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Clients Deserve Simplicity

Posted by Mon, 07 Aug 2006 03:57:00 GMT

1 comment Latest by Sammy Mon, 07 Aug 2006 11:41:08 GMT

A few months ago, I posted an article titled, Trawling for Requirements, which was just before the Argon Express left for our trip to Chicago for RailsConf 2006. I’ve been kicking around some ideas with Brian ever since that afternoon on how there just seemed to be a big void in software development arena. It’s always felt that so many of the software development methodologies are designed to get developers to find a better way to work for and with clients. It’s our goal to outline a pattern that simplifies this process, not just for ourselves, but also our clients.

With each new project that our team starts, we are given an opportunity to improve on our evolving pattern for communicating with clients to better understand their goals. If there is one thing that we’ve seen help this process, it is consistent dialogue. When good collaboration exists through meaningful dialogue, confidence increases in not only the client. As developers, we are able to be confident that we understand their goals. This should generate better results.

“You are not writing requirements to serve as a contract with your client. Rather, you are writing them to ensure that both of you share the same and demonstrably correct, understanding of what is needed. Do not ask the client to sign off on the requirements; instead, ask the client to sign on to them and make them a collaborative effort.”

—Suzanne and James Robertson, Mastering the Requirements Process, 2nd Ed.

In Mastering the Requirements Process, the authors list the following as being key to identifying the project goal.

  • Purpose: What should the project do?
  • Advantage: What business advantage does it provide?
  • Measurement: How do you measure the advantage?
  • Reasonable: Given what you understand about the constraints, is it possible for the product to achieve the business advantage?
  • Feasible: Given what you have learned from the blastoff, is it possible to build a product to achieve the measure?
  • Achievable: Does the organization have (or can it acquire) the skills to build the product and operate it once built?

At first glance, I would agree that these are good questions to find answers for with your client.

Requirements, Not Solutions

Many clients come to us with a list of solutions (features) that describe implementation. This has been one of our concerns with the Product Backlog as it doesn’t discourage feature lists. Take a moment to read Goal Oriented Requirements, which gives you a few bullets to think about when interacting with your client when extracting requirements.

Take a moment to read Brian’s thoughts on the product backlog.

In Mastering the Requirements Process, the authors give two examples to show the difference between a solution and a requirement.

A Solution

The product shall display pictures of goods for the customer to click on.

A Requirement

The product shall enable the customer to select the goods he wishes to order.

When requirements are defined in this form, it allows for further dialogue about multiple implementations.

For example, we’re working on a project where the product shall enable the users to send messages to a central system. We’ve defined a few specific implementations (email, text message, web form) and know that as new technologies emerge, the same requirement will still apply. It’s important to remember that we are gathering requirements not solutions and from there… we can collaborate with the client to design a solution that fits the requirements. Before we attempt to do solve the problem, we must ask that the requirement is aligned with the project goal.

We want our clients to assimilate our development methodologies quickly and naturally, which is what Dialogue-Driven Development aims to help achieve—namely through communication, something we humans do rather well. By lowering the learning curve and accelerating the integration of clients into our process, we can focus a greater sum of our collective energy on the needs of the client, the purpose of the project, and the goals of it’s users.

Although, perhaps we have it all wrong when trying to make software and the development process simpler as Paul Kedrosky suggested. ;-)

Our clients don’t just want simplicity. They deserve it!

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  1. Avatar
    Sammy Mon, 07 Aug 2006 11:41:08 GMT

    I hadn’t seen that “Simple Minds” article, and after clicking the link, I was shocked at exactly how wrongheaded it was.

    Even the author’s selection of example, the automobile airbag, is completely off base. He starts with a reasonable (if cariacatured) approach to why folks are asking about less software – because too many things demand our attention – and follows it up with an example of something which requires precisely no attention at all, unless you’re the type of person who obsesses over secondary restraint systems.