16 May 2012

Classic Use Case Mistakes

Over the years I have come to understand the role of use cases in the requirements definition activities. They are very valuable if done properly. The problem I continue to see in many organizations is that they are not done properly. So what are some of the mistakes that can help ensure you are getting the most value from your use cases? 

Mistake Number 1: Creating inside-out user cases. 
Results: Use cases that are written from the perspective of the system, not the user. These use cases are often complex and technical. The problem is that most of the time users don’t understand this because it is not natural to them. This makes it difficult to get valuable feedback from the users. 
Actions: Make sure the user’s perspective is maintained when writing use cases. 

Mistake Number 2: Including user interface details in use cases.
Results: Use cases that include a lot of steps that really don’t contribute to understanding how the user will interact with the system. You may see details about where error message are displayed, radio buttons, links, other details about a screen that add to the confusion. Often use case writers try to include every possible action as a part of the use case flow. For example, every possible selection has an alternate flow titled “User Selects Cancel Button”. Adding all of these alternate flows results in a use case that is much more complex that it needs to be. 
Actions: During requirements gathering keep the user interface details out. They are a distraction from defining the interactions that need to occur. Consider keeping user interface requirements in a separate section. This can be used as a checklist when testing to make sure the entire set of interface requirements are met for each screen. 

Mistake Number 3: Expanding the system boundary. It is difficult to keep in mind the scope of the system you’re developing. For example, consider other systems that interact with the system under development. Is it inside the boundary? Is it an actor? Should it not be shown on the use case diagrams? Results: When actors are included which are outside the control of the team, a lot of time is spent documenting a system that already exists and will not be changed. A lot of time will be spent explaining to users that the system just “works the way it does”. You are better off not including details about systems that are outside the boundary of the system. 
Actions: If the team is responsible for implementing and testing it, then it is inside the system boundary. If it is a separate system done by a separate team, it becomes an actor. 

Mistake Number 4: Creating use case interactions that don’t provide value to an actor. 
Results: Use cases that don’t provide any value to the actor. These use cases may not be derived from business requirements. Or they may be derived from business requirements but don’t contribute to the overall goal of the business requirement. 
Actions: Make sure every use case has a clearly stated goal that provides a benefit to an actor. Note that the actor that benefits does not have to be the primary actor in the use case. 

These are typical mistakes made when writing use cases. Many times the end result is a set of very long, very complex, and very technical use cases that provide very little benefit to end users or developers. Consider training your team on writing good use cases before just throwing them out the use case wolves. It will be worth the time and money spent to ensure use cases are providing the maximum benefit to your project.

(Reference: Use Cases: Requirements in Context by Kulak and Guiney)

 By Marcia Stinson 

29 March 2012

Is your ship sinking?

Many years ago I worked on a huge project to upgrade a complex mission planning system to new hardware and a new language. Our requirements were simple (I can hear chuckling now). Simply make the new system work just the way the old system worked. Oh, and don’t forget to improve performance as much as possible. Oh, and don’t forget to improve the user interface to make it easier to use. And, oh yes, if you are working on a module that has a defect against it go ahead and correct that defect if it won’t take too much time. And, finally, oh yes, make sure the project is completed on time.

So the management team spent months preparing for this project. They looked at all of the software involved. They looked at resources. They got estimates for the time required to rewrite each piece of code. They assigned priorities to each task. They looked at resources and scheduled resources for each task. They created a project schedule. They created a huge spider chart that covered two walls showing the relationship and order of the tasks. That spider chart was so impressive when you came into the area and saw it. I’m sure you would think “Wow, they have this project under control and well managed.” The ship was ready to sail.

The project was supposed to be completed in a year. Would you surprised if I told you we didn’t complete it in a year. I forgot to mention that we had no requirements for the previous system. We were just working off of things by actually running the old system to see what it did. We had a couple of expert users who were checking things as we went to make sure it was acceptable. They were actually our testing team as it turned out. So at the end of the year we were 99% complete according the project schedule, spider chart, and all of the other metrics. The problem was that those metrics were all based off assigned values by the worker bees. Things were shown to be complete that weren’t actually 100% complete – they were close. Reviews were shown as complete whenever the meeting was held regardless of the follow up activities that were required. So everything looked great on paper. We all knew that wasn’t true. The ship had hit the iceberg.

