How to Shoot Yourself in the Foot

ArgonDigital - enterprise automation experts

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7 ways to do software requirements poorly to set your project up for failure and what to do instead.

Why spend precious project cycle time on software requirements rather than just getting down to business on design and implementation? Back in the 1970’s Barry Boehm published extensive data from large projects showing that an error created early in the project, for example during requirements specification, costs 50 to 1,000 times as much to correct late in the project as it does to correct (or avoid) close to the point where it was originally created. His landmark study has been confirmed over and over again on countless projects in the decades since.


Why are errors so much more costly to correct downstream? There are two main reasons: project artifacts to be corrected increase over time and more people need to get involved in defect correction as the life cycle progresses. A poor requirement or an unneeded requirement will become the ‘tip of the iceberg’ for problems later in the project. One software requirement can easily turn into several design diagrams. One design diagram can turn into hundreds of lines of source code, scores of test cases, many pages of end-user documentation, help screens, instructions for technical support personnel, marketing collateral, etc. It is obvious that correcting a mistake at requirements time will be much less costly than correcting all the manifestations of the requirements problem downstream. Even more expensive is developing all of the downstream artifacts for an unneeded requirement and then debugging problems with it before realizing it had little or no business value for the release.

A requirement defect found and fixed during the requirements specification involves those eliciting and designing the requirements and the customer contacts. A requirement defect found and fixed after the product has shipped will involve many more groups and people such as call center, customer support, field support, testing, development, design and requirements. Just think of all of the forms to fill out, emails, phone messages and meetings that could be involved with a problem at the end of the life cycle as compared to the beginning of it.

You might say, “I am in an Agile shop and we send a release every 4 weeks to our customers so we can’t be hurt as much as on a waterfall project.” Well, Agile project management approaches can certainly help limit the damage by short duration time-boxing, but even there the cost is greater at the end of an iteration than at the beginning. Blowing 2 weeks of staff time on an Agile sprint for a requirements bug that could have been corrected or avoided on day 2 is still expensive and to be avoided.

Over my next few blogs I will go into the following 7 ways to do software requirements poorly to set your project up for failure and what you could do instead

  1. Short-change the time on requirements or don’t do them at all
  2. Don’t listen to your customer’s needs
  3. Don’t use models
  4. Use weasel words
  5. Don’t do requirements traceability
  6. Don’t prioritize requirements
  7. Don’t baseline and change control requirements

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot on your next project!


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