The people that convinced us to never mix design with requirements may have wrecked more software projects and destroyed more value in the software industry than anyone else!
Just think what happens when you separate requirements from design:
- You don’t validate assumptions to more than a very superficial level (the “I don’t care about the technology, just give me the business needs”-level)
- You never evaluate the system’s constraints and how those may make the system possible or not (hardware, technology, etc.)
- You never think of how testable the system will be (as in “is it possible to ever prove that this requirement is implemented?”)
- You don’t write down the tests that will prove that the system works (until it is too late and you have to hire a gazillion testers to test the whole system using a script that was developed by people that never really participated in developing/defining the requirements)
- You never visualize how the system will be used by real users
- You probably – I’m being generous here – did not involve the testers/coders/designers in the requirements definition
- You spend way too much time disconnected from the reality of your business. Remember that our business is software development (as in coding/testing and getting feedback from real users) not requirements management (even though some tool-vendors will make you believe otherwise).
Now, having been in the software industry for more than I care to admit I know why we had requirements documents back in the old days. The short story is: we did not know better, the long story is way too long to tell in one blog post and involves some famous academic people and a junior process guy called Winston Royce.
During those requirement writing sessions we tried our best to stay away from the design discussions because we knew that if we did go into design (which we wanted and felt we should do) the requirements would never be ready. So we decided to do the wrong thing because we knew there was no way we would ever get the requirements written and the Requirements Gate passed if we did not do it.
Now that I look back I find it amazing that we ever got the requirements right! Think about it, if you don’t validate the assumptions you make but to a superficial level you are saying to yourself “I know that there’s no way I can prove that I’m writing the right requirements for my system to succeed”. How’s that for a smart way to do software development? But that’s how we got taught in University (still are today to a great extent), and that’s what our process trainers brainwash us to believe in.
This separation of Requirements and Design is, in my view, the single biggest reason for software projects to fail, and it is still happening today!
Define the most important requirements first, then worry about the rest
This is why it is so important to delay writing the low-priority (as in “the ones you are not sure you need”) requirements until the last responsible moment (aka “delay commitment“). You should take an appropriate set of requirements that fit in one iteration (using the highest-risk, highest-value heuristic) and develop those. Get a slice of the system working, don’t get caught in the useless (and never ending) discussions that do not relate to the requirements being implemented (note that these requirements can be non-functionals also, e.g. performance or security).
Once you have a set of requirements implemented you have validated (or disproved) the most important assumptions about your system because those are the ones that relate to the highest-risk items of your requirements list.
Since you have avoided to think about all the requirements you have not either lost any time discussing requirements that make no sense to implement and therefore should have little (or no) importance when making the major decisions for the system, like architecture, technology, etc.
Another important thing to consider is that when you think about design, you are in effect creating feedback to the requirements cycle. If you separate requirements from design you are also removing all possibility of having early (and needed) feedback to your requirements writing!
If there are some times when I think I did stupid things in the past this is one. Boy, we were dumb back then! (and may are still today…)