption. These organizations are not yet at a point of requirements sophistication where reuse support is necessary – or maybe they are but have not found a tool to support their needs.

However, if an organization has progressed on the maturity curve with respect to requirements management, and is managing multiple projects and thousands of requirements in parallel and seeking to reduce complexity, lower cost of development, and shorten innovation cycles, then requirements reuse is a concept that should be investigated.

Let’s face it, regardless of where an organization falls on the curve, reuse in its most basic form will provide a boost to productivity. Rather than re-writing requirements, copy them and modify them for the needs of each project – you will save keystrokes as well as leverage the structure and organization these requirements were managed under in the past. After all, how many different ways can the requirements for logging in to an application be specified really? Ok, likely quite a number, but within any one organization the need to standardize and streamline application access exists and leveraging requirements from one application to another to provide this similar type of functionality can only be a good thing™ (Martha Stewart).

In any case, concentrate on the problem domain before jumping into the question “is requirements reuse right for me?” What challenges is the organization facing in terms of requirements management? Here is a list of sample questions an organization can ask to determine if reuse is a concept that could be leveraged and if it is, which flavor of reuse is best suited to the need. 

Doug Akers is a Product Manager at MKS Inc., ( the global application lifecycle management (ALM) technology leader, that enables software engineering and IT organizations to seamlessly manage their worldwide software development activities. through a single enterprise application, resulting in better global collaboration and higher roductivity. MKS supports customers worldwide with offices across North America, Europe and Asia. Doug Akers can be reached at [email protected]

Can I have My Requirements and Test Them Too?

A study by James Martin, An Information Systems Manifesto (ISBN 0134647696) has concluded that 56% of all errors are introduced in the requirements phase and are attributed primarily to poorly written, ambiguous, unclear or missed requirements  Requirements-Based Testing (RBT) addresses this issue by validating requirements to clear any ambiguity or identifying gaps. Essentially, under this methodology you initiate test case development before any design or implementation begins.

Requirements-based testing is not a new concept in software engineering – in fact you may know it as requirements driven testing or some other term entirely – and has been indoctrinated in several software engineering methodologies and quality management frameworks.  In its basic form, it means to start testing activities early in the life cycle beginning with the requirements and design phase and then integrating them all the way through implementation. The process to combine business users, domain experts, requirements authors and testers; and obtain commitments on validated requirements forms the baseline for all development activities. 

The reviewing of test cases by requirements authors and, in some cases, by end users, ensures that you are not only building the right systems (validation) but also building the systems right (verification).  As the development process moves along the software development life cycle, the testing activities are then integrated in the design phase. Since the test case restates the requirements in terms of cause and effect, it can be used to validate the design and its capability to meet the requirements. This means any change in requirements, design or test cases must be carefully integrated in the software life cycle.

So what does this mean in terms of your own software development lifecycle or the overarching methodology? Does it mean that you have to throw out your Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) process and adopt RBT? The answer is no!. RBT is not an SDLC methodology but simply a best practice that can be embedded in any methodology. Whether the requirements are captured as use cases, as in Unified Process, or scenarios/user stories, as in Agile development models, the practice of integrating requirements with testing early on helps in creating requirement artifacts that are clear, unambiguous and testable. This not only benefits the testing organization but the entire project team. However, the implementation of RBT is much cleaner in formal waterfall-based or waterfall derived approaches and can be more challenging in less formal ones such as Agile or Iterative-based models. Even in the most extreme of the Agile approaches, such as XP, constant validation of requirements is mandated in the form of ‘customer’ or ‘voice of the customer’ sitting side-by-side with the developers.

To illustrate this, let us take the case of an iterative development approach where the requirements are sliced and prioritized for implementation in multiple iterations. The high-risk requirements, such as non-functional or architectural requirements, are typically slated in initial iterations.  Iterations are like sub-projects within the context of a complete software development project. In order to obtain validated test cases, the team consisting of requirements authors, domain experts and testers cycle through the following three sets of activities.

  • Validate business objectives, perform ambiguity analysis. Requirement-test case mapping.
  • Define and formalize requirements and test cases.
  • Review of test cases by requirements authors and domain experts.


Any feedback or changes are quickly incorporated and requirements are corrected. This process is followed until all requirements and test cases are fully validated.

