Introduction to Software Engineering/Planning/Requirements

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Requirements analysis is the first stage in the systems engineering process and software development process.[1]

Requirements analysis in systems engineering and software engineering, encompasses those tasks that go into determining the needs or conditions to meet for a new or altered product, taking account of the possibly conflicting requirements of the various stakeholders, such as beneficiaries or users.

Requirements analysis is critical to the success of a development project.[2] Requirements must be documented, actionable, measurable, testable, related to identified business needs or opportunities, and defined to a level of detail sufficient for system design. Requirements can be architectural, structural, behavioral, functional, and non-functional.

Overview[edit]

Conceptually, requirements analysis includes three types of activity:

  • Eliciting requirements: the task of communicating with customers and users to determine what their requirements are. This is sometimes also called requirements gathering.
  • Analyzing requirements: determining whether the stated requirements are unclear, incomplete, ambiguous, or contradictory, and then resolving these issues.
  • Recording requirements: Requirements might be documented in various forms, such as natural-language documents, use cases, user stories, or process specifications.

Requirements analysis can be a long and arduous process during which many delicate psychological skills are involved. New systems change the environment and relationships between people, so it is important to identify all the stakeholders, take into account all their needs and ensure they understand the implications of the new systems. Analysts can employ several techniques to elicit the requirements from the customer. Historically, this has included such things as holding interviews, or holding focus groups (more aptly named in this context as requirements workshops) and creating requirements lists. More modern techniques include prototyping, and use cases. Where necessary, the analyst will employ a combination of these methods to establish the exact requirements of the stakeholders, so that a system that meets the business needs is produced.

Requirements engineering[edit]

Systematic requirements analysis is also known as requirements engineering.[3] It is sometimes referred to loosely by names such as requirements gathering, requirements capture, or requirements specification. The term requirements analysis can also be applied specifically to the analysis proper, as opposed to elicitation or documentation of the requirements, for instance. Requirements Engineering can be divided into discrete chronological steps:

  • Requirements elicitation,
  • Requirements analysis and negotiation,
  • Requirements specification,
  • System modeling,
  • Requirements validation,
  • Requirements management.

Requirement engineering according to Laplante (2007) is "a subdiscipline of systems engineering and software engineering that is concerned with determining the goals, functions, and constraints of hardware and software systems."[4] In some life cycle models, the requirement engineering process begins with a feasibility study activity, which leads to a feasibility report. If the feasibility study suggests that the product should be developed, then requirement analysis can begin. If requirement analysis precedes feasibility studies, which may foster outside the box thinking, then feasibility should be determined before requirements are finalized.

Requirements analysis topics[edit]

Stakeholder identification[edit]

See Stakeholder analysis for a discussion of business uses. Stakeholders (SH) are people or organizations (legal entities such as companies, standards bodies) which have a valid interest in the system. They may be affected by it either directly or indirectly. A major new emphasis in the 1990s was a focus on the identification of stakeholders. It is increasingly recognized that stakeholders are not limited to the organization employing the analyst. Other stakeholders will include:

  • anyone who operates the system (normal and maintenance operators)
  • anyone who benefits from the system (functional, political, financial and social beneficiaries)
  • anyone involved in purchasing or procuring the system. In a mass-market product organization, product management, marketing and sometimes sales act as surrogate consumers (mass-market customers) to guide development of the product
  • organizations which regulate aspects of the system (financial, safety, and other regulators)
  • people or organizations opposed to the system (negative stakeholders; see also Misuse case)
  • organizations responsible for systems which interface with the system under design
  • those organizations who integrate horizontally with the organization for whom the analyst is designing the system

Stakeholder interviews[edit]

Stakeholder interviews are a common technique used in requirement analysis. Though they are generally idiosyncratic in nature and focused upon the perspectives and perceived needs of the stakeholder, very often without larger enterprise or system context, this perspective deficiency has the general advantage of obtaining a much richer understanding of the stakeholder's unique business processes, decision-relevant business rules, and perceived needs. Consequently this technique can serve as a means of obtaining the highly focused knowledge that is often not elicited in Joint Requirements Development sessions, where the stakeholder's attention is compelled to assume a more cross-functional context. Moreover, the in-person nature of the interviews provides a more relaxed environment where lines of thought may be explored at length.

Joint Requirements Development (JRD) Sessions[edit]

Requirements often have cross-functional implications that are unknown to individual stakeholders and often missed or incompletely defined during stakeholder interviews. These cross-functional implications can be elicited by conducting JRD sessions in a controlled environment, facilitated by a trained facilitator, wherein stakeholders participate in discussions to elicit requirements, analyze their details and uncover cross-functional implications. A dedicated scribe and Business Analyst should be present to document the discussion. Utilizing the skills of a trained facilitator to guide the discussion frees the Business Analyst to focus on the requirements definition process.

JRD Sessions are analogous to Joint Application Design Sessions. In the former, the sessions elicit requirements that guide design, whereas the latter elicit the specific design features to be implemented in satisfaction of elicited requirements.

