The Essential Requirements Documentation Tools Stack for 2020
With increasing complexity in requirements engineering processes, maintaining a competitive edge is crucial to staying ahead.
Our team has scoured the internet to find out what the industry has to offer in terms of requirements documentation tools, from elicitation, authoring, management, and everything in between. We’ve taken this research and compiled it into the ultimate Requirements Engineering tool stack for 2020 so you and your team can stay ahead of the curve.
THE ORIGINAL REQUIREMENTS DOCUMENTATION TOOL: MICROSOFT OFFICE
Riddle time: What’s one case where tradition is a bad thing? When should the fact that something is low-cost, common and easily understood actually be a drawback?
Answer: When it comes to selecting the right software to use for your requirements engineering workflow.
Microsoft Office — the suite of software and services that includes MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and more — is certainly the standard when it comes to word processing and spreadsheets. Office has certainly stood the test of time, as it was first released in 1990 and has been going strong since then.
It’s economical, easy to obtain and easy to use for most — seemingly all checks in the “plus” column. Almost everyone either has it or can easily access it, making it possible to collaborate within and across organizations and parties. There’s also a big thing that props up the popularity of Microsoft Office as a piece of requirements management software: inertia. Many people have had an awareness of and comfort with Word and Excel for the entirety of their professional lives. Presumably, it has worked well enough for all these years, and its features and limitations are easily understood.
If you’re using simple Microsoft Office without the use of plug-ins or other legacy programs for your requirements gathering, requirements modelling, requirements writing and requirements documentation needs — you have no idea what you’re missing.
Search your memory, and you can easily come up with moments where Office didn’t yield the smoothest experience for your requirements needs. It’s predictable, sure, but nobody would call Word or Excel seamless or friction-free.
If you’ve never explored other software options for completing requirements documentation besides Office, then it might be hard to grasp how much time you’re wasting. With Word and Office, we tend to take it for granted that most inputs need to be manual. But purpose-built requirements documentation software is not built on that same assumption. By sticking with the original Office suite, you could be wasting hours doing work that is repetitive, duplicative or dangerously prone to human error and omission.
Similar programs — such as Notepad or Google Docs — are similarly limited in their capabilities. Notepad is very simple to use, making its documents portable and compact. Google Sheets and Google Docs bring something new to the table over Microsoft Office, in the form of easy collaboration and cloud backups of all versions of the document. But these alternatives to Office fall short too.
But don’t worry! There’s some great news. While it’s highly recommended to rethink your strategy if you’re relying only on Microsoft Office for requirements engineering, you may not have to abandon it (or any other program you’re comfortable with) altogether.
Thanks to QVscribe, a program that fully integrates with a number of leading requirement management tools including Excel, Word, Visure, IBM Doors and Marivent Synthesis, and more added every year — you may not need to switch entirely away from your program of choice in order to unlock powerful requirements engineering capabilities.
BREAKING DOWN THE PROCESSES OF THE MODERN REQUIREMENTS ENGINEERING WORKFLOW
To understand why Office, Notepad and Google’s suite of software aren’t sufficient tools for requirements engineering and documentation, first, we need to understand exactly how requirements management has evolved.
Perhaps the biggest changes to the requirements field in recent years have arrived in the form of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI). We’ll get to the limitations of Microsoft Office in dealing with those advances shortly.
There have been other environmental shifts, too. For example, the globalization of the workforce has made it so that teams are “always-on” — making it more critical that team members can access the most up-to-date documents, even on holidays, off-hours or weekends. (And of course, with team members spread across the whole world on any given project, those holidays, off-hours and weekends can fall at completely different and unexpected times.)
This requirement calls for a software suite that offers real-time group editing capability — something that Microsoft Office and Notepad can’t offer, but which Google Docs can. Understandably, Google, which has devoted significant resources to being on the vanguard of the AI and NLP revolutions, shows some promise as a requirements engineering tool in that way. But as we’ll discuss, Google software does not offer several other key features that are vital for requirements documentation and requirements management.
What’s a good alternative to Google Docs? QVscribe.
QVscribe acts as an assistant for rapidly authoring requirements that are compliant with best practices and industry standards. Authoring requirements with QVscribe empowers teams with a foundation for positive and on-time project development. QVscribe harnesses Natural Language Processing to proactively check for compliance of the best requirements analysis tactics identified by associations such as INCOSE and leading industry experts. The key benefit of automated requirements analysis through the authoring process is that it empowers engineering teams to build faster by identifying errors where they matter most and cost the least to fix: in the requirements.