Another year went by and we worked very hard. We were told to work harder and work smarter. But no overtime. Just get the job finished. We all worked hard. We ran into all kinds of issues with the new hardware. The issues kept bubbling to the surface but no one was really in charge of addressing the issues so they languished. The expert users kept insisting on enhancements that had not been agreed to and because we had to real requirements we kept trying to please them. And often their requests were in conflict with each other and there was no one to resolve that conflict. We usually ended up in a room with a lot of shouting going on. At the end of the year guess what? We were 99% complete again. The ship had sunk.
Management went ballistic, as you can imagine. The project manager kept insisting we just weren’t coding fast enough. That we were over analyzing. That learning a new language had slowed us down. This may have been true but the real problem was that we had no requirements to work from or to go back to when changes were made. In my mind that project was the epitome of chaos. That third year was the worst year ever. We worked ten hours days, often six or seven days a week, with no extra pay. I think we all just wanted to get this project done and finished.

So my question to you is this? Does everything look good on paper for finishing your project on time? If so, take a deeper dive into the requirements and make sure they are clear and traceable. Make sure the team knows what they are trying to do and who to take direction from. I think of the expression that “too many cooks spoil the pot”. Too many users involved in the development effort without defining the real requirements can spoil the project. Saying you have completed every milestone without having the deliverables to back it up is just delaying the inevitable. Good luck in steering your ship to a successful completion.

14 March 2012

How do I manage the customers’ complex requirements?

How would you handle this scenario? A customer has stated that they the system to be user friendly. I call this a complex requirement because it is effectively a collection of many unique requirements. Elicited requirements should be at an atomic level. In other words, each requirement should be a unique and complete thought. But what is the best way of getting to this level with the customer? Reality (and experience) tell us that that many requirements are actually much more complex than stated.

Remember that we should not expect the customer to give us any good requirements. They are supposed to provide us the problem they want to be solved. If this is not clear then we need to need to ask them! They are expert of the problem. If we pursue this statement a bit more we may find that the requirement is that the Customer must train 500 people in three months to use the new system. Of course it must be user friendly. But what the Customer really needs is a way to ensure new users can be trained quickly. That may change the focus of the solution – user manuals, online training, tutorials, etc.

So let’s take that simple request for a user friendly system. Here are some of the problems.

• A Customer doesn’t want a workshop to determine what user friendly means. The Customer wants us to think for them. After all we are their “consultants”.

The Customer doesn’t know completely what they want. They haven’t thought through exactly what user friendly means to them. They may have added this because it’s a good idea and everyone else is doing it.

The Customer is too busy to provide quality input to us. Ask them to spend half an hour talking about what user friendly means to them and they may simply decline to spend the time.

• The Customer may not have determined all of users who are looking for a user friendly system. In other words, he may not have identified everyone who might want to determine if the system is user friendly (e.g. corporate customers, non-corporate, experienced users vs. inexperienced users, foreign customers, etc.).

There are some things that can be done to mitigate the risk associated with a requirement of this type.

• Do some prototyping of screens and show them to the user. Ask them specifically if they think these are user friendly. Then capture the aspects of the screens into a set of user interface requirements.

Create your own definition of user friendly. Define the criteria and use these to define your user acceptance tests. Provide these to the customer to review.

• Keep pursuing your understanding of the problem. Don’t be afraid to keep asking questions and delve into the real reason behind the customer’s requirement.

Make sure you have clear criteria to measure the requirement. Without it, you will never pass the requirement in the Customer’s eyes. And without it, the requirement is of no use at all.


29 February 2012

Why do I need a Requirements Management tool?

It’s no secret that poor requirements lead to poor quality products and that these projects are often filled with scope creep. The challenges with a document based approach to requirements are many, including the fact that it is difficult to keep them up to date in the ever changing of software development. Even if you have done a stellar job in gathering and documenting user requirements the task of managing the requirements has just begun.

Here are some primary reasons for using an automated Requirements Management tool according to Karl Wiegers www.processimpact.com article on Automating Requirements Management).

Manage versions and changes. Most systems are released in an iterative (or Agile) fashion today. This means that requirements will have versions associated with the release. Being able to track changes and identify the impact of changes is controlling change and scope creep.

Store additional information about the requirement in requirements attributes. There is so much more we need to know a requirement other than the requirements statement. For example: status of the requirements (in work, approved), priority, who requested it, test status). These are just a few suggestions.

Link requirements to other system elements. In order to ensure all requirements are part of the product, all requirements are tested, changes are evaluated, etc. we need to be able to link requirements to other system elements.

Track status. Think of being able to do create a list of all requirements that are not approved, all requirements that are not linked to lower level requirements, and all requirements that are not tested. These are the kinds of information that helps us really know the status of the project.

View requirements subsets. Think of being able to view all high priority requirements that do not have a test method assigned. Or a security office who wants to review only the security related requirements. Being able to filter requirements to only include information the user is interested in seeing reduces the time required to review these requirements.

Control access. You will want to make sure that business analysts can only modify user requirements; system analysts can only modify system requirements, and so on. Once approved, access to requirements must be limited so no further changes can be made without a review.

