Written in an engaging style and relevant for any software analyst or designer, Mastering the Requirements Process
provides a powerful and useful guide to defining more complete software requirements that lead to better software overall. It's also filled with innovative advice.
The heart of this book is the authors' Volere Requirements Process Model, a step-by-step guide to gathering your requisites. Throughout this book, the authors use this process to explicate a single case study--a system for a municipality that will optimize the de-icing of roadways during snowy weather. Along the way, the book provides a solid guide to identifying and refining requirements, both functional and nonfunctional (such as performance and ease of use).
There are many excellent ideas in the book, including the notion of fitness for your requirements, which can be later used to track whether the software is successful. The book also wisely separates technology from requirements so that analysts can concentrate on understanding and modeling business problems instead of moving right away to the nuts and bolts of implementation. Even if you don't adopt the Volere model in toto, you can benefit from the concepts of "trawling" (a metaphor for the requirements-gathering process), quality gateways (in which tentative requirements are evaluated for inclusion in a project), and the wise use of patterns to help simplify the process.
Anchored by numerous examples (including many samples of successful requirements), the book provides an appealing mix of new ideas along with a remarkably clear presentation. In short, Mastering the Requirements Process provides useful advice that can make the project specification building phase of the software process easier and more robust. It provides the first steps for improving overall software quality for your organization. --Richard Dragan
Topics covered: Volere Requirements Process Model; project blastoff; determining requirements; user and stakeholders; project constraints; requirements constraints; use cases; business events; adjacent systems; innovation; trawling for requirements: apprenticing, interviews, and videotape; functional and nonfunctional requirements; fit criteria; quality gateways; traceability; prototyping and scenarios; low and high fidelity prototypes; patterns and requirements reuse; improving the requirements gathering process.
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Requirements are a make or break phase of the software development process. If the requirements are carefully chosen to represent what the customer wants, needs, and expects, then the project has a good chance of success. If not, the project may very well be doomed.
That said, it is easy to say that this book is about an important topic. But is it a good book about that important topic?
My vote is "yes." This is a nicely crafted, well-thought-through, complete, up-to-date view of the task of creating a requirements specification for a software project.
Nicely crafted? It is well written, readable, never pedantic. Well-thought-through? The authors base the book on seminars they have given and honed over the years. Complete and up-to-date? Not only are the basic topics covered, but the authors also mention such advanced topics as requirements reuse, requirements patterns, traceability, and an event + use case-driven approach.
The book is written for the requirements novice. There are plenty of detail-level discussions of steps and approaches, templates for framing the results, and an elaborated case study (how refreshing it is to see a case study based on de-icing roadways, rather than one of the traditional, overused topics like video rental or cruise control!) But the book can also be useful to the patient requirements expert - there is more verbiage than the expert will want, but by scanning carefully the essence of the book can be easily distilled out. Importantly, the essence of the book is conceptual rather than formula/methodology-driven - the authors say the book is intended "not as a set of canonical rules that must be obeyed, but as a reliable companion to intelligent work."
Given all of that, I found some things that were mildly annoying: Some of the terminology the authors use is cutesy, although often it is appropriate, but (a) "blastoff: as the term for project start? (The projects I've been involved with rarely start with a "blast"!); (b) "requirements leakage" for requirements that erroneously get accepted into a project? (I would have thought that things leak out of a project, not in!) The authors claim that their book can be used not just for customized software development projects, but also for software maintenance and even for projects that aggregate pre-built packages. But later they say that the requirements process should never consider the technology of the solution (all well and good for customization, but impossible for the latter two categories). The authors take the (debatable) position that "object-orientation has become the standard way of developing systems," but then mix the two terms "use cases" and "event-driven" as if they were the same, both related to the OO approaches. In my view, event-driven approaches are rather different from object-oriented ones (for example, Visual Basic allows the programmer to build an event-driven system, but the result may or may not (likely not!) be object-oriented). The authors speak of a "post-mortem review" (an excellent idea), but it is not until page 271 (near the end of the book) that it becomes clear that "post-mortem" means "after the requirements phase," not "after the project is complete." (Either could be correct, but the authors should make it clear which they mean when they first bring up the topic 250 pages earlier). There is an appropriate and thorough discussion of the topic of "fit," by which the authors mean that requirements should be expressed in a measurable way. But the authors fail to acknowledge that some things simply don't lend themselves to measurement, with the result that much mischief is done by those who attempt to measure the unmeasurable (e.g., the terrible tendency to state "the software product shall be modular" in terms of the length of program segments - "modules shall contain no more than 50 lines of code").
Things I particularly like about the book are Requirements representation is treated as a pragmatic topic, where requirements are to be readable by both application customers and software designers. There is none of the formal specification discussion that computer scientists love to advocate but that seldom fits the needs of real-world requirements. There is also a nice discussion of software tools, appropriately mentioning that they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. (Interestingly, there is no mention of the now-in-disrepute term "CASE"!) The discussion of the "quality gateway," which covers the process of making a final decision as to which requirements to include in the final specification, is both important and nice. There are very well-done discussions of such topics as "requirements creep," "gold plating," "traceability," and "viability." (I was reminded of the wry comment by Jerry Weinberg at a conference many years ago that software may be the only discipline where the answer to the early-project question of feasibility is always "yes"!) The discussions of the avant-garde requirements topics like requirements reuse and requirements patterns are very nice. I was less pleased with the discussion of traceability - what the book contains is excellent material, but it fails to go far enough to note that tracing requirements into design and code, although extremely desirable, is so far an out-of-reach topic (due to the "explosion" of business requirements into design requirements as the life cycle proceeds, an explosion estimated by some to be measured in orders of magnitude).
There should be at least one book on requirements in the library of every enterprise, even every software professional. You could do a lot worse than choosing this one. -- Robert L. Glass
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