Friday, June 01, 2007

Recipe for Stress

When capturing specifications, it is always a challenge to weight effort against risk. The more you specify, the less risk there is of missing requirements. At least that is what you hope. Unfortunately, experience shows that no matter how hard you try, you never get them all. So where do you stop? When is it time to go home and grab a beer?

The other day I reviewed some use cases. Some of the use cases were worked out pretty detailed. There even was a log-in use case with a (conceptual) screen layout. But as this was only the start of the project no supplementary requirements had been defined yet. As an answer to of the question of how detailed one should get while capturing requirements, I provided the following example based on the log-in use case (which by the way is subfunction rather than a user goal).

Your customer might agree that you can leave the functional requirements for a log-in use case to "the user can log in by providing either a user name and a password or a customer number and a password", and not ask for a screen layout as for most people that is pretty straightforward.

However, at the same time supplementary requirements to this use case might be something like:
  • At a minimum passwords must be changed every 2 months
  • Passwords must be at least 8 characters in length, and a mixture of alphabetic and non-alphabetic characters
  • Passwords may not be reused within 5 password changes.

Notice how the functional requirement is very brief, only one short sentence. However, the supplementary requirements are and should be pretty specific, as often it is far from trivial how to implement them.

Thinking about something "simple" as securing passwords might also trigger the users to define other security requirements as well, like securing web services. When doing a mapping from sequirity requirements to an initial technical architecture, you might decide to use Oracle Web Server Manager. That might imply the need for some extra setup and expertise to do so. And it all started with a simple screen with only two items on it!

So what do we learn from this?

Failing to recognize supplementary requirements in the beginning, is a good recipe for a lot of stress later on. That is nice to know for the masochistic project managers out there. For those who are not like that you better make sure you have discussed the supplementary requirements with your customer to a sufficient level to be able to baseline at least is a little bit reliable.

Not discussing supplementary requirements and think it just will blow over is a mistake. Most customers have only a vague idea if any, and will expect us to tell them what their supplementary requirements should be. Failing to do so might jeapordize your relationship with your customer.

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