Adopting an Agile Approach to Requirements Management

Jama Software

The complexity of products is rapidly growing, and as a result, the number of requirements needed to satisfy client goals is also expanding. This makes the documentation process time-consuming and potentially risky.  

Existing approaches to Requirements Management (RM) aren’t always flexible enough to meet stringent expectations and provide a single source of truth. Everyone involved with a project requires maximum visibility to understand what you’re building – and why. 

One study found that the majority of design teams admit that they don’t have a requirements management system in place, and instead rely on cumbersome emails and shared documents. Furthermore, only 15% of teams surveyed had invested in a dedicated RM solution.  

Teams that are frustrated with rework, feeling stuck in unproductive collaboration and not moving as fast as they could benefit from adopting an agile approach to requirements management.  

What is an agile approach to requirements management?  

There isn’t a commonly agreed upon definition of agile requirements management or a single set of processes that will automatically make you agile if you implement it. However, there are concepts, processes and tools that support an agile approach to requirements management.  

The foundation of an agile approach to requirements management is rooted in flexibility. You can easily iterate and make changes, so that you can end up with a more accurate outcome and avoid off-target deliveries and missed deadlines.  

Agile requirements gathering is focused on developing the product faster and more accurately addressing the customer’s needs. Collaboration is critical, so that everyone on the team has a firm understanding of the customer’s true needs and how they affect RM.  

In contrast, teams that don’t use agile requirements are susceptible to unproductive work time, a lengthy review process, potential for rework and even product defects.   


 How does agile requirements management outperform the alternatives?  

Agile requirements management is focused heavily on action. With agile, you create a flexible framework upfront, so product implementation is faster and more accurate. In contrast, other approaches, such as the waterfall approach, have less flexibility and are built on a rigid foundation. But why?  

The waterfall approach uses a V-shaped development process. The steps involved with coding, such as discovery, requirements, system engineering and architecture, are performed in a specific order. You can’t move to the next step until you’ve finished the one before it. Once coding is complete, you continue to move through the next processes in a specific and inflexible order.  

The strategy behind this approach is that you do as much work as possible upfront, and any decisions made during the early project stages are adhered to closely, without much room for change. Moreover, requirements and design often don’t go through testing until the end stages of the development process, so any potential changes show up late in the development cycle, and therefore are more time-consuming to fix.  

Agile requirements management is built on the principle of flexibility, so any potential challenges are identified and resolved much earlier in the process, minimizing expensive and costly rework. A few benefits of the agile approach include:  

  • Improved product design and delivery. A recent report suggests that best-in-class RM solutions can significantly improve product design and delivery for agile development teams. “In the face of increasing regulations, connected products for the internet of things (IoT), and scaling Agile practices, AD&D [application development and delivery] leaders long for something to bring traceability and auditability to their processes without sacrificing speed.”  
  • Improved traceability. The right RM solution can enhance development transparency through traceability. Traceability empowers teams to perform impact analysis more readily, which is critical to product development.  
  • Achieve quicker time to market. Teams are facing more complexity and pressure to comply with industry regulations, and need to measure customer value to search, track and connect interdependent requirements. Achieving faster time to market requires that teams collaborate faster and more effectively, working to build traceability requirements and test cases.  

As you work to understand how an agile approach to requirements management benefits your team and customer, it also helps to have a basic understanding of the agile requirements lifecycle and how it works.  

RELATED POST: What is Requirements Traceability and Why Does It Matter for Product Teams?

Designing with greater flexibility through the agile requirements management lifecycle  

The agile requirements management lifecycle is focused on clearly defining a project’s scope, so that you better understand what needs to happen to meet the desired end goal. It provides a high-level understanding of business goals, and outlines what is needed for the project to be a success. Consider taking the following steps:  

  • Understand user stories. User stories give you powerful information about the problem that you’re trying to solve. A user story is a quick description of everyday use cases and might include a few sentences about how the user expects the product to perform. A template might be something like this: “As a [role], I need [product] to do [goal of the software] so that I can [benefit of the product].”  
  • Outline the most important requirements. Identify what requirements are most essential based on the high-level business strategy. These requirements may be supported by user stories, functional requirements and more based on the specific client goals 
  • Transform to product features. This stage is about fine-tuning and translating the details that you’ve gathered into product features. The development team collaborates to ensure that any requirements are easily understood by anyone working to implement them. User stories are linked to features and tasks, so that developers understand what they need to do – but also why they are doing it.  

Agile requirements management helps give you a foundation on which to build, and best practices arm you with strategies that are proven effective at helping you move in the direction of agile.  

What are the best practices for agile requirements management?  

The agile requirements process helps you capitalize on opportunities faster through earlier launch dates and a prolonged market window. As a result, you can get to market more efficiently with fewer resources spent. To support this, it helps to understand best practices around agile requirements management, including:  

  • Create collaborative processes. You need the ability to accurately capture and communicate the project’s requirements, goals, program and interdependencies to minimize friction throughout the entire process.  
  • Support real-time collaboration. If you want to improve efficiency, collaboration is a critical tool to accomplish that goal. You need the ability to immediately note and prioritize critical decisions, as well as pull in any required contributors and reference historical context to get rid of communication bottlenecks.  
  • Solidify understanding through virtualization. Visual context helps people understand information easier and supports faster decisions. Mind mapping, for example, assists with recognizing data quickly and in context.  
  • Pay attention to the current state and any future potential gaps. You need the ability to understand and respond to change. Identify implications of potential product changes to minimize late-stage changes and rework by ensuring the development teams have the late data to make informed decisions as requirements evolve.  
  • Implement live traceability. A large benefit of agile RM is increased flexibility. Live traceability enables you to easily navigate upstream and downstream relationships to understand the impact to change and coverage across development.  
  • Fast-track decision-making and reviews. You need the ability to conduct virtual reviews of requirements, test cases, user needs, or test results and to track discussion, changes and critical decisions across teams.  

Best practices are a good starting point to figure out how to develop agile requirements management. The next step is to look at your existing tools and ask: Do they support agile requirements management? And if not, examine the alternatives so that you can reap the benefits of an agile process, with support from the right tools.  

RELATED POST: 11 Requirements Gathering Techniques for Agile Product Teams

Selecting the right agile requirements management solution  

As you move toward more seamless and agile project requirements, it’s important that you have the right technology in place to support you. Here are a few tips for selecting the right tool:  

Examine the flaws in the tools and processes that you already use. Understanding your existing tools, what works and what doesn’t, is essential to future success. Look at your current planning, project management, design, testing and more to determine what isn’t working, so you can figure out what will work better.  

Find out where requirements fall apart. A tool with more advanced collaboration, design and modeling capabilities can assist with defining exactly what you need to build. If you’re challenged with understanding the impact on requirements, for example, you require a tool with greater traceability and enhanced reporting capabilities that integrate easier with automated testing tools. 

Create a plan that is flexible with change. Keep any future changes in the backdrop of your decisions around technology. Understanding changes that may evolve in the future, such as increased government regulation, helps you stay ahead of what’s next.  

Products and systems will only continue to get more complex, driving the need for agile requirements management. Increased complexity translates into more time spent tracking requirements, which is why having the right tools in place is critical. 

Requirement Management tools that are nimble enough to keep pace with evolving market demands empower product development teams to leverage technology that fits their existing tech stack and fits easily into their daily workflow.  

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