5 Joys of using Excel as a Requirements Management Tool

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I am currently working on a large project, a project where the client has purchased a tool and is customizing the tool to fit their needs.  The tool has numerous modules, and there are several business analysts working on the project, both on the client and on the vendor side.  Early in the project, the program manager decided to use Microsoft Excel as the tool of choice for gathering and managing the requirements, each module would have their own set of requirements.  It sounded like a good choice to the program manager, since everyone has Excel on their machine and it would be easy to share files amongst all interested parties.

I’m sure that sounded good at the time, but it has certainly been a pain for me.  As one of the business analysts working on this project, I’m getting firsthand experience on the “joys” of using Excel for this purpose, and the extra work that I have to do because of this decision.  Here are 5 “joys” that I’m experiencing:

  1. Many versions of the same document.  Intentions were good…a SharePoint site was set up where the latest and most current version of the requirements document would be stored.  The business analysts for the client have been very diligent about versioning and updating the SharePoint on a regular and consistent basis.  We even worked out a naming convention for version numbers.  Unfortunately, what we could not control was what the vendor did.  They took copies of our documents, but did not continually get new versions, and then made changes of their own.  Now there are at least two versions of each requirements document out there, and the contents are different.  Which leads to the next pain….
  2. Reconciling the various versions of the requirements documents.  Since we now have multiple versions, they must be reconciled into one master version.  A painfully laborious process when each requirement document has several hundred line items.  Except that the vendor keeps making changes….ugh!  But that also leads to the next pain…
  3. Tracking changes made to the requirements.  Excel offers no ability to track when a requirement changed and who changed it.  We now have numerous requirements that have been identified as part of the reconciliation process as having changed, but no one knows who made the change, when or why.  Attempts were made to keep a change log, but that is a manual process based upon the hope that the person making the change will first note that they made a change, and second, document enough information to make the change log useful and meaningful.
  4. Traceability of requirements is now a manual process.  And given the level of traceability that the testing team has asked for (down to the data element level…but that is another story and blog postJ), every change requires another laborious process to ensure that the traceability is also kept up to date.  Many of the business analysts have given up until the decision is made to freeze all requirements (yes, we are using a waterfall development process…again, another topic for a blog…).
  5. Finally, there is visibility.  No one knows who has the most recent and up to date version of the requirements.  Despite all the best efforts.  Ugh.

I know that Excel is a default tool of choice for many organizations, simply because of its ease of use and the relatively low cost (who doesn’t have Excel on their computer??)   And for a small project, Excel may work just fine.  But the larger the project, the more people involved, the more that Excel does not work at all.  How I wish we were using a requirements management tool….

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