As we’ll cover below, QVscribe helps jumpstart the authoring of requirements with fill-in-the-blank templates that are pre-configured to follow the Easy Approach to Requirements Syntax (EARS). Whether a requirement is ubiquitous, state-driven, event-driven, an optional feature or an unwanted behaviour – QVscribe users can choose amongst a subset of patterns that structure each requirement to be simple, clear and a dream to work with.
To understand a bit more about why clean requirements save so much time and frustration, we’ll explore a little bit about how requirements engineering has shifted in recent years.
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF REQUIREMENTS ENGINEERING (RE) OVER THE YEARS: HOW HAS IT CHANGED?
The starting line of requirements engineering (RE) is requirements elicitation.
As any analyst knows, requirements elicitation is easy to describe, but often very complicated to complete. It’s not as though one can just do some print or online research or read through materials in order to determine what a project might require. Further, requirements often start out as ill-defined and ever-changing — making them hard to pin down and especially hard to describe and record.
Luckily, the evolution of the entire working world has allowed for the rise of agile development. Gone are the days of rigid rules, immovable schedules and inflexible structures. Agile development is more popular than ever — and it brings a sense of flexibility, collaboration and heightened communication.
On the source control front, perhaps the most popular new tool that can be used in requirements engineering is Git. Because there’s no centralized repository of code, developers can work on divergent paths and sync their work up afterward. Git is a big name in development and it’s widely supported, but alternative programs include CVS,
Mercurial and Subversion.
With so many moving parts, it’s important to have a powerful integration tool. Hudson, Jenkins, Integrity, Strider and Travis CI are well-known continuous integration tools that can be used in tandem with agile management systems.
With teams working all hours of the day and every day of the week, and with the geographical, time zone and cultural boundaries that need to be bridged — successful team management is a critical element of requirements engineering.
The options for team management programs are almost too numerous to list. They span the spectrum from communication tools to notation systems to time tracking tools and so much more. Some tools are used for specific parts of the workflow, while others are integrated into the entire process.
For example, Agile Manager by HP helps organize engineering efforts, so that teams working on code in an agile model can remain focused and guided. Agile Manager works with and extracts information from Bamboo, Eclipse, Git and Jenkins.
Modern-day requirements engineering involves instant messages, on-the-fly video calls, workflows that must be synched up after the fact and other logistical challenges. The days of teams located in a single time zone, working in the same proximity and even speaking the same language seem almost quaint. Old team management tools — like the conference room whiteboard and a master Word document — seem all but quaint.
Still, key elements of those old-school tools are repeated in some of the most cutting-edge requirements engineering collaboration tools. For example:
- Agile Bench: This hosted platform helps organize individual workflows, and it’s well-integrated with GitHub and Bitbucket
- Axosoft: This project management tool allows for granular tracking of tasks, bugs and user stories. It also lets customers add their inputs on the development process — ensuring that all relevant concerns are represented during the development and engineering phases.
- LeanKit: This clean, powerful note tracking system is just like a conference room whiteboard. But unlike a “dumb” whiteboard, this smart system makes changes in real-time and allows for easy remote collaboration.
- Pivotal Tracker: Just like an old-school conference room meeting, this tool encourages agile development by letting team members rank task complexity and track daily progress.
- Planbox: Think of this one as a hierarchy organizer. Planbox tracks task completion progress across multiple levels in an organization and generates useful progress reports for all stakeholders. It’s easy to integrate Planbox with Github, Zendesk and UserVoice.
- Telerik TeamPulse: Similar to Pivotal Tracker, TeamPulse helps teams measure progress on assigned tasks, and it offers evolving, real-time updates about shifting complexities and challenges.
- VersionOne: This tool paves the way for intra- and inter-organizational collaboration and agile development. It also offers robust capabilities for documenting progress and changes. It’s highly integratable with other packages, thanks to the openAgile API.
WHAT TOOLS ARE USEFUL FOR REQUIREMENTS ELICITATION?
Stakeholder Interviews, Internal Meetings, Focus Groups, Repertory Grids & Previous Requirements
Often, requirements must be carefully elicited from the minds of stakeholders, through processes like interviews and questionnaires. It can also be helpful to hold internal meetings and focus groups in order to arrive at a common consensus and to glean key insights that may not be written out or explained anywhere yet.
Surveys are a great way to elicit requirements, particularly when stakeholders are spread out globally or if the number of stakeholders is very high. There are many pros to using surveys and questionnaires, but there are a few cons as well.
In the pro column — surveys are highly efficient, they can be filled out and submitted around the clock and they are easily iterated, so that it’s possible to collect a large volume of responses.