Simply incorporating core RBT principles into your methodology does not imply that fewer errors will be introduced in the requirements phase. What it will do is catch more errors early on in the development process. You have to supplement any RBT exercise by ensuring you have the means to build integrated and version-controlled requirements and test management repositories. You must also have capabilities to detect, automate and report changes to highly interdependent engineering artifacts.  This means proper configuration and change management practices to facilitate timely sharing of this information across teams. For example, if the design changes, the impact of this change must be notified to both the requirements authors and the test teams so that appropriate artifacts are changed and re-validated.

Automating key aspects of RBT also provides the foundation for mining metrics around code and requirements coverage, and can be a leading indicator of the quality of your requirements and test cases. True benefit from the RBT requires a certain level of organizational maturity and automation. The business benefits from having increased software quality and predictable project delivery timelines.  Thus, by integrating testing with your requirements and design activities, you can reduce your overall development time and greatly reduce project risk.

Sammy Wahab is an ALM and Process consultant at MKS Inc. helping clients evaluate, automate and optimize application delivery using MKS Integrity. Mr. Wahab has helped organizations with SDLC and ITSM processes and methodologies supporting quality frameworks such as CMMI and ITIL. He has presented Software Process Automation at several industry events including Microsoft Tech-Ed, Java One, PMI, CA-World, SPIN, CIPS, SSTC (DoD). Mr. Wahab has spent over 20 years in technical, consulting and management roles from software developer to Chief Technology Officer with companies including Tenrox, Osellus, American Express, Parsons, Isopia Compro and Iciniti. Mr. Wahab holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario.

Defining Requirements within a Short Time Frame

Recent industry studies show that modern software projects on average spend 40 percent of their effort on rework. As a result, over 60 percent of software projects overrun budgets, miss schedules and substantially reduce delivered functionality. Without a clear idea of how to set requirements, most software development projects will face either significant rework or fail altogether.  Over the past few years,  Agile methodologies appear to be helping reduce this problem.  This whitepaper will explore techniques of capturing requirements within Agile teams.

Wikipedia says that, “The term Agile Software Development refers to a group of software development methodologies that promotes development iterations, open collaboration, and process adaptability throughout the life-cycle of the project.”

So, if we apply a sports analogy, using Agile methods to develop software is like a series of sprint races. Developers are focused solely on successfully completing the next iteration, which is often due within a matter of weeks, and they zero in on defining their requirements to achieve that short-term goal.

In other words,  Agile teams don’t produce any requirements specifications that are not absolutely critical to making it clear to the team what is expected of them in the short term. So, the question becomes: How do you decide what requirements are “just enough” to complete the next iteration? 

There are a number of factors that need to be considered, when deciding what techniques and how much level of detail to provide when defining requirements for an Agile team.  These considerations should include: 

  • Team size and the proximity of team members
  • Skill and experience of the team
  • Has the team worked together before?
  • Complexity of the requirements
  • Complexity of the software.

Keeping the above considerations in mind, you will need to decide which techniques you will want to use and how much detail you will want to provide while using these techniques.

Common techniques include:

Verbal Communications. Verbal communications, perhaps using a whiteboard to capture key thoughts, is typically the fastest way to define a requirement.  However, what this approach makes up for in initial speed, it doesn’t ensure that all stakeholders are in the loop. Plus, participants may not all remember exactly what was decided after the meeting breaks up.  It is all too easy to have a different recollection of details that were discussed two weeks ago.  This can lead to misunderstanding of requirements during development and testing, and will be reflected in inaccurate product user guides and training material. So you may have saved time initially, but wasted more time in the long run.

So when is verbal better than written communication?  Agile methods promote face-to-face interactions, but that can be impractical in cases where teams are scattered across the globe or even across a city.  Relying only on verbal communications is a last resort, to be used only when short-term time gains are worth more than the longer term problems this approach can create. 

Story Cards.  A popular and valuable technique within Agile development teams is to create a story card.  These story cards tend to provide a text-based description of who wants to do what and why, along with perhaps a picture of the screen and some test scenarios.  This technique works well for very small features but may not scale well for larger or more complex features that integrate and depend on other features. 

Requirements Lists. Often a common place to start from a product scoping point of view is to create a hierarchical “Requirements List” which captures in text form an organized and grouped list of functional requirements, technical requirements, business drivers etc.  Often these text descriptions can be enough to clearly articulate what the requirement is  For example a technical requirement such as, “The application must support IE 6 and IE 7,” does not really need any additional explanation.  However a requirement such as “The application must be able to define which users can have access to specific functionality and data” will need much more detail.  The point is to only expand on requirements that truly need more details. 

