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How to Improve the Quality of your Requirements

Posted on: October 31st, 2014 by Lou Wheatcraft No Comments

A major reason why projects fail is poorly written requirements — it is startling and sad to see the negative impacts poor requirements can have on the success of your project. Having poor requirements places projects at risk of significant cost overruns, schedule delays, and performance shortfalls. To avoid these negative impacts and help prevent project failure due to defective requirements the following questions need to be addressed:

–  How do you judge the quality of the requirements within your organization?

–  How do you find defective requirements?

–  How do you improve the quality of your requirements?

How to judge the quality of the requirements within your organization?

  • Use our “Writing Good Requirements Checklist”. Following these guidelines will result in high quality requirements. (To get a copy, send me an email at LouW@ReqExperts.com)
  • As part of your requirement development and management process, include requirement quality metrics. Metrics tell you where your problems are, what part of your process to fix, and how effective the fix is. You can use the above checklist to define which metrics you want to trace based on the types of defects commonly found in your organization’s requirements. These metrics could include: ambiguous terms, passive voice, missing requirements, grammar errors, multiple thoughts, incorrect use of shall, will, should, number of unverifiable words, implementation, defined at the incorrect level, missing tolerances for numbers, requirements that do not trace to a parent, parent requirements with no or insufficient child requirements, poorly formed interface requirements, etc.

How to find the defective requirements?

  • Again, use our “Writing Good Requirements Checklist”. This checklist covers requirement defects that need to be avoided.
  • Practice continuous requirement validation. Don’t allow defective requirements in your requirement set. Include in your process a checkpoint and gatekeeper function such that requirements are evaluated for quality incrementally throughout the requirement development process. You don’t want to wait until you have a big, bad set of defective requirements. Another very successful approach is to include inspections in your process. Inspections look at your requirements incrementally, allowing you to identify and correct defects before you end up with a big, bad, defective set of requirements. To learn more about inspections you to our paper by Larry Fellows titled: Increase Product Quality, Decrease Development CostIf there are defects, correct those defects before allowing the requirements into the requirement set. Project managers should not wait until the major milestone reviews, especially the System Requirement Review (SRR), to find out they have a bad set of requirements. There is always the danger that sub-par requirements will be baselined, especially if there is a multitude of problems with the requirements at the SRR and the schedule is tight. Baselining bad requirements always leads to wasted resources needed to correct the requirements – putting the project at risk of schedule and budget overruns. A 30% change in requirements after baseline can double your development cost. To learn more about continuous requirement validation go to my paper: Getting Started on the Right Foot: Developing Requirements for Constellation’s Next Generation Space Suit (.pdf 158kB)

How to improve the quality of your requirements?

To improve the quality of your requirements, you need to follow the best practices that are based on lessons learned, both good and bad, concerning requirement elicitation, development, and management. Do the best job you can, the first time. To get some helpful hints to help avoid the most common requirement writing problems, go to our paper by Ivy Hooks titled: “Writing Good Requirements

Another approach is to evaluate what problems you are having and assess why. To help you with this, you can download a copy of our Requirement Risk Factors Checklist. The middle column lists risk factors that can be traced to the risk in the first column dealing with weaknesses in your current processes. Understanding the risks to your project’s success due to defect requirements will help uncover problem areas that you need to address if you want better quality requirements. A detailed discussion on risks and requirements can be found in my paper: Triple Your Chances of Project Success Risk and Requirements (.pdf 211kB)

Key to improving the quality of your requirements is to include the following in your requirement quality improvement plans:

–  Develop and enforce a formal requirement elicitation, development, and management process.

–  Train your team in your requirement development and management process.

–  Train your requirement writers, management, developers, testers, reviewers on how to write defect free requirements.  Requirements Experts specializes in training that will result in a high quality set of requirements. Go to our Training page to learn more about the courses we offer.

–  Include continuous requirement validation in your requirement development and management process.

–  Use our Writing Good Requirements Checklist.

–  Allocate sufficient time and resources to define and baseline Scope before writing requirements (Define your scope first, baseline and control it. This is absolutely the most critical first step in the requirements process.)

–  Allocate sufficient time and resources to develop and baseline requirements.

–  Use requirement attributes to help manage your requirements.

Following the suggestions above will go a long way in improving the quality of your requirements. However, we have found that sometimes to accomplish your goals to improve requirement quality, you will need outside help. Requirements Experts will come to your location and perform audits of both your requirement development and management process as will as perform requirement audits.   Go to our Process and Requirement Audit page to learn more.

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