Live from RE’09: New Ideas for Requirements Activities in Distributed Teams

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Olly Gotel from Pace University presented work she has done with colleagues from around the world in a paper titled Distributing Responsibilities to Engineer Better Requirements: Leveraging Knowledge and Perspectives for Students to Learn a Key Skill. Olly started this talk by telling us that she had done something crazy with this project, and then went on to explain how they had essentially five different teams working on a project from five locations around the world. They were each supposed to write requirements for a software development competition, with requirements teaching and coaching help along the way from professors and experienced students. As she went on to describe the experience, many of us from industry chuckled with her out of empathy – her experience is so similar to our worlds today where the teams are distributed worldwide and chaos ensues!
There are a couple concepts from Olly’s course design that I think would be great to replicate in industry – either from a training perspective or project execution. The first one is related to creating competition to improve results. In past iterations of this learning experience, Olly explained they had issues with the students not understanding the value of producing quality requirements, which naturally resulted in poor results. So this time they had the teams compete with one another by creating the same deliverables and having the client choose which solution was best. As expected, the competition significantly increased the quality of their work products. We have done this with our training courses – introduced friendly competition through game playing and I’ve been pleased with the level of engagement. However I think there is something interesting to think about here with respect to injecting a different type of friendly competition into project execution in industry. Fundamentally the big turn-off to this idea in industry is that there are five times the costs to create the single project – so it’s a lot of throw-away work. But, if we think outside the box a bit, perhaps we can divide projects into chunks (or just use multiple projects) and have the requirements sub-teams compete on quality of specifications, requirements issue resolution speeds, project success rates, etc.
In this course, they used an apprentice model with coaches who were students that had previously completed the requirements engineering classes. Now I think this is something that absolutely applies as-is! You can just have mentors who are more experienced people mentoring the more junior resources in requirements activities – ideally pairing them up on the same projects.

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