Use-Case Flows. Sometimes to truly understand the overall flow of a more complex requirement use-case flows or simulations are required to capture “just enough” requirements.  However from my point of view it typically is not a good idea to use “use cases” to document complex logic or business rules such as authorization logic. These types of requirements are often better documented in text or tabular formats. For example, a simple 2×2 table showing the roles on one axis and what they can do on the other axis is a much more efficient way to convey authorization business rules than embedding alternate flows into use cases.

Simulations. Simulations can add great value to really bring a concept to life, but adding every single detail into the simulation can take too much time. And, frankly, it is sometimes difficult for developers to reverse-engineer a simulation and extract a discrete set of requirements.  It is much easier for an Agile team member to read a simple table showing who can do what, than to run through a simulation and reverse-engineer the same information. Also, it is possible to spend too much time doing elaborate simulations that don’t add enough value for the time and effort they can take to develop. 

Everyone will have their personal preference as to when to use what technique for communicating requirements, but the key is for the team to work together and agree upon when it makes sense to use different techniques and not “force” a technique when it clearly can be done more easily another way.

General Repository. No matter what techniques you decide to use to document requirements, keeping these requirements details/artifacts in a central repository and linking them to each other in an organized manner is critical to the collective success of your Agile team.  Relying on people to keep track of endless email trails and simple document repositories with manually maintained links is not the answer.  People are too busy to do it, and, most likely, the data repositories will not be kept up-to-date.  Because of that, any repository needs to do whenever possible to automatically create and maintain these links based on how the artifacts are organized. For example, if a use case refers to a screen on a given step, then that screen should be automatically linked to that step in the repository.

So how do you know what is enough detail?  Your team will let you know when things require more details.  Part of working within an Agile team is to expect the need for requirements clarification throughout the project.  In traditional waterfall, this was almost discouraged and under the good intentions of change management.  However, within Agile, it is expected and embraced, which takes some getting used to for Agile newbies.


This topic is much deeper than can be covered with this small article, but the key points are

  • Make a conscious decision on the level of detail you want but expect to tweak that during development.
  • Choose the right technique for the requirement you are trying to describe.  
  • Make sure you keep an integrated central repository that links together the multiple requirements artifacts. 

Martin Crisp is CTO of Blueprint Systems. He can be reached at [email protected]


I Don’t Have Time to Manage Requirements; My Project is Late Already! Part IV

Requirements Summary

In this series we have provided an overview of requirements management, a description of the requirements management plan and its components, and some tips on how to negotiate for realistic time frames that include just enough time for the appropriate amount of requirements management.

Before we conclude, we need to make some important distinctions among terms that are sometimes used interchangeably. These distinctions are important, since they are not only invaluable for requirements planning, but also help clarify roles and responsibilities.

A Few Key Terms

The following are some terms which, when clarified, will aid in requirements management:

Project Management and Requirements Management.

Project management focuses on delivering the end product within constraints, such as time and cost. Project management includes the entire effort to produce the end result, of which requirements management is a part.

Requirements management focuses on defining the features, functions, capabilities, and characteristics of the end product, ensuring that they are defined completely and correctly.

Business Analysis and Requirements

Business analysis is the work of producing requirements. Business analysis can be performed in one project phase or many.

Requirements are the end result of completed business analysis work. Again, they describe the features, functions, characteristics, and capabilities of the end result of the project.

Projects, Products and Solutions.

Project. Endeavor or undertaking that produces a unique end product, service or result.

Product. We are using the term as it is defined in the PMBOK® to mean the end result of the project.

Solution. There can be both business and technical solutions. The business solution is defined by the sponsor and business subject matter experts. The technical solution, if there is a technical component to the project, is defined by the technical subject matter experts. After requirements have been defined, they are turned into a solution to the business problem that needs solving.

Life Cycles, Methodologies, Approaches

Life cycles describe the phases that take the project from its inception to its end. While it can be used to describe products (for example, the life cycle of a new pharmaceutical drug), concepts (life cycles of safety), or of living things (fleas and flowers), we are going to think of a life cycle of the project. Project life cycles are important, because they need to be managed.

Methodologies define how to get from the beginning to the end, usually through prescribed processes and templates. Frequently, phases and phase names are provided, as well as tasks to be completed within each project phase. The methodology may or may not prescribe multiple phases for completing business analysis.

Approaches are like “hybrids,” not quite life cycles and not quite methodologies. Examples are agile and Waterfall. Proponents of certain approaches often refer to “methods,” such as agile methods or SCRUM.

