The importance of managing requirements and workload for any development team can’t be underestimated. But about 50% of the time I find teams without a plan for capturing and managing requirements given to them by their business stakeholders.
Requirements management tools manage the collection and evolution of functional (business) requirements. Generally they are well integrated with the project or development management tool to allow program and project management to measure the overall workload as well as project progress against business goals.
Breaking it down, the tools “manage the collection and evolution …” Evolution is the key phrase here. If requirements just sat there, you could use a pencil, paper, and a copy machine and be quite effective. But they evolve, especially in iterative or short-cycle development where users are constantly engaged. Change happens – embrace it, expect it, plan for it. Pick a tool here that makes you better at juggling change.
“Well integrated” means that you must be able to link requirements and the work it takes to make them happen. Stakeholders need to understand how hard (or easy) it is to add that spinning pie chart to their dashboard. You wouldn’t hire a contractor to work on your basement without a quote – this is one of the building blocks of giving your business stakeholders that same courtesy.
Integration can (should!) also include the capability to link requirements and releases to close the delivery loop. This allows things like functional release notes where stakeholders see features rather than tasks implemented in each release, and it allows management to measure productivity in terms of business value.
And then, “measure” workload and progress. This relates closely to the integration topic since progress is generally managed at the task (work) level. A capable requirements management tool goes beyond this by allowing you to measure progress by requirement, a measure much more useful to your business stakeholders. Most stakeholders would much rather ask “is my spinning pie chart done?” rather than “is the spinner widget, the pie chart service back-end, and the animation widget complete”?
In Enterprise Information Management (EIM) or Business Intelligence (BI), requirements management includes a variety of requirement types from information requirements (we need “First Name” and “Zip Code” extracted) to technical requirements (works on IE 5) to visual requirements (we need the report to look like this). In a tool, these boil down into requirements you can type, requirements you can diagram (think flow chart), and requirements you can draw (layouts). You’ll meet all three of these rather quickly in real life. The cool kids may also add things like video (mainly narrated video screen capture) and rapid prototyping capabilities so loved by the executive suite.
None of that is all that unique to BI – it’s pretty universal that you’re going to need the core three and the tools nearly always implement them. There is quite a bit of variability as to how they get there though so a real world walk-through is a useful exercise. Seamless integration is not having to leave the core tool to add a drawing and management of document parts (text vs. drawing) is intuitive.
The great thing about requirements management is the low barrier to entry. It doesn’t need to be costly or complicated to adopt a requirements management tool. It can be as simple as a SharePoint list. Even the smallest, youngest of teams should be looking to implement something in this class.
Start by snooping around your development management (or project management) tool. Some modeling tools include requirements modeling, so check there. Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server includes requirements management and also has a plethora of third-party options in this arena.
For teams without a natural option in one of the above, I consistently point them towards Atlassian’s JIRA as an economical, capable tool. It’s what we use at Perficient for our internal projects and we’ve deployed it at many clients with great success with teams of any size. A couple neat add-ons for JIRA are the Gliffy and Balamiq tools that add drawing capabilities right into the JIRA front-end. So, when you need to diagram something, you just do it (without opening Visio, saving as a PNG, uploading, and inserting and then trying to decide where to save the original so you can modify it later).
On the high end, Rational ReqPro is the wise old sage of requirements management. ReqPro is extremely well integrated with the other Rational tools and the IBM suite in general and can handle pretty much anything up to and including building the next space shuttle.
So, look around and pick what’s best for you. Or, give us a call and we’ll help out.