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.