Requirements management software will not solve our requirements problems.
Jerry Aubin of Seilevel made this great point in his presentation this evening at the IEEE Computer Society, Austin / A-SPIN event. This was a great event, focusing on how to take requirements management “to the next level” – not just being good at it, but being great at it. Seilevel’s speakers (Jerry and Joe Shideler) demonstrated that they have great insights into the art and science of requirements management – and presented some cutting edge ideas that extend the “known good ideas” in some interesting directions. Definitely a company to keep our eyes on and learn from. Their blog, requirements defined, is linked in our blog roll – check it out.
The Norm Abram analogy
Jerry used what he coins as the “Norm Abram analogy”. Norm Abram is a great carpenter, and he does a weekly television show here in the US. He has an amazing workshop, with every tool imaginable for cutting, shaping, sanding or finishing wood. And Norm uses those tools to create beautiful products.
If you had those tools, Jerry asked us, would you be able to suddenly create products as beautiful as Norm does?
Norm became a great carpenter and he became proficient with tools that help him do his work faster. The tools didn’t make him better, they just make it easier for him to do the work.
Would having typewriters make us write better, or just faster?
Applied to requirements management
The same holds true about requirements management software. Having access to software won’t make us better at managing requirements. The software will help someone who already knows how to manage requirements be more efficient.
The folks at Seilevel have seen the introduction of RM software (requirements management software) actually be counter-productive for teams who are new to managing requirements. We agree – we think it’s like getting an expensive car so that we can teach someone how to drive. The learning process has to come first.
Jerry showed statistics from the Standish Group’s 2004 CHAOS report. We’ve talked about that report earlier. That report shows that 71% of software projects fail. The issue isn’t the speed or cost of writing requirements, the issue is writing bad requirements.
For those 71% – the problem isn’t the tool, it’s the training. For the other 29%, there are absolutely solutions to help us do our jobs faster.
What should we do?
There are two ways to get better requirements. Buying RM software is neither one of those.
- Get help with your requirements. Companies like Seilevel and Tyner Blain have already invested in learning how to do requirements right. Let them or someone else help you manage requirements, or let them do it for you.
- Learn how to manage your requirements. Get training, read, study, practice, fail, improve, and succeed. As individuals, find mentors. As companies – get outside experts to come in and audit your projects.
When should we buy RM software?
When we’re already good at writing and managing requirements, and we’re looking for a cost reduction. Introducing a tool of this complexity to a team that isn’t accustomed to the process will actually hinder the process.