First generation Requirements Management tools were primarily geared toward documenting the different stages that requirements definitions go through, together with keeping track of what requirements are still ‘in’ and which are ‘out’. Next generation technologies, such as Jama Software's Contour, are able to address a much broader set of issues that surround and underpin Requirements Management, such as reducing and managing the costs and overhead of the requirements process. This is critical when you consider that a poorly executed requirements definition process can consume staff time and resources at a prodigious rate.
Contour has been distributed in Europe since 2006 by Xeau, a Requirements Management specialist that emerged out of Starbase when it was acquired by Borland. The developers of Contour recognise the fact that requirements project teams need to work closely together, and that communication and interaction are primary functions of an effective and efficient process. But in today's global economy, essential players in such teams are often in different locations, indeed in different countries. To address this issue, Jama Software built a web based application from the ground up. The web interface means that teams can be virtual and remote, which in turn means that time-shifted requirements planning becomes a viable option. Team members can simply log in at a time convenient to them, wherever they are, and contribute to the requirements planning process.
Because Jama built Contour from the ground up, they were in a position to exploit the advantages of Web 2.0 technologies, such as leveraging AJAX to provide a desktop-like experience within the browser. It is also designed to run on most platforms and relational databases and therefore comes with a good degree of licencing flexibility, plus the choice of hosted OnDemand or OnSite options.
Users can build their own extensions to the basic tool or customise the look and feel, though more commonly they will make suggestions to Xeau. This gives the advantage that the Jama development team can build and test the additional modules faster and more comprehensively.
Contour also allows customization, such as adding or removing fields, or changing drop down values, which can be performed from within the web-browser, either by the user's project team or systems administrators. Many of the tool's elements can be renamed to fit with the nomenclature prevalent in any individual business. They can also be extended as required. This overcomes the ‘translation’ problem that can exist with applications that utilise fixed terminology which does not match that used by a particular business.
An important feature of Contour is the ability to view impact analysis “on the fly” and run Trace and Impact Analysis reports that can identify potential contentions well before they are ever committed to code. It also provides a range of reporting options, with perhaps the most interesting being the report filtering capabilities. This ability allows project team members to look at just the subsets of the total project information base that maps onto their particular needs or responsibilities. Team members can be saved from the effort of wading through the latest revisions, which in some traditional Requirements Management tools effectively constitute the ‘version control system’. Contour provides full version management, including full visibility to the change history.
As most Requirements Definition project teams will include members of the applications development staff, it makes sense that the tools available allow them to contribute to the process in ways that will assist them in any subsequent development. One example of this is the ability to allow developers to build and insert test cases for the subsequent code during the requirements definition process.
The output from application modelling tools, such as Microsoft Visio, can also be tied in with the tool, either as embedded images or as links to the model files. As modelling tools become part of the communications bridge between technology and business-oriented staff this allows Contour to not only capture requirements as a set of objective goals, but start to provide the common communications bridge between technology and business, providing a richer understanding of the other's perspective.
It may not be the most glamorous part of the applications development process, but Requirements Management is arguably the most important. Get it wrong and a company can soon find itself facing significant costs trying to get the project right again. While there is a growing list of Requirements Management tools now available, the flexibility of its customisation and general ease of use, coupled to its ability to work with the ‘real world’ situation of geographically dispersed Requirements Definition teams, makes Contour an RM tool that should find its way through to most businesses short-list.
This article is a summary of an InBrief paper from Bloor Research, which is available as a free download courtesy of Xeau:
Requirements Management gets a make-over