Communicate with stakeholders. Notification of changes is essential to making sure stakeholders are aware of all potential changes. Most requirements management tools can assist in automatically providing this kind of notification.

For those of us who have used requirements management tools, it is difficult to imagine going back to doing that work on paper. And I believe there are few of us that would choose to go back to that method. I personally would take any requirements management tool over a document-based approach. However it is amazing to me that many organizations of all sizes continue to rely on document-based tools to manage their requirements. Using a Requirements Management tool is a required first step to getting control of requirements.

BY: Marcia Stinson

15 February 2012

Your Customer Has Rights…. And Responsabilities

Let’s talk about what the customer has a right to expect from us. The customer can expect that analysts will speak the customer’s language and that we will learn about their business. This means we don’t throw a bunch of technical and design requirements at them and ask if this is what they want. Developers will explain their solution and will treat the customer with respect. Developers will NOT tell the customer how they should be using the system. And developers will not become defensive if the customer doesn’t think the proposed solution will meet their needs. The customer can expect that they will be provided opportunities to adjust the requirements as needed, within the defined process. They can expect that we will provide them with good faith estimates for the work. And, above all, they can expect a system that meets their functional and quality needs.

We are often focused on the customer rights, and so is the customer. But sometimes we forget to discuss with them their responsibilities. Often we assume they understand our process and know what their responsibilities are. As a result we don’t bother to tell them what we expect from them. Sometimes we skirt around the issue because we don’t want to “upset” them by telling that we have expectations about what we will receive from them. Sometimes we just don’t even think about it. So what are the customer responsibilities? Well, let’s be clear about what we expect from them.

If we are going to learn about their business they have to teach us. We expect customers to be precise when providing information and to make timely decisions when necessary. We expect customers to prioritize requirements and not just assume all requirements are a “high priority”. We expect customers to review documents that we give them and provide us with real feedback regarding the accuracy of our problem statement (user requirements). We expect customers to communicate changes as soon as possible and not wait until the last minute to provide them to us. Lastly, we expect customers to respect our requirements process. If we expect them to respect our process then we need to make sure we all know what that process is, including the change request process. If we cannot explain our requirements process, then how do we expect customers to understand out process? Being able to help customers understand the process is a critical piece of getting customers on board with our processes.

By communicating this information during the project kick-off meeting we are ensuring that we all understand our responsibilities to each other. It’s not just a one way street. Customers who tell us once what they want and then never communicate again will be the ones who say “I told you what I want, why didn’t you build it?” Analysts who document the requirements and never discuss them with the customer are the ones who say “We built what you told us, you didn’t know what you wanted.” Let’s remember there are responsibilities on both sides. And let’s make sure this is made clear to everyone on the project team. Think about your customers. Do they understand and respect your requirements process?

BY: Marcia Stinson

26 January 2012

Requirements Management Tools – Today’s Trends

The market for Requirements Management tools looks heavily over-saturated today. And what is amazing is that new players are still constantly entering the market. However, just as quickly some of these players vanish from the market. Free trials seem to be becoming a standard practice for new tools and prices for web-based software are falling fast. There is a widening gap between the heavyweight, closed environment, local database traditional RM tools and the lighter and cheaper offerings which often also include free integrations with other software (including old RM tools). Requirements tools are becoming simple to download and install. This effort no longer requires complex database setup done by an administrator.

The trend towards a standard requirements interface is gathering momentum, allowing users to use requirements information across multiple tools, some of which are not requirements management tools.

Most RM tools are focused on either requirements definition or requirements management. It is important that potential customers understand the different between the two activities. Requirements definition is focused on gathering user needs and analyzing these needs to create a consolidated set of user requirements. This is just the beginning of the requirements effort. 90% of organizations today are still using Word to document their business and user requirements. Many requirements management tools today focus on providing a way to leverage existing requirements information that is provided outside of the tool, in particular a tool like Word. Other requirements management tools that are focused on this effort provide more functionality related to the elicitation process and provide methods to document actor and object names, create use cases, and document high level test plans.

Requirements management today involves very complex models to handle conditions such as multiple variations on the same basic project, reuse of components across projects, variants in reused components, and multiple release of each project. This complexity is not handled by many requirements management tools on the market today, especially those focused on the requirements elicitation activities.

IRQA is a state-of-the–art tool that has been able to meet many of the demanding needs of customers today. Although providing true requirements management support, it is not a heavyweight from an administration or cost perspective. It is simple to download and install and uses a standard database. The graphical view it provides to organize your project information is a new approach from a requirements management tool that allows users to easily visualize and create an information structure. If you are looking for a tool to handle some of the complex conditions mentioned in the previous paragraph then you should check out IRQA from Visure Solutions.

