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11 January 2023

Software Development

Everything you should know about Requirements Engineering

10 minutes reading

Everything you should know about Requirements Engineering

According to Harvard Business Review, more than half of projects fail due to poor management. One of the biggest reasons for project failure is poorly handled requirements, which can derail a project at any point. To mitigate the project failure risk, you need to define the client’s needs and have a proper process that will transform those needs into actionable requirements.

In this article, we will tell you more about requirements engineering and its process. As process management seems to be one of the most important aspects of software development, we will also cover some crucial mistakes to avoid.

What is Requirements Engineering?

The process of identifying, documenting, and managing requirements in the engineering design process is known as requirements engineering (RE). It is a common approach in systems and software engineering.

Moreover, IEEE standard 729 states that a requirement is “a condition or capability needed by a user to solve a problem or achieve an objective”. In other words, the specific needs of the client that have to be met are transformed into requirements.

Why is requirements engineering important? First, it sets a specific path for project development. Second, clients may have a long list of ideas, features, and functionalities when building new software, and requirements engineering give them a framework for fitting into these ideas. Thanks to it, important ideas are transformed into a specific set of requirements. Developing requirements is an important step that helps one succeed later in the project.

Fundamentally, the requirements engineering process helps build usable software systems by solving a specific real-world problem. The process consists of a few stages that are explained in the next paragraph. 

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Requirements Engineering Process

The requirements engineering process stages listed in this article are presented chronologically, although, in practice, they are usually performed interchangeably depending on the project’s needs. It is an iterative process in which actions are carried out interleaved as design concepts are developed throughout the software development lifecycle. All four stages are repeated since the demands are commonly difficult to comprehend until a system is developed.

Moreover, the activities involved in requirements engineering vary greatly based on the type of system being designed and the individual practices used in the organization. These might include:

Elicit requirements

Elicitation is the process of being informed of all of the key information associated with the project. The client will offer specifics about their requirements as well as crucial background information. You need to thoroughly study the client’s requirements to provide the best possible software solution

During this stage, the context for future development is created. It is also worth noting that clients may have needs they do not always communicate openly. Discovering those needs is crucial for a future project because it can take a different turn. 

Requirements specification

At this stage, functional and nonfunctional project requirements are gathered. Also, all the requirements are documented and presented using data flow diagrams and information architecture (e.g., front-end development) to better understand the specifics of the project. 

Requirements specification can consist of both written and graphical information to better meet the project goals. Moreover, to measure if the client’s requirements are achievable, experts may conduct a feasibility study. After that, the client can get feedback if the requirements can be applied.

Verification and validation

During this stage, the client’s requirements are verified if they meet the project goals - this is a verification process. On the other hand, the validation process checks the proper implementation of the software’s functions. If the requirements validation stage fails, it might be an expensive and time-consuming task to work on. However, in agile methodology, the short cycle plan-do-check-act (PDCA) facilitates systematic verification and validation of requirements. 

Requirements management

Requirements management is a stage that combines other processes mentioned above and happens simultaneously to facilitate the project goals. During this stage, all the requirements are analyzed, documented for developers, and prioritized to communicate with the client. Moreover, this stage helps avoid mistakes by recording requirement changes and allowing interaction with clients from the start of the project and throughout the software development lifecycle.

Requirements engineering process in agile development

Fig. 1 Requirements engineering process in agile development

Common Mistakes to Avoid

During the development of the requirements engineering process, some challenges may occur that can be avoided. Understanding possible problems can help you manage the project better. Consider the following mistakes that we have examined:  

Scope creep -  It may be tempting to add some “minor changes” to please the client. However, little changes have a compounding effect on the project timeline and cost, such as testing, documentation, and so on, because changes are inherent in agile software development, so you will need to manage them and properly document them. 

An urge to “over-engineer” - Adding some extra polish to your project to satisfy the client might have a negative impact on the project’s requirements. At first, it may seem harmless, but later in the project, it can cause a ripple effect disrupting the process. Remember and focus on the end goal. Your job is to make it work in accordance with requirements. Making it perfect is a bonus.

Not enough feedback - It is important to remember the consistent feedback and review process during custom software development. The development process will definitely benefit from frequent feedback and will facilitate further development progress. The best practice is to build software with frequent product reviews to accelerate operational feasibility.

Potential resistance - Sometimes, it may appear to be an invisible problem, but it can disturb the process badly. For example, to avoid potential disturbances, it is a good practice to identify stakeholders properly. Knowing what types of stakeholders you are dealing with will improve project development. It helps you prioritize, analyze and see connections between the stakeholders which results in better product development. If you don’t answer stakeholders' needs accordingly, you may expect “resistance” from their side, which will impact your software development process and your final product.

Being aware of these possible dangers can help you save time, money, and resources during the requirements engineering process. One should also examine existing processes to determine whether they have sufficient traceability. For example, if every requirement is linked to at least one test, verifying that output becomes much easier. Traceability is a critical component of this strategy. Engineers may then focus their efforts on requirements that are failing the test and rapidly bring the project back on track.

We have also explored many types of potential mistakes and risks that can influence the project in one of our articles - “Risk management in software development projects”.

Conclusion

Incorporating requirements engineering into your software development process is not that difficult. It is, however, vital to manage it properly and find the ideal moment to set it up. It requires thoughtful preparation. However, it benefits your project and development process by avoiding inefficient inputs. Therefore, the review of the initial requirements of a new project will help you avoid scope creep and improve clients’ satisfaction.

If you are interested in the requirements engineering process, check our previous articles about project management and software development:

Krzysztof

Krzysztof Sajna

Engineering Manager