Are Requirements Dead?

By Jeff Gainer

(Author’s note: This essay appeared in the 11 August 1999 issue of Cutter IT Journal E-Mail Advisor.) 


When Copernicus initially proposed that the earth revolved around the sun, his theory was met with derision. After all, any damn fool could look up and see that the opposite was true. A century and a half later, after proving that Copernicus was right after all, Galileo was packed off to Rome to have a little chat with the Inquisition.

Similarly, it was the flabbergasted expression of a seminar attendee that made me realize just how bizarre is a now generally accepted idea. During an automated test seminar, I was expounding on the myths and realities of test planning. I deliver most of these sort of seminars to e-commerce companies, so I said, as always, "Of course, the reality is that the requirements document is usually incomplete, outdated, or may not even exist."

This time, however, my audience was comprised of developers and testers for one of the strongholds of the waterfall development cycle: the US military.

"What?" asked one stunned attendee. "How can you test software without requirements? For that matter, how can you develop software without requirements?"

How, indeed?

Oddly enough, we do it all the time. In the past few (Internet) years, I have observed an increasing disregard for formal requirements and requirements control. More and more organizations seem to be gravitating toward an iterative prototyping approach—although some try to integrate a more disciplined spiral lifecycle—with all the development based on vague, high-level business requirements. There is nothing new about this sort of lifecycle, except that it is now being driven not by bad practice but by necessity. The marketplace rewards the nimble, the versatile, the first to market. Determining requirements at Internet speed has become a process of discovery.

The difficulty for the software developers, however, is that iterative development cycles actually encourage requirements change and scope creep. It was the stunned, surprised expression on this student’s face that brought me back to earth, making me question just what revolves around what these days. His astonishment made me realize how inured we have become to accepting the inevitable lack of requirements. What comes first in the New Economy? Requirements or software? Or must they now be developed simultaneously? Karl Wiegers recently asked in this space, "Is design dead?" In this vein, I ask, "Are requirements dead, too?"


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(c)1999 Cutter Information Corp. All rights reserved. This article has been reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Cutter Information Corp., provider information resources for IT professionals worldwide.

This article originally appeared in the Cutter IT E-Mail Advisor, August 11, 1999, a supplement to Cutter IT Journal.

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