Friday, April 29, 2011

Requirements are long lasting

I have working with large systems and maintenance for a long time, typically within the Enterprise Application domain. I have worked in projects where the code should be "self documenting" and projects that follow RUP diligently. The first one became unstable after a while because of unclear requirements. There was too much code inspection to explain the functional owners what the system did, and there was a problem finding out if features where a bug or not. Also re-factoring was hell. The second one we spent too much time not writing code, and the system really did not reflect the formal requirements. It was just too much documentation to put up with. By experience I think that there must be an information model (and some Glossary or Concept descriptions), description of behavior (eg. Use Cases), and sequence or activity description tying this together. I have also worked with TDD (or similar where tests are written in pair with the code) and seen what a great effect this has on good code modularization.

I have no experience with user stories, but i see and hear (together with BDD and TDD) that it is a good approach to requirements handling that fits the backlog and suitable for the sprints. And together with a suite of functional test, it serves a solid combination for the project delivering an application. My concern is that developing the system is only approx. 10% of the lifetime cost (or less). During the lifetime there will be different system owners and developers and they need to understand how the system should work. There will be reviews and overall planning later on that need to understand the system without looking into the code. In such a context the user stories seem to fragmented and seems more like a changelog for the development, rather than a description of the system.

For the last 90% of the lifetime there is a need for a robust requirements base. How do we ensure that this is maintained? I do believe (from experience), that the requirements must be described when it is developed and be aligned with the version is released. At that time I also think that the functional parts should be a whole more as defined by good Use Case practice. Regardlessly of how you wish to document the requirements, at least kept them in a common and persistent store (not post-it notes), so that there is a stable base for future reference.

And also; it is hard to keep such documentation in place, it certainly requires diligence, obligation and thoroughness to keep up.
In a development team I believe that someone must be responsible for the overall functional package, and that is is not just up to each developer to write user stories. All to often i have seen that functionality is written again without reusing or extending what has already been developed.
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Requirements are long lasting by Tormod Varhaugvik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

1 comment:

  1. User stories are not meant to be the way you document a system. If anything, updating relevant documentation should be part of your definition of done on a particular story so that the curse of out of date documentation is avoided. I would always advocate having the documentation be as light as possible which is nothing new really. The other thing to look at is "Specification by Example" which helps us in "Bridging The Gap" between business system owners and development teams. My pal Gojko ( is a master at this stuff - check out his blog (and books).