Agile Manifesto’s fourth principle values the ability to respond to change over following a plan. But it doesn’t mean you can give up on any planning whatsoever and simply go with the flow. Instead, you need to ensure you have consistent requirements for your project gathered in one place, documented, structured and taken into account during the changes. In this article, we provide you with 5 reasons why proper requirements management is crucial.
What are requirements for software development?
Let’s say you want to build a new house for your family and hire a general contractor. You’ve been dreaming about it for years and have made a lot of notes about what you like and don’t like about houses over time. So naturally, the first meeting with the contractor will be devoted to discussing these notes, which actually are the initial requirements for your project. The contractor will go through your checklist, all the while explaining alternative options and pricing for each of them. The resulting document will specify the type of construction, the materials to be used, the number of rooms, the interior details, and other features of the house, including the end price. You don’t want to leave anything to chance when building your dream home, right? That’s why you should be as specific as you can – even before the project starts.
As the contractor prepares a 3D model and shows you how the house will look like, you get to refine your requirements and have several more meetings, so you can be sure that the people you hire fully understand your needs. If you provide your team with vague requirements or none at all, you have to take the risk that they will deliver something not corresponding with your vision. Such a situation will inevitably cause delays and increased project costs, as correcting mistakes after the house is built tends to be pricey and take longer.
This can be applied to any kind of projects, including software. The more accurately you define the requirements, the less effort of your team will be wasted, and the higher are the chances that you’ll have the project delivered on time and with lowest cost possible.
Coming up with a comprehensive requirement list will help you kickstart the project and achieve the desired result within planned budget and timeline. Image source: Atlassian Graphic Assets
Requirement types and structures
Before you start documenting and structuring your requirements, it’s good to be able to distinguish various types of those. Different requirement types show the resulting software from different points of view, so by looking through the list anyone can tell what’s important in it for both you as a project manager and all the other stakeholders. For example:
- Business requirements are high-level business objectives or needs that are required for an organization to maximize profits, minimize expenses, meet regulatory requirements, or improve service. These requirements often take the form of business cases created by investors, end customers, marketing departments or project managers.
- Business goals differ from business requirements a bit, even though they can also be defined as such. These are often more detailed than general business cases and can be easily measured to define success of a project.
- User interface requirements include objectives the system will allow to achieve, actions that can be performed by end users, or information they should have access to from the user interface.
- Functional requirements are product features that need to be designed, built and tested. These ones define the functionalities of the software that solve specific problems experienced by its users.
- Non-functional requirements include design or realization constraints, external interfaces that relate to the product, or quality attributes. Non-functional requirements serve as an additional description of the functions under development that are important for the stakeholders. It can be anything from integrity and performance to user experience and fault tolerance.
- Use cases describe the situations in which the software is going be used, the problems which it is designed to solve and even the exact actions users should perform to achieve their goals.
You can come across other requirement types as well, but these 6 are quite enough for a decent start, so you have your requirements written down, discussed and agreed on.
The next step is to create a transparent structure out of the list you’ve created. As you can see from the descriptions above, requirements can have common elements and thus be linked to, or even directly implied by each other. What’s more, you need to ensure end-to-end traceability of your requirements through development tasks, up to test execution to ensure they all are met during the project. That’s why the most useful visualisations of links between requirements are a tree structure and a traceability matrix.
A tree structure and a traceability matrix visualise links between requirements and helps ensure they are all met during a project
Here’s why your project needs smart requirements management
Clearly defined requirements ensure project consistency over time
Accurate definition of the requirements is the first step of a successful software project. When the stakeholders are confused about what the software should do and which problem it should solve, the chances are high that the product will fail, because after 6 months down the road no one will remember what this mess is all about. Instead, well-defined requirements directly relate to both customer and business needs, provide teams with clarity and help them stay focused on delivering value. Requirements that are clear and measurable allow you to check whether they have been met or not at any moment, so you can implement changes before the project becomes unprofitable.
Requirements can support change management
It’s common for projects to undergo sudden changes due to the rise of new technologies, design defects, test failures, market changes, or competitive responses. Poorly executed changes result in design conflicts, outdated documentation, and plenty of wasted time and energy. Ultimately, poor change management drives up the cost of your project and delay shipping. By coordinating changes with your requirements, you’ll be able to identify their impact and timely notify everyone affected.
Requirements provide a basement for collaboration
Modern agile teams are often interdisciplinary and consist of people with different skillsets, from coding to marketing. Requirements describe all these aspects of a product so as to provide a single source of truth for everyone involved into the project and allow them to see how their work fits into the bigger picture. Having a traceability matrix at disposal, teams will also be able to predict the impact of every single change or test failure on the end product.
Requirements supplement project documentation
Requirements are crucial for companies that must comply with specific regulations or meet international standards. Smart companies that take care of requirement traceability don’t have to waste time on preparing records to prove compliance. This approach also allows to produce reports quickly and develop auditable records that support compliance due to tracing the regulatory requirements.
Requirements save you time and money for the project
To sum up all the above, defining and structuring your requirements is a preparation stage of great importance before you start developing a product. The more you know about what you need the software to do, the faster you will get the right result.
Requirements management in Jira
As the experience of global Atlassian Experts like Tarun Sapra shows, requirements have to be collected in a centralized location, given structure and achieved traceability – otherwise the project is much more likely to fail, especially if it’s largely scaled. So if your team uses Jira for project tracking, you can make the most of your instance by including requirements management into it and thus streamlining the development process.
ReqFLO is our latest tool for requirements management that supports documenting, structuring, tracing, and agreeing on requirements right inside your Jira. Take a free 30-day trial from the Atlassian Marketplace.
On November 12-16, we’ll have a booth at EuroSTAR – the biggest European conferences on software testing and quality assurance, held in The Hague, Netherlands. If you’re attending it as well, come over to learn the advantages that moving your requirements and test management processes into Jira can give you and your team.