How Harmful can be Ambiguous Software Requirements

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Software Project managers have realized that ambiguity in software requirements can create greater harm than ambiguity or defects in any other stage of software development. Yet, unfortunately, most software projects, still fail to understand the importance of validating requirement specifications, thanks to the pressure of releasing products faster to the market. What is overlooked often creates ambiguity and thus has far-flung implications as the development cycle kick starts. The irony is, even when we know the perils of not doing something, we consciously ignore it, hoping everything should go fine.

Let us understand why ambiguity creeps into requirements. First, business users create requirements – they define the requirements from the user perspective and how they want the system to finally behave. They are unaware of the technology details on how this ideal system is to be developed. System analysts & architects transform these requirements into technical requirements. Development teams work on this version and QA validates the application to ensure business requirements are met. This all sounds fine but ambiguity creeps in when perception of the requirements at each stage is not thoroughly checked. Ambiguity results from unclear or incomplete/inadequate critical information in the requirements or in their interpretation.  Discovered later in the development cycle, this spirals into a vicious cycle of defects, delays and more defects and further delays, finally hurting the project budget, timelines and often translates to going live with a half-baked first version of the product with limited functionality, limiting the business advantages further. Research reveals, it is 100 times more costly to fix a defect in UAT/Production than during the requirements stage.

There might be ambiguity with respect to boundary conditions, negative requirements, abbreviations, functionalities, and/or many more. Elimination of ambiguities is the first step towards driving a testable requirement through a review process which is known as ambiguity review. The practice of performing ambiguity reviews on the requirements document is very important to detect issues early on in the requirements stage. And, it is extremely critical to review all ambiguous requirements at an early phase to reduce costs and delays in timelines and to create valid test cases and build good quality software.

Apart from achieving testable requirements, the Requirements Ambiguity Reviews additionally help in multiple ways:

  • Improving  requirements and reducing future defects in software
  • Designing & Mapping the right tests ensuring 100% code coverage
  • Evaluating quality attributes & ensuring compliance specifying the differences between poor and testable requirements

It is important for the requirements to be precise, such that the objective is clear and effective communication is delivered. Now, let us see some of the important approaches through which ambiguous software requirements can be identified, verified, and modified, at the source itself.

  1. Usage of Effective Requirements Gathering Techniques: While gathering requirements, the business analyst or the user involved should clearly understand, elicit, and gather data through various methods such that ambiguous requirements can be identified along with any hidden requirements. Some of the methods include conducting elaborate interviews, preparing follow-up questionnaires, drafting open ended questions and others. Offer effective feedback and periodic summaries so that the interviewee knows you are listening and understands what was said. Finally get an understanding from the facts and analyze the collected data.
  2. Engage Developers & Testers in the Requirements Definition Process: It is important to involve both the developers and testers in the requirements definition process as they are involved in the actual development & testing of the software. They can understand and analyze any ambiguous requirements if they are involved early in the requirements definition phase.
  3. Practice Dual Track Agile process to keep the requirements in check: The Agile coach, Aaron Sanders, coined a new term ‘Dual track development’ wherein early fixation of false assumptions is a process before the actual development begins. This process helps check ambiguous requirements with respect to certain project assumptions. Moreover, dual track agile development refers to repeated testing process to confirm that the right requirements are met by releasing code and conducting focus group meetings.

Cigniti’s proprietary Requirements Testing Framework (RTF) helps eliminate ambiguities in the requirement phase of the STLC and prevents the defects from propagating to the subsequent phases of the STLC. This framework performs a holistic analysis of requirements across 4 parameters: Consistency, Clarity, Completeness and Testability. Contact Cignitis’ team of Web Application Testing Experts today for a requirements validation

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