Introduction to Requirements: The Critical Details That Make or Break a Project
Every project has requirements. It doesn't matter if it's building hardware solutions, developing software solutions, installing networks, protecting data, or training users. For the project to be a success, knowing what the requirements are is an absolute must.
Requirements exist for virtually any components of a project or task. For example, a project may require specific methods, expertise levels of personnel, or the format of deliverables. This whitepaper will discuss the various kinds of information technology requirements, their importance, the different requirement types, the concept of requirements engineering, and the process for gathering requirements.
What Are Requirements?
The IEEE Standard 1233-1998, IEEE Guide for Developing System Requirements Specifications, defines a wellformed requirement as a statement that:
States system functionality (a Capability)
Can be validated
Must be met or possessed by a system
Solves a customer problem
Achieves a customer objective
Is qualified by measurable Conditions and bounded by Constraints
Specifically, a well-formed requirement should contain:
According to the Oxford American Dictionary:
Capability as a noun is defined as the capability of doing something; or a power or ability, i.e., "the capability of bringing the best out in people" or "the capability to increase productivity;" however, when used with an adjective, a capability describes a facility on a computer for performing specific tasks, i.e., "the computer has a graphics capability."
Condition as a noun is defined as the state of something, especially with regard to its appearance, quality, or working order, i.e., "the wiring is in good condition," or "the bridge is in an extremely dangerous condition." A condition can also be a state of affairs that must exist or be brought about before something else is possible or permitted, i.e., "for a member to borrow money, three conditions have to be met," or "all personnel should comply with this policy as a condition of employment," or "I'll accept your offer on one condition."
Constraint as a noun is defined as a limitation or restriction, i.e., "the availability of water is the main constraint on food production" or "time constraints make it impossible to do everything."
Importance of Requirements
Wherever there are people, there are problems.
Different institutions are created to solve these unique, large-scale problems: government, healthcare, transportation, telecommunications, etc. These institutions, utilizing a "systems approach" for planning, organizing, and controlling resources, initiate projects to focus on "specific objectives" or components of their problems.
Requirements are considered by many experts to be the major reason projects do not achieve the triple constraint of "on-time, on-budget, and high quality." Very few projects do an effective job of identifying and carrying through the project and all the requirements correctly.
Various studies have shown that failure to meet requirements is the biggest problem in projects. Most defects occur during the requirements phase. Project teams need to do a much better job on requirements if they wish to develop quality projects on-time and on-budget.
Since the invention of computers, there have been three primary issues to meeting project requirements.
First, the technology learning curve is advancing much faster than the business learning curve., In other words, while technology concepts are changing rapidly, business management concepts have not changed at the same pace.
Second, there is a huge disconnect in the language between business people and technology people. Each group has its own taxonomy (glossary) for how to operate.
Third, because businesses are so reliant on technology, it is more important than ever that the two environments align together to insure that the systems being built match the requirements of the business needs.
An institution's ability to efficiently align resources and business activities with strategic objectives can mean the difference between succeeding and just surviving.
The world is cut-throat. To achieve strategic alignment, institutions are "projectizing" their business to monitor performance more closely and make better business decisions about their overall work portfolio.
Because of errors and omissions on the part of institutions in the public trust, (e.g., government agencies and publicly held corporations) the U.S. Congress has passed legislation to require transparency throughout organizations to eliminate opportunities for fraud.
Transparency is the ability of an institutions governing body to see through the organization. The way to see through an organization is by documenting - creating a paper-trail - of all the transactions that occur. Today, institutions utilize their information systems and IT departments to insure that the electronic paper-trail exists and is working correctly.
The costs of non-compliance are very large and can include incarceration for the institution's executives. However, the benefits to be derived from transparency should be the dream of every executive; transparency will bring about the ultimate goal of executives having access to "any data, on any part of the business, from anywhere, and at any time."
Due to the "time value of money," all institutions must put their financial resources to work. If there are errors in requirements, they increase the need for re-work and decrease an institution's operational efficiency. This works against every institution's goal of managing for value.