In the con column — surveys don’t provide an easy way to ask follow-up questions, their efficiency can generate an impractically large amount of information to sift through and they don’t allow for a back-and-forth among parties. This back-and-forth could be in the form of a conversation between the party eliciting the requirements and the stakeholder, and it could also be an interaction between or among stakeholders. These types of discussions can help clarify gray areas and prevent misunderstandings.
Whereas at one point, surveys and questionnaires generally indicated written or typed answers on paper — programs like Survey Monkey, online surveys, email polls and online live databases provide another way to elicit requirements in a way that addresses some of the traditional shortcomings.
The repertory grid interview technique provides a path for requirements elicitation that offers structure and direction. For both repertory grid and more freeform interviews, those seeking to elicit requirements can use voice recorders and transcribing services to gather a breadth of information and capture stakeholder answers in rich, full detail. Previous requirements documentation offers a rich resource for eliciting new requirements, and that written material can be used in a similar way to transcripts from meetings and interviews.
For the reviewing of such transcripts, artificial intelligence and natural language processing can make the job go faster and more efficiently. Rather than engaging in the highly repetitive, time-consuming and error-prone tasks of transcribing conversations and reviewing transcriptions, people charged with requirements elicitation can turn transcription-related tasks over to computers, machines and software, which are far less prone to typos and fatigue. The same computers, machines and software can be used to review, organize and look for patterns across a large volume of transcribed answers, making the requirements elicitation process even more efficient.
Workshops & Meetings
Workshops and meetings offer people-centric ways to elicit requirements, but they can benefit from technology, too. For instance, connectivity tools like video conferencing (e.g., Skype or Zoom), chat platforms (such as WhatsApp or Discord), message boards (like Trello) make it cheap, easy and efficient to get in touch with stakeholders.
Because there are so many ways to meet and gather feedback in the business world, the number of tools offering these capabilities is simply staggering. For example:
- MailChimp: This powerful email marketing campaign tool allows for easy and organized communication.
- Trello: Based on the idea of “boards,” Trello allows for instant sharing of critical information and communications across an entire organization, no matter how spread out.
- BuzzSumo: This competitor research tool lets engineers glean high-level data and powerful insights on any given topic or publicly discussed project.
Scenario Analysis, Passive Storyboards & Prototyping
Requirements elicitation often calls for considering potential future events that might come about under different circumstances. This can be accomplished by scenario analysis — a type of projection that presents various mutually exclusive potential developments.
Passive storyboarding is a form of narration that helps demonstrate the cause-and-effect relationship of different events. Passive storyboarding can be a powerful tool in requirements elicitation, as it forces the user to carefully consider and document exactly what will or might occur in the usage of a product or application.
Prototyping is a powerful way to elicit requirements. Prototypes have been used to gather and refine requirements for a very long time. Prototyping is helpful because it is highly practical and it helps create a stronger understanding of the specifics of a problem to be solved.
Each of these three requirements elicitation tools has a long history of usage. And just like all tools previously discussed — scenario analysis, passive storyboarding and prototyping can be performed much faster and more efficiently through the use of new technologies.
The technological advantages are as simple as new software and as complex as improved data ingestion and analytical capability.
On the software front, numerous purpose-built tools exist to make each of these forms of requirements elicitation faster and easier.
For scenario analysis, Axiom, Lumina Analytica, Centage Budget Maestro and 3C Software are just a few examples of programs that are designed explicitly to run planning and scenario models in order to evaluate their impacts. For prototyping, software like Axure RP, iRise, Draftium, Adobe XD was created to make visualization easy and informative. For storyboarding, a wide variety of tools can be used — from Microsoft’s tried-and-true PowerPoint all the way up to HyperCard.
No matter which programs are preferred, when one uses software and systems that are purpose-built for the demands of requirements elicitation tasks, the time savings and reduction of error possibilities can be immense.
WHAT TOOLS ARE USEFUL FOR REQUIREMENTS ANALYSIS?
After requirements are successfully gathered and recorded, using any of the above requirements elicitation methods (or, more likely, a combination) — it is then time to move onto analyzing the requirements.
The key goal of requirements analysis is to ensure that the requirements are complete, thorough, clear and unambiguous. Requirements analysis is also an opportunity to apply internal analysis to the requirements as a whole, which gives a chance to resolve any discrepancies or ambiguities that may exist.
Requirements analysis begins with classification. Commonly, a wealth of information will be produced in the requirements elicitation state. In order for that information to be useful, it must be well-organized. Organization allows for the requirements to be clear and easy to understand for any party who reads them — including someone who may have to step into the process after requirements elicitation is completed. It also helps make the relationships between requirements clearer, and it helps illuminate the internal hierarchy of requirements — including interrelationships, dependencies and conflicts between and among the requirements.