Summary of Requirements Management

Below are activities that need to be performed, either formally or informally, with a great amount of rigor or with practically none. They are closely aligned with the BABOK, version 2.0 but, since that document has not been published, we have avoided specific references to the Knowledge Areas. These are processes that need to be performed, regardless of the methodology or approach used.

Planning Business Analysis

These are the set of activities included as part of planning the business analysis phase, or phases, of a project. Whether planning for a new process, new or enhanced software, a new bridge or a feasibility study, deliverables and tasks must be identified, planning processes must be identified or created, roles and responsibilities must be agreed on, metrics established, and a plan for communications, formal or informal, must be created. Although not all project life cycles include a formal phase(s) for business analysis, the activities that comprise business analysis need to be taken into account.

As described in the series Overview, one of the key deliverables is the Requirements Management Plan, which is a set of documents that can be expected to change over time. The subsidiary plans that comprise the Requirements Management Plan are executed and updated at different points during business analysis.


This set of activities includes gathering stakeholder requirements and ensuring that their needs have been understood. Effective elicitation requires the ability to ask the right questions, listen to and synthesize responses, and record customer requirements. These skills are required for effective project management as well. Finally, elicitation tasks include determining elicitation techniques that are appropriate for the project.

Enterprise Analysis

In a nutshell, this process includes tasks to recommend, which projects to undertake by completing feasibility studies and cost benefit analyses. Once projects are undertaken, recommend the product scope.


This set of activities includes the progressive elaboration of requirements from highest level to subsequently lower levels of detail, as more becomes known. Its purpose is to ensure that the business needs are truly understood and that requirements are defined completely and correctly. The requirements need to be elaborated in enough detail so that business clients are satisfied that their needs will be met, and the development team can create the end product or service.

Solution Assessment and Validation

This knowledge area describes how well the solution, or end product, solves the stated business problem and meets the approved requirements. This knowledge area includes activities related to making sure the end product matches the stated requirements, and is closely related to Quality Management.

Requirements Management and Communication

This set of activities involves the packaging of requirements to provide the level of documentation agreed upon in the Requirements Communication Plan (Business Analysis Planning and monitoring), taking into account the various audience preferences for format, level of detail, and frequency of communication. It also covers the handling of conflicts and issues. Finally, this knowledge area describes managing changes to the product and version. Because changes have to be managed across business analysis, it relates not only to Communications Management, but also to Integration Management.

Below is a matrix summarizing the interrelationship between the knowledge areas for Requirements Management, as shown in the BABOK, and project management, as framed in the PMBOK.



                 Integrating Requirements Management and Project Management

Final Words

In summation, requirements management, whether done formally or informally is a vital aspect of project management. Without the requirements management plan, the overall project management plan is incomplete. Taking the time to plan and manage requirements will lead to a better end product and increases the chances of having satisfied stakeholders.

In addition, if we revert to when requirements were not managed, we can expect to see the cost of projects and defect repair, as well as scope creep continue to increase. However, if we spend too much time on requirements management, we are at risk of creating a burdensome process that will delay the project. It is important, then, to apply an appropriate amount of requirements management rigor to our projects to ensure that we have:

  • Thought about the approach we will take 
  • Identified the business analysis deliverables
  • Developed a requirements schedule
  • Planned for requirements communications
  • Clarified important roles and responsibilities
  • Communicated our plan to our sponsor, ensuring an understanding of the requirements management plan and its importance

This care will help all stakeholders in planning their time and encourages their active participation on the project.

Ambler, S. (last updated March 3, 2007), Agile Modeling, retrieved on January 7, 2008, from and

Davis, A. Just enough Requirements Management Part 1, retrieved on January 7, 2008, from

IEEE Standard 610,

1990,International Institute of Business Analysis (2006). A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, version 1.6.

Project Management Institute. (2004) A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®) (2000 ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Software Engineering Institute (SEI’s) Square Project updated 5/12/05.

Elizabeth Larson, CBAP, PMP and Richard Larson, CBAP, PMP


are Principals, Watermark Learning, Inc. Watermark Learning helps improve project success with outstanding project management and business analysis training and mentoring. We foster results through our unique blend of industry best practices, a practical approach, and an engaging delivery. We convey retainable real-world skills, to motivate and enhance staff performance, adding up to enduring results. With our academic partner, Auburn University, Watermark Learning provides Masters Certificate Programs to help organizations be more productive, and assist individuals in their professional growth. Watermark is a PMI Global Registered Education Provider, and an IIBA Endorsed Education Provider. Our CBAP Certification Preparation class has helped several people already pass the CBAP exam. For more information, contact us at 800-646-9362, or visit us at