Fast trekkin' to requirements
Who's afraid of requirements management?
Many people in IT are scared of managing requirements, especially in smaller companies, according to Andy Gurd, director of product marketing at Telelogic (which sells the excellent DOORS requirements management tool).
Some of this is understandable, since requirements management is sometimes associated with "high ceremony" process and the risk that you may spend all your time building requirements models instead of actual software.
Sometimes it is even more understandable since, in some companies, software development is driven by politics and "empire building" rather than by what the business really needs. In such companies, transparency from business requirements through to software delivery might be seriously career-limiting for some corporate fat cats!
However, even if a company wants to address this situation, change must be managed, and simply imposing an expensive software development lifecycle package may not be enough to achieve a more mature development approach. Implementing expensive shelfware is always a possibility.
Telelogic has an impressive market share in mature areas such as telecomms, aerospace and ISVs generally, where defects aren't tolerated and the importance of managing requirements is taken for granted. It now wants to expand into less specialised areas and it needs something "lite" and non-threatening in the way of a tool – but one which still supports migration to DOORS and a full ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) environment as or when the customer sees the benefits being delivered from a more mature process.
So, Telelogic adapted and extended its Focal Point technology. Focal Point is a tool for product assessment based on model-based requirements and pair-wise comparisons of "wish-list" features.
Its new tool is called Telelogic DOORS Fastrak and Gurd claims that it has "just enough" process. It comes with preconfigured requirements management workflows out of the box and implements a role-based approach, with "views" into the repository appropriate to business stakeholders, product/project managers and developers.
It's web-based – but not part of Eclipse (yet), although Synergy, Tau and Rhapsody all have Eclipse plug-ins. And DOORS partner Embedded Plus already markets DoorKeeper for Eclipse, which supports the integration of DOORS and other Eclipse-based products and plug-ins, so I believe Gurd when he says Eclipse support is on the roadmap. Telelogic is also looking at Microsoft VSTS integration - and if any allegedly full lifecycle environment needs third-party Requirements Management tools today, it's VSTS.
Fastrak is really all about managing development and operational risk and, however easy it is to use, will require some sophistication from its users and their managers if they are going to get the best out of it. So, Telelogic is providing new training courses in requirements management best practice; and there is some receptiveness towards the idea of an online Fastrak developer community (although nothing is planned at the moment).
The tool itself seems to offer rich functionality at first glance. Import from spreadsheet (a fairly common unstructured requirements repository) is supported and there is a "find similar" semantic search, which doesn't rely on the precise wording of a requirement in order to find it. Fastrak stores its data in a single repository (a PostgreSQL database is supplied; Oracle is also supported) and access is via a browser and Apache Tomcat application server.
The tool can differentiate between stakeholder requests and derived technical requirements (and the labels applied to things can be customised to suit your company's terminology). It appears to have a state-oriented view of requirements and can chart a timeline of progress through the different requirements states - and identify bottlenecks. It can also link test cases to requirements.
Automated version control is built in. It's fairly basic but supports version numbers, an audit trail log (the who, what, when of change) and rollback.
Metrics are provided for traceability and completeness (this is good) but not, so far at least, for project complexity.
However, perhaps the most exciting thing about Fastrak is that it's available using a hosted SaaS model (from a Telelogic server farm in Sweden). So, the cost-of-entry to Requirements Management is now much reduced and low-risk, hands-off, pilot evaluations are possible – a hosted Fastrak evaluation is available here, in exchange for registration. This is probably the most useful way forward for requirements management in general development – I already know (under NDA) of another hosted requirements management tool that will be launched later this month (watch this space).
I am quite sure that automated requirements management itself will become mainstream. The only question is when. This is largely because of the increasing focus on good IT governance in the widest sense.
In so many fields, regulation is being stepped up and the regulators will want to see transparency through from their operational governance requirements, as well as the business' requirements, to features in the runtime code. ®