By: Marcia Stinson

20 January 2012

NHTSA-NASA Study of Unintended Acceleration in Toyota Vehicles

Today we would like to share with you the NHTSA-NASA Study on potential electronics-based causes for uninted acceleration in a popular vehicle. Plus, this analysis might be also interesting!

Enjoy your Friday!!

16 January 2012

Requirements Management – processes and tools

It’s no secret that professional requirements engineering solutions help improving efficiency when working with requirements. They also help minimizing the number of mistakes which would typically lead to costly corrections when found in later phases of the development lifecycle.

Therefore many companies are looking for such requirements engineering solutions. But unfortunately the same rule than for almost any other type of software tools also applies to requirements engineering solutions: a fool with a tool remains a fool…

The best-in-class requirements engineering solutions like IRQA from Visure Solutions are very flexible being able to support almost any kind of requirements engineering process. Of course, we – as a tool vendor – are happy to sell you some software but we are conviced that this alone won’t help you. Instead we want to help you being successful in using our products.

So, before purchasing a requirements engineering solution please make sure that you have a proper requirements engineering process defined with certain activities assigned to certain roles. Of course, we can also share our experiences with you in this area. If you know the detailed characteristics of your process it’s much easier for you to find an appropriate solution which fits the needs of your process.

I’m quite confident that IRQA will be your preferred choice

By: Andreas Plette

12 January 2012

The Importance of Requirements Management

Ask yourself these questions. Have you ever produced software that met all of the product specs but none of the customer’s expectations? Have you ever had to guess what information developers need from you to understand what you want? Without formal, verifiable requirements and AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO MANAGE THEM the result is usually a gap between what developers think they are supposed to build and what customers think they are going to get. (Karl Wiegers, Software Requirements, 1999)

I was reading this paragraph and what struck me was the portion you see in bold in the previous paragraph. For years we have been beating the drum about quality requirements. Everyone wants training on how to write them, how to structure them, how to test them, how to elicit them, how to make sure they are clear, complete concise…. and on and on. I’ve delivered a lot of these courses over the years. Students in the class nod and take copious notes about methods for ensuring requirements are clear and concise. But as I continue to teach these classes I have to ask the question. If you don’t manage those requirements after they are written, aren’t we missing some of the benefits of good requirements?

I look back at the reports we see from groups like Standish and Gartner. We are still seeing that nearly half of all projects are late and over budget, and that these are almost always tied to some kind of requirements issue. Yes, it is very important to elicit and specify clear and concise requirements that accurately reflect the user’s needs and wants. But that is just the first step in the requirements engineering process. The real work and effort comes in managing these requirements as development continues. In my experience there are very few organizations that really manage requirements. There is little or no traceability in these organizations. After all these years of knowing the importance of requirements management, why is there so little of it going on?

If you are in an organization where requirements are managed, then you probably snicker at these comments. I worked on a very complex weapon control system for many years. During that time I thought we were so behind in our requirements work. Actually, we were light years ahead of most organizations. We had full traceability from user requirements to code, a change management process, requirements were constantly updated as change requests were reviewed. We were doing this manually for a while until our customer insisted we had to implement a requirements tool.

I often hear excuses for not managing requirements – our project is so small it doesn’t matter, we don’t have time for those activities, we don’t have a tool. I’m beginning to think the management of the requirements is even more critical to project success and that it is time to focus on the requirements management activities. Requirements management must be an essential part of any project, no matter the size.

03 January 2012

The Requirements Language Dilemma

Writing requirements has been a challenge for us for many decades now. Why is it so difficult? Well, one of the reasons is the challenge of the requirements language. We know we need to write requirements in a manner that can be read and understood by the reader. If we are writing user requirements, the reader is a business owner, end user, or stakeholder and the focus on writing in a “natural” language. The problem with a “natural” language however, is that is very imprecise and likely to be misconstrued or misunderstood. How do we bridge that gap?

I am amazed at the number of analysts I speak with that resist any kind of structure in their requirements writing. They appear to be quite happy with their unstructured approach that usually consists of descriptive paragraphs and sentences that imply many additional requirements. Their readers like this method they argue. The problem is that once these “requirements” are handed over to developers or systems analysts there is usually a lot of discussion back and forth to clarify what these requirements really mean.

I believe there is a compromise to be made here. Look at this slide from our Requirements Management Course.

Here are some tips to help bridge this gap.

  1. Write in active voice, making sure one of the actors is the subject of every sentence.
  2. Make sure every sentence is a complete and grammatically correct sentence with a subject, verb and predicate.
  3. Clearly specify what information is passed between actors.
  4. Maintain a consistent level of detail. (i.e. user requirements – an end user is the subject of every sentence, system requirements – a system is the subject of every sentence)

Good luck with your requirements and Happy New Year!