Contract-style requirement lists[edit]

One traditional way of documenting requirements has been contract style requirement lists. In a complex system such requirements lists can run to hundreds of pages.

An appropriate metaphor would be an extremely long shopping list. Such lists are very much out of favour in modern analysis; as they have proved spectacularly unsuccessful at achieving their aims; but they are still seen to this day.

Strengths[edit]
  • Provides a checklist of requirements.
  • Provide a contract between the project sponsor(s) and developers.
  • For a large system can provide a high level description.
Weaknesses[edit]
  • Such lists can run to hundreds of pages. It is virtually impossible to read such documents as a whole and have a coherent understanding of the system.
  • Such requirements lists abstract all the requirements and so there is little context
  • This abstraction makes it impossible to see how the requirements fit or work together.
  • This abstraction makes it difficult to prioritize requirements properly; while a list does make it easy to prioritize each individual item, removing one item out of context can render an entire use case or business requirement useless.
  • This abstraction increases the likelihood of misinterpreting the requirements; as more people read them, the number of (different) interpretations of the envisioned system increase.
  • This abstraction means that it's extremely difficult to be sure that you have the majority of the requirements. Necessarily, these documents speak in generality; but the devil, as they say, is in the details.
  • These lists create a false sense of mutual understanding between the stakeholders and developers.
  • These contract style lists give the stakeholders a false sense of security that the developers must achieve certain things. However, due to the nature of these lists, they inevitably miss out crucial requirements which are identified later in the process. Developers can use these discovered requirements to renegotiate the terms and conditions in their favour.
  • These requirements lists are no help in system design, since they do not lend themselves to application.
Alternative to requirement lists[edit]

As an alternative to the large, pre-defined requirement lists Agile Software Development uses User stories to define a requirement in every day language.

Measurable goals[edit]

Best practices take the composed list of requirements merely as clues and repeatedly ask "why?" until the actual business purposes are discovered. Stakeholders and developers can then devise tests to measure what level of each goal has been achieved thus far. Such goals change more slowly than the long list of specific but unmeasured requirements. Once a small set of critical, measured goals has been established, rapid prototyping and short iterative development phases may proceed to deliver actual stakeholder value long before the project is half over.

Prototypes[edit]

In the mid-1980s, prototyping was seen as the best solution to the requirements analysis problem. Prototypes are Mockups of an application. Mockups allow users to visualize an application that hasn't yet been constructed. Prototypes help users get an idea of what the system will look like, and make it easier for users to make design decisions without waiting for the system to be built. Major improvements in communication between users and developers were often seen with the introduction of prototypes. Early views of applications led to fewer changes later and hence reduced overall costs considerably.

However, over the next decade, while proving a useful technique, prototyping did not solve the requirements problem:

  • Managers, once they see a prototype, may have a hard time understanding that the finished design will not be produced for some time.
  • Designers often feel compelled to use patched together prototype code in the real system, because they are afraid to 'waste time' starting again.
  • Prototypes principally help with design decisions and user interface design. However, they can not tell you what the requirements originally were.
  • Designers and end-users can focus too much on user interface design and too little on producing a system that serves the business process.
  • Prototypes work well for user interfaces, screen layout and screen flow but are not so useful for batch or asynchronous processes which may involve complex database updates and/or calculations.

Prototypes can be flat diagrams (often referred to as wireframes) or working applications using synthesized functionality. Wireframes are made in a variety of graphic design documents, and often remove all color from the design (i.e. use a greyscale color palette) in instances where the final software is expected to have graphic design applied to it. This helps to prevent confusion over the final visual look and feel of the application.

Use cases[edit]

A use case is a technique for documenting the potential requirements of a new system or software change. Each use case provides one or more scenarios that convey how the system should interact with the end-user or another system to achieve a specific business goal. Use cases typically avoid technical jargon, preferring instead the language of the end-user or domain expert. Use cases are often co-authored by requirements engineers and stakeholders.

Use cases are deceptively simple tools for describing the behavior of software or systems. A use case contains a textual description of all of the ways which the intended users could work with the software or system. Use cases do not describe any internal workings of the system, nor do they explain how that system will be implemented. They simply show the steps that a user follows to perform a task. All the ways that users interact with a system can be described in this manner.

Software requirements specification[edit]

A software requirements specification (SRS) is a complete description of the behavior of the system to be developed. It includes a set of use cases that describe all of the interactions that the users will have with the software. Use cases are also known as functional requirements. In addition to use cases, the SRS also contains nonfunctional (or supplementary) requirements. Non-functional requirements are requirements which impose constraints on the design or implementation (such as performance requirements, quality standards, or design constraints).

Recommended approaches for the specification of software requirements are described by IEEE 830-1998. This standard describes possible structures, desirable contents, and qualities of a software requirements specification.

