Your release plan is done (or as done as it’s going to be at this stage). Your best estimates indicate that the development team can probably implement the top 10 to 15 items to meet an acceptable window of opportunity. The team has committed to implementing the top 3 or 4 items in the backlog in the first iteration. So now what? Well, open Word with your trusty, well-used, highly refined requirements specification template and begin writing requirements. Right? WRONG! This template probably started with great lean-ness to it; but over time more sections were added to make it “complete” … until the next new section is added. I see this so often that I wonder why we do this. We essentially are asking our product management team to write full requirements specifications within a short period of time. If you have a small PM team, then it’s virtually an impossible request. The result is that requirements are late, incomplete, not at the right level of depth, maybe even all of the above. Which means that the development team will usually “wing” it, and the PM task turns into a retro-specing exercise. Whether using an Agile methodology or a Unified Process methodology, our development teams develop iteratively (at least they should). They focus in on the next iteration and “grow” the release as they move from iteration to iteration. They tackle the high risk items early in the project. Etc. Etc. So why are requirements managed differently? Maybe because the template was approved some time ago in response to some botched feature and no one took a step back and asked how this can be better performed.
The goal of documenting requirements is to record the needs of the users in terms that development can build from. In other words the spec translates what the user needs to solve one or more of their problems into a format that development can use to design and build from. The underlying goal is that the development team needs to understand what it is that needs to be built so that they can come up with a design and an estimate for effort and risk. Collaboration between product management (representatives of the customers) and product development is essential … throwing a fully-baked requirements spec over the wall does not constitute collaboration. Presenting the requirements in layers is a better approach to achieving the goal.
So let’s break this process down into three essential layers where we present information in ever increasing depth and amount until development understands what they need to do … and no further!
- Key Requirements. The first layer is an identification of the essential requirements – those that drive / shape the feature or capability. These are the requirements that are non-negotiable, i.e. you can not go to market without these being met. The first step is to make sure that these key requirements are captured. I recommend no more than 5 requirements, expressed as user stories or high-level use cases or declarative statements – the point is that you capture them so that the development team understands them. Present them to the team (or a subset of the team) as soon as you have them, from which they should begin thinking of the design and effort and risk.
- One-page Requirements Document. If step 1 is not sufficient enough, i.e. the development team does not have enough information to come up with estimates for effort and risk, then the next layer is to create a single page requirements specification. Add detail such as usage scenario, actor/persona, problem solved and more depth to the key requirements and possibly even more requirements. Remember that the goal does not change – development needs to get to a level of understanding where they can come up with a design and effort and risk estimates.
- Requirements Specification. If the previous steps are not sufficient, then the full-blown requirements spec is the last layer. In these cases the feature / capability is possibly something brand new being added to the product. You should consider maybe dividing this into smaller chunks; in some cases that may not be possible.
By managing your requirements iteratively you can put the appropriate amount of effort into your requirements that’s needed to achieve the goal (i.e. develpoment understands what’s needed from them). Do not waste your time writing requirements that do not add value to achieving this goal. In other words, once you have reached your goal, stop and move on to the next item.