The requirements analysis step may be the most dramatic example of a place where traditional tools like Microsoft Office fall short.
This isn’t a time to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. A requirements analyst can still harness the word-processing power and widespread familiarity of Microsoft Word through add-on tools like QVscribe.
Introduced in 2015, QVscribe is an innovative tool that enables engineers to easily analyze their requirements documents directly within Microsoft Word — and quickly repair vulnerabilities to reduce stressful rework and increase development confidence.
As described by Defense Engineer Consultant Claude Lemelin in the initial press release announcing the program, QVscribe excels because it allows for a key flexibility that makes for great engineering. Engineers must be creative, but they must be “precise, concise and unambiguous,” too — QVscribe allows the space for that human creativity to flourish by quickly showing a requirements document’s weaknesses and highlighting them for quick correction.
QVscribe uses a visual grading system powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP). This allows it to quickly and thoroughly perform similarity analysis for redundancies, inconsistency and more. The program also has the means to check for term and unit consistency, which can be a particular hazard across long or multifaceted requirements documents.
By using NLP, QVscribe knows what a “complete” requirement looks like, so it is able to quickly and accurately flag possibly incomplete requirements in a document. By the same token, it can detect potential ambiguities and bring them to the author’s attention for a clarifying rewrite. QVscribe also allows for review and analysis of standards and best practices. It has a feature called AutoMark that locates requirements and provides actionable feedback fast.
KEY TOOLS FOR REQUIREMENTS SPECIFICATION AND AUTHORING
Requirements specification and requirements authoring are the two fields in which “legacy” programs — like Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint), Notepad and Google Docs — are still in widespread use.
For some, the inertia of tradition is strong, and it’s not immediately clear what advantage a purpose-built program would bring over these easy-to-use options. As mentioned at the top of this article, though, the deceptive simplicity of the requirements authoring process can leave engineers unaware of just how much of the process is left open to human error. Plus, using these imprecise programs can leave engineers dangerously prone to misuse of finite resources like time and manpower.
A key program is purpose-built for requirements specification and authoring. It is the aforementioned QVscribe by QRA Corp. QVscribe helps with requirements authoring in a variety of ways. First, it paves the way for structural conformance by offering fill-in the-blank templates that are pre-configured to follow the Easy Approach to Requirements Syntax (EARS).
Whether a requirement is ubiquitous, state-driven, event-driven, an optional feature or an unwanted behaviour, the engineer can choose amongst a subset of patterns that structure each requirement to be simple, clear and easy to work with. Because QVscribe was built by industry experts for this exact purpose, it helps engineers produce requirements that are compliant with best practices and industry standards.
This is, of course, a clear differentiation from Office, Notepad and Google Docs — which offer a means for composition but no assistance on syntax or clarity issues, and no ongoing guidance regarding industry best practices.
QVscribe also has a feature that warns engineers of common quality issues that may be intentional without impacting the requirement’s score. This creates a “gut check” moment for the engineer — a chance to determine which requirements genuinely need attention.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE FOR REQUIREMENTS VALIDATION
After the requirements authoring step is complete, it’s time to validate. During the requirements validation stage, requirements are checked for:
Requirements validation can occur through a variety of techniques. Just as in requirements elicitation, prototyping can be a powerful tool for requirements validation. Prototyping allows for end-users to “test drive” the finished product or service in order to confirm that it works as it should and that it fulfills their needs.
Test cases can also be used to validate requirements. Requirements validation through the use of test cases involves designing tests in order to check whether requirements can be completed. The difficulty or impracticality of making a test will point to underlying problems in requirements. Importantly, requirements validation should be thought of as an ongoing process, and it should start as soon as possible. This is another reason why it’s advantageous to use specific software for requirements documentation — features such as syntax checks and sentence templates can subtly validate requirements so that it’s easy to produce clean requirements through every step of the engineering process.
WHAT ARE THE BEST TOOLS FOR REQUIREMENTS MANAGEMENT?
As Kelly Suter famously said in her comprehensive guide to requirements: “When budgets are thin, timelines are tight, and scope is creeping, requirements documentation tends to be the first deliverable to go and the last deliverable to be considered.”
A complex task requires powerful tools. The best requirements management (RM) tools are easy to use and well-integrated with other software that may be needed during the requirements engineering process.
IBM Engineering Requirements Management DOORS Next tops the list. It’s a suite of products available for a monthly fee. IBM Engineering Requirements Management DOORS Next integrates with other tools, allowing for lifecycle management, collaboration and software engineering. It also works well with Jazz products and solutions. Most importantly, DOORS integrates seamlessly with QVscribe — allowing for quick, easy and practical engineering for