There was a joke I heard many years ago that went like this…

3 workers were hired to run telephone lines.  The first part of their job was to install the poles on which the wires would run.  Each day, the foreman would ask the workers how many poles they planted.  The first 2 workers first said 8 to 10 poles, which improved to 15 poles by week’s end.  But the 3rd worker always said 2 poles each day.  At the end of the week, the foreman questioned the 3rd worker about why he couldn’t keep up with his peers.  His answer was “yeah, I only planted 2 poles a day, but did you see how much of the pole the other guys left out of the ground?”

This story presents a number of issues.  Were the job requirements clear?  Were the workers’ skills assessed?  Was training provided?  Did the foreman ask if the workers understood the job?  Did the peers decide to disregard such an obvious difference in the work deliverables?  Did the 3rd worker just decide on his own what the requirements should be?
When you ask some people for the time of day, they’ll tell you how a clock works.  Being detail-oriented can be a blessing or a curse.  And sometimes it’s hard to find the balance for the question of how much detail to include in a requirement, or a design, or a test plan.  The answer, of course, is the “right amount.”  But how is that determined?  Let’s look at requirements creation; in my mind that’s one of the toughest assignments.

Knowing the work scope is important.  This gives the needed perspective to concept discussions.  Sometimes regulatory requirements must be met, so that’s a good place to start.  More than that, requirements need to be S.M.A.R.T.  This will help you find the “right amount.”

 These letters stand for:

  • SPECIFIC – maybe even terse to some extent; a requirement that’s too long is bound to be confusing and subject to interpretation;
  • MEASUREABLE – this gives criteria that needs to be met, especially important for test plans;
  • APPROVED – after review, everyone agrees to the requirement;
  • REALISTIC – within the scope of effort and cost;
  • TRACEABLE – has a parent from some higher (and probably less specific) requirement or concept, may have child requirements, and ALWAYS has a validation step attached.

Just because the letters are in order, that doesn’t mean you need to go in that order.  

Approval is likely to be a final step after all the other elements of a good requirement are met.  Several iterations may be needed to hone the requirements.  Make sure someone from the test group is involved in the reviews.

Tagged as:     John Yozallinas  

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