What is Requirements Engineering? An Overview and Intro into Requirements Engineering

September 14, 2021 Jama Software

Requirements Engineering

Requirements management (RM) is a challenge for many companies, partly due to the ambiguity involved in software development. First, you must understand the client’s requirements. Second, you must match those requirements to critical processes.

RM is a component of requirements engineering (RE), which bridges the divide between a client’s needs and what developers create. When done well, RE has the ability to create a solid framework for software development, which is critical since poor software engineering requirements management is a root of many project failures.

A CIO magazine study found that “Analysts report that as many as 71% of software projects that fail do so because of poor requirements management, making it the single biggest reason for project failure.”

In 1999, NASA built the $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter probe. The probe failed because it entered orbit 100 kilometers too close to Mars. The source of the error was incompatible specifications; an important component of RE.

Understanding the details involved in requirements engineering and best practices can set you on the path to successfully meeting client expectations.

What is requirements engineering?

Clients have a long list of goals when creating new software, and RE provides a framework for meeting those goals. Important needs are inventoried and transformed into a detailed set of requirements. Requirements development dictates future development activities and creates a blueprint for success.

The terms requirements management and requirements engineering are often used interchangeably, but they are different. RM is one piece of requirements engineering, and getting it right makes all the difference.

RE ensures that the problem a client wants solved is clearly defined and the solution is both accurate and effective. Essentially, RE transforms a real-world problem into a highly functional software solution.

RELATED POST: Requirements Management Tools and Software

The 4 steps of the requirements engineering process

The requirements engineering process has many potential pitfalls. Strengthening your RE process enables you to avoid many common challenges. The process serves as a compass, guiding you in determining the exact deliverables and doing so with greater accuracy. All important parties are on the same page about what steps need to be taken to achieve the desired outcome. Strengthen your RE process by considering the following:

Elicit requirements. Elicitation is about becoming familiar with all the important details involved with the project. The customer will provide details about their needs and furnish critical background information. You will study those details and also become familiar with similar types of software solutions. This step provides important context for development.

Requirements specification. During the specification phase, you gather functional and nonfunctional project requirements. A variety of tools are used during this stage, including data flow diagrams, to add more clarity to the project goals.

Requirements verification and validation. Verification ensures the software is implementing the right functions. In contrast, validation ensures the software is built to the customer’s requirements. If the requirements don’t go through the validation stage, there is the potential for time-consuming and expensive reworks.

Requirements management. During RM, you’re matching all the relevant processes to their requirements. You will analyze, document and prioritize the requirements – and communicate with relevant stakeholders. Any requirements that need modification are handled in an efficient and systematic manner.

As you implement the different components of RE, it also helps you get a sense of what should be excluded from requirements. Understanding this will help you focus more accurately on developing requirements and better meeting client expectations.

What information should be excluded from the requirements?

Requirements should be viewed as addressing a problem, but not necessarily as providing a solution. A requirement should clearly state what you want to solve, not how you want to solve it. Let’s take a look at guidelines for good requirements:

  • The requirement accurately defines the need of the stakeholder.
  • The requirement is testable.

A requirement needs to be clear and understandable, without the risk of ambiguity. An important step in developing good requirements is the review process. Does the requirement accurately express the needs of the stakeholders? Make sure to build in enough client reviews so that you can get early feedback and adjust as needed.

RELATED POST: Nonfunctional Requirements vs. Functional Requirements – What’s the difference? 

Common mistakes to avoid

There are many challenges that may occur as you develop your RE framework. Understanding potential issues can help you avoid them. Consider the following as you develop your processes:

  • Avoid scope creep. There is a temptation to add “just one tiny new requirement” to make the client happy. But these little changes add up and may have an impact on future activities, such as testing, documentation and more.
  • Resist the urge to “over-engineer.” Over-engineering can be tempting, especially when you want to make sure everything is just right for the client. But this overzealousness can backfire. Adding a little extra code because “I’m doing this, I may as well do that” might seem logical, these changes can create a ripple effect, putting requirements at risk in the future.
  • Build in enough feedback and reviews. Early feedback is essential to a project’s success. Build in frequent reviews and solid traceability to get feedback often and early.
  • Search for all the important stakeholders. You might think you’ve included all the important stakeholders, only to learn you missed one later on. Invest time early in the process to find any and all important stakeholders in order to avoid expensive reworks later in the process.
  • Identify potential resistance early in the process. Resistance can be an invisible but serious project problem. Learn to identify resistance early in the process so that you can work through it efficiently and early, getting everyone on the same page.

Awareness about these potential pitfalls can save you time, money and resources during the RE process. Also, look at your existing processes and whether they include enough traceability. Ensuring that deliverables meet requirements, for example, is much easier if every requirement is linked to at least one test. And traceability is an essential part of this process.

Engineers can then invest their energy into requirements that are failing the test and get the project back on track quickly.

Leveraging the right tools for success

Requirements engineering is critical to the success of a project because it tells everyone involved with the project what needs to be done. A project manager, who schedules tasks, can do so based on more accurate requirements. A requirements management software tool can greatly support successful RE, as it enables more efficient and optimized product and system development.

This type of tool can provide:

  • Clarity and visibility. Get broader visibility into what you’re building and why.
  • Live traceability. Ensure product quality and improve change management with complete traceability.
  • Decision tracking and fast reviews. Conduct virtual reviews of requirements, test cases, user needs and more.
  • Real-time collaboration. Immediately note and prioritize important decisions, pull in the required stakeholders and reference historical context to eliminate communication errors.

The right tool can help you transform RM as you easily track, review, sign off on and truly understand how and why you did certain things. As a result, you can streamline your product development process and increase efficiency, understand and respond to change, and establish a higher level of clarity and visibility.

See how Jama Connect can help with requirements engineering by downloading our solution overview.

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