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In the early days of the Internet, my then-CEO had no problems selling a complete copy of our proprietary database in lieu of the normal subscription fee. When I asked him why he was willing to do so, he smiled and said “It will be worthless in a year. There’s no way they can maintain it.” The core competency of the company, I realized, wasn’t the information itself, but rather the way it was managed.

The same applies for requirements.

Believe it or not, gathering accurate requirements is only a small part of the requirements process, and arguably not even the most important part. Rather, I believe how we manage those requirements is the core competency of a truly revolutionary product development experience. The catalyst for revolutionary requirements management is very easy to describe but hard to do: Traceability.

Traceability is a simple enough concept: requirements have associations to business objectives, related requirements, and interdependencies. Without traceability, a single requirement change can render otherwise accurate requirements unusable, especially if there are many dependencies to that requirement.

Traceability is important because it enables:

  • Project Success Metrics
  • Automation of Project Change
  • Change Impact Measurement
  • Testability

All of which are keystones to presenting information required to make smart decisions, tools to automate requirement changes, and maintaining focus on the business objectives (aka “Now why are we doing this, again?”).

Sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, if traceability is not part of the plan from the beginning, it can be almost impossible to implement after the fact. Indeed, many requirement documentation efforts start with excellent requirements only to fall apart in short order when the first major revisions are made (and even more so if the original business objectives fade from memory).

This is why requirement management tools can be so powerful, by enforcing traceability from the start, and providing an easier, automated method to add in the missing parts. Think about how you will modify and manage your requirements the next time you decide on getting a “head start” in lieu of establishing clear, measurable business objectives.

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