Types of Requirements[edit]

Requirements are categorized in several ways. The following are common categorizations of requirements that relate to technical management:[1]

Customer Requirements 
Statements of fact and assumptions that define the expectations of the system in terms of mission objectives, environment, constraints, and measures of effectiveness and suitability (MOE/MOS). The customers are those that perform the eight primary functions of systems engineering, with special emphasis on the operator as the key customer. Operational requirements will define the basic need and, at a minimum, answer the questions posed in the following listing:[1]
  • Operational distribution or deployment: Where will the system be used?
  • Mission profile or scenario: How will the system accomplish its mission objective?
  • Performance and related parameters: What are the critical system parameters to accomplish the mission?
  • Utilization environments: How are the various system components to be used?
  • Effectiveness requirements: How effective or efficient must the system be in performing its mission?
  • Operational life cycle: How long will the system be in use by the user?
  • Environment: What environments will the system be expected to operate in an effective manner?
Architectural Requirements
Architectural requirements explain what has to be done by identifying the necessary system architecture of a system.
Structural Requirements
Structural requirements explain what has to be done by identifying the necessary structure of a system.
Behavioral Requirements
Behavioral requirements explain what has to be done by identifying the necessary behavior of a system.
Functional Requirements
Functional requirements explain what has to be done by identifying the necessary task, action or activity that must be accomplished. Functional requirements analysis will be used as the toplevel functions for functional analysis.[1]
Non-functional Requirements
Non-functional requirements are requirements that specify criteria that can be used to judge the operation of a system, rather than specific behaviors.
Performance Requirements
The extent to which a mission or function must be executed; generally measured in terms of quantity, quality, coverage, timeliness or readiness. During requirements analysis, performance (how well does it have to be done) requirements will be interactively developed across all identified functions based on system life cycle factors; and characterized in terms of the degree of certainty in their estimate, the degree of criticality to system success, and their relationship to other requirements.[1]
Design Requirements
The “build to,” “code to,” and “buy to” requirements for products and “how to execute” requirements for processes expressed in technical data packages and technical manuals.[1]
Derived Requirements
Requirements that are implied or transformed from higher-level requirement. For example, a requirement for long range or high speed may result in a design requirement for low weight.[1]
Allocated Requirements
A requirement that is established by dividing or otherwise allocating a high-level requirement into multiple lower-level requirements. Example: A 100-pound item that consists of two subsystems might result in weight requirements of 70 pounds and 30 pounds for the two lower-level items.[1]

Well-known requirements categorization models include FURPS and FURPS+, developed at Hewlett-Packard.

Requirements analysis issues[edit]

Stakeholder issues[edit]

Steve McConnell, in his book Rapid Development, details a number of ways users can inhibit requirements gathering:

  • Users do not understand what they want or users don't have a clear idea of their requirements
  • Users will not commit to a set of written requirements
  • Users insist on new requirements after the cost and schedule have been fixed
  • Communication with users is slow
  • Users often do not participate in reviews or are incapable of doing so
  • Users are technically unsophisticated
  • Users do not understand the development process
  • Users do not know about present technology

This may lead to the situation where user requirements keep changing even when system or product development has been started.

Engineer/developer issues[edit]

Possible problems caused by engineers and developers during requirements analysis are:

  • Technical personnel and end-users may have different vocabularies. Consequently, they may wrongly believe they are in perfect agreement until the finished product is supplied.
  • Engineers and developers may try to make the requirements fit an existing system or model, rather than develop a system specific to the needs of the client.
  • Analysis may often be carried out by engineers or programmers, rather than personnel with the people skills and the domain knowledge to understand a client's needs properly.

Attempted solutions[edit]

One attempted solution to communications problems has been to employ specialists in business or system analysis.

Techniques introduced in the 1990s like prototyping, Unified Modeling Language (UML), use cases, and Agile software development are also intended as solutions to problems encountered with previous methods.

Also, a new class of application simulation or application definition tools have entered the market. These tools are designed to bridge the communication gap between business users and the IT organization — and also to allow applications to be 'test marketed' before any code is produced. The best of these tools offer:

  • electronic whiteboards to sketch application flows and test alternatives
  • ability to capture business logic and data needs
  • ability to generate high fidelity prototypes that closely imitate the final application
  • interactivity
  • capability to add contextual requirements and other comments
  • ability for remote and distributed users to run and interact with the simulation

References[edit]

  1. a b c d e f g h Systems Engineering Fundamentals. Defense Acquisition University Press, 2001
  2. Executive editors: Alain Abran, James W. Moore; editors Pierre Bourque, Robert Dupuis, ed (March 2005). "Chapter 2: Software Requirements". Guide to the software engineering body of knowledge (2004 ed.). Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society Press. ISBN 0-7695-2330-7. http://www.computer.org/portal/web/swebok/html/ch2. Retrieved 2007-02-08. "It is widely acknowledged within the software industry that software engineering projects are critically vulnerable when these activities are performed poorly." 
  3. Wiegers, Karl E. (2003). Software Requirements (2nd ed.). Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press. ISBN 0-7356-1879-8. http://www.processimpact.com. 
  4. Phillip A. Laplante (2007) What Every Engineer Should Know about Software Engineering. Page 44.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]