Good Requirements - Part III - Be Clear

If one is ambiguous and confusing when articulating requirements, there is almost no chance that an optimal solution can be reached. After all, the goal of requirements is to clearly articulate the needs of a system. If one does not have clear requirements, what exactly is being developed?

Being clear may sound easy to do but understand that people may interpret the same thing in different ways. Simple terms such as cold, hot, small, tall, fast and easy-to-use mean different things to different people. 10 degrees Celsius may be cold to one individual yet hot to another.

One may not even realize that a lack of clarity exists because everyone thinks they understand a statement perfectly. So how does one ensure that there are no misunderstandings?

  1. Use exact terminology and language. Some examples of clear requirements are, "The screw must be 4.5" long," and, "The screw must be able to withstand 450 degrees Kelvin." Note how much more clear those two statements are than the following one, "The user interface must be user-friendly." What does user-friendly mean exactly?
  2. Use short sentences and simple language. Writing requirements is not like writing prose. In fact, requirements do not even have to be complete sentences!
  3. Hold informal and formal review sessions with the providers of the requirements and the recipients of the requirements (i.e., business & IT groups.) Go over all of the requirements, including the ones that look blatantly obvious.
  4. Be anal! If there is even a remote chance that someone can misunderstand a requirement, they will!
  5. Clear up any issues ASAP.

The goal is effective communication. This means no misconceptions, misrepresentations or misunderstandings.

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