“Using Word or Excel for managing requirements is analogous to using roman numerals for arithmetic.”
When selecting a requirements management platform, most believe there are only two choices. One is to use word processors (Word) or spreadsheets (Excel). The other is to use complex commercial products.
This note identifies a third option that replaces the use of word processors or spreadsheets. It identifies products that are easy to use, inexpensive and functionally superior to Word or Excel for managing requirements.
We begin by identifying a set of basic requirements for a Requirements Management Platform (RMP). For example, a RMP should provide a core set of functions such as: create, update, delete, find/search, select, print, and export. The basic RMP requirements are:
A RMP must:
- Enable user to choose types of requirements information to be recorded
Enable user to change information choices during a project at little cost
- Enable user to create and manage outlines Enable user to create and manage tables Enable user to describe and manage states Enable user to manage links between content elements
- Enable user to manage links from content to external information
Enable user to perform Boolean searches of its contents
- Enable user to print and export search results Enable user to export RTF or Word files [for import into commercial RM products]
Enable user to collaborate with geographically distributed groups
- Be actively supported by a reliable supplier
Based on these requirements and our experience, we make the following assertion:
Given current technology, any outliner complying with the basic RMP requirement is the best basic platform for collecting, analysing, and communicating natural language requirements.
Currently, at least two commercial outliners (WhizFolders and TreePad) comply with the basic RMP requirements and are inexpensive.
Although no web-based outliners are compliant, at least one (Checkvist) permits extended outlines (i.e., those with a notes area attached to each outline entry) to be imported and exported via extended OPML files. This provides easy access for stakeholders to review and comment on a requirements spec (extended outline).
Like word processors and spreadsheets, outliners have many other uses. If you do one or more of the following tasks –
- take notes
- write reports/papers
- design websites
- gather and organize thoughts/ideas
- write documentation
- perform root cause analysis
- analyze situations
- write training materials
- perform fault tree analysis
- manage lists
- write books/plays
- plan events
- manage contacts
- create agendas
- manage tasks
- create outlines
- manage issues/bugs
- create presentations
- manage changes
– and you are not using an outliner (or a special- purpose product), you are working too hard.
Word processors and spreadsheets are common, but poor choices for requirements management since neither complies with the basic RMP requirements.
Most commercial requirements managers comply with the basic RMP requirements as well as providing additional capabilities (e.g., rigorous change control, diagram generation, test generation and management — along with other application life-cycle management (ALM) functions). These systems are more complex and much more expensive than compliant outliners, but are useful when their additional capabilities are needed.
Comparing Alternative Platforms
When customers (e.g. government agencies) outsource development, it is common practice to provide requirements specs as documents or word processing files. Either choice provides unmanageable information that developers must recover and import into their requirements manager. The alternative is to provide requirements information in a (compliant) outliner file.
Outliners make it feasible for requirements courses to provide realistic experiences with requirements management activities. Students should already have access to an outliner to help them with activities listed in section 3.
This note is based on experience developing a multilevel RM template (LiteRM) for a compliant outliner (WhizFolders). This experience has provided empirical evidence for the assertions above.