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What happened to Software Requirements?


As I look out onto the landscape of software currently, something is missing.  It’s REQUIREMENTS!  15 years ago, testing was in a similar position.  What slipped first in a hurried project? Testing.  But then came along Agile, Kent Beck, and xUnit.  Testing now has its own methodologies like TDD, BDD, and the like.

Can you imagine if someone created a methodology called “Requirements Driven Development”?!?!  They’d be laughed out the door…. 🙂

So why are Requirements being given such short shrift now?  They are given lip service from the Agile community at best.

Use Cases?  “Oh my god, I’m going to throw up!”

User Stories?  “Yeah, just write it on a card, we’ll figure it out later, and make sure to rip it up at the end.  That crap is useless.”

Really!?!  Are you f’ing kidding me!  This stuff matters!  Well, it definitely matters when things go south on a Software Project, you know, like “we’re going to court” south.  But by then it’s too late.  Everyone’s trying to reverse engineer the requirements from the present software.  It’s a tragic charade.

So here’s to Software Requirements.  They matter.  Don’t believe me?  Well, when a lawyer asks you, “Was that an enhancement or a bug?” and you answer, “Uh, it was in the user story….”.  Well, then we can talk 🙂

 

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So, What is Requirements Work?


Interesting article from the Spring Issue of IEEE Software entitled, “So, What is Requirements Work?”.  The author, an obvious expert in the field, goes on to conclude that Requirements Work is basically helping people help themselves.  I like this definition.  As a Requirements Analyst, you cannot know every single domain you will be parachuted into as your career progresses.  No one can be an expert in Medicine, Law, Accounting, Botany, etc.  Instead, “smart” Requirements Analysts depend on the domain experts that already exist to guide them to the problems that need to be solved.  Then, they are able to get out of domain experts/stakeholders the specifications of those problems.  Finally, the requirements analyst can specify those requirements in formats that are decipherable by multiple stakeholders (developers, customers, etc.).

I’m not sure I agree that Requirements Work involves coming up with solutions though.  It seems to violate some central core of Requirements that were taught to me, “Concentrate on the problem, not the solution.”  But, I’ll admit as a former software developer, I can’t help to think of solutions when I hear problems.  I have to be judicious, though, about when I bring them up.

Check the article out yourself when you get the chance!

Software Requirements Evolution


Software Requirements are evolving to keep up with users’ demanding appetite for applications. Simple “The system shall” statements have grown into User Stories and Storyboards. It used to be that talking about the GUI was verboten when gathering requirements. We software practitioners knew how to use the magic of creating software and the lowly users just needed to tell us what they needed and we would pull the software solution out of our proverbial hat. Not so anymore. Practically everyone has a smart phone or smart device (even my 3 year old) and the word “app” is universal thanks to the iPhone. Can I really gather requirements from my 3 year old for her new drawing app using Use Cases? Obviously no. Granted,the use cases may be used by the software developers but my 3 year old can’t even read for Christ’s sake.

Most users now know if they want a mobile app, web app, or desktop app. They know the differences and strengths of using these from years of experience. That’s why I think a more agile way of gathering requirements where quick prototypes and storyboards are used to gather feedback are meeting users’ requirements much better. If it’s a web app, well you have obviously constrained the application down to what HTML, JavaScript, CSS, etc. can do. So why not make a quick prototype of that? If they want an iPhone app, well there’s a pretty set style of doing that set by Apple. Obviously, we software professionals still have a part to play by asking, “Are you sure you won’t want to eventually have an app on the Android too?”. This leads to conversations about different architectures, technologies, and the cost/benefit analyses of each. But older ways of doing Software Requirements are becoming decreasingly beneficial with the changing “tech savvy” of users.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are still places to use Use Cases for certain kinds of projects. They are a tool in any good Software Requirements professional’s toolbox. But newer tools are coming out that need to be considered much more to keep up with software professionals’ ever changing user base.

A Review of TeamSpec – a TFS plug-in for MS Word


Two years ago I did an evaluation of TeamSpec and pointed out some areas of improvement. I’m very happy to report that the company took these to heart and updated their product to address these. Here is my updated review based on TeamSpec v.4.2.1.

TeamSpec is a 3rd-party add-in for MS Word that connects it to Team Foundation Server.  It works with the newest version of TFS 2012 and Office (2013).  It is the only commercial add-in for Word currently on the TFS platform. There are other companies that have add-in’s as part of their overall suite or solution, but TeamSpec is the only product to concentrate on just Word and it does it quite well.

How It Works

Work item attributes are linked to sentences or words in your Word Document.  This is a bi-directional sync between TFS and Word.  For example, say you have  a requirement work item with the ID of 3 and the title is “Login to system”.  You could create a line in Word with the tool like so:

REQ ID 3 – Login to System, State: Proposed

When you changed the state of the requirement work item from “Proposed” to “Active” in TFS, the line would change in Word to:

REQ ID 3 – Login to System, State: Active

This could also be done the other way by changing the state in Word and publishing the change to TFS.

Additionally, you can create “Skins” which are basically pre-defined layouts for work items. You could say that you want the state of work items to always be in bold and italicized in a skin for example.

Added Functionality

The new functionality that I really like and makes it a valuable product is the ability to use work item queries from TFS with Word. Writing custom reports in Reporting Services for Word is not easy, especially since the HTML fields are not stored in the TFS Data Warehouse. This product makes it a cinch! No more writing a huge SRS! Just generate it! 🙂

Linked worked items are supported in queries and test cases are supported as well!!! So you can do your testing documents here as well.

The documentation has improved tremendously, but a few more “behind-the-scenes” articles in the documentation would be nice. I also hold some small reservations about the long term stability of the company as it appears to be small, so be sure to ask for the source code when you buy the product. But to be fair, they have been in business since 2005.

Conclusion

I highly recommend you look at this product if you are using TFS as your ALM platform. Microsoft majorly overlooked Word integration in TFS (although they got Excel and Project), but alas, this is where partners like TeamSolutions step in! Thank you TeamSolutions for stepping in so well!

An example Software Requirements Specification


In the Fall of 2008, I took a graduate course in Software Requirements.  Our group’s final deliverable was a Software Requirements Specification.  I am proud of our work and I post it here as an example for the public.

The Secure Prescription Service (SPS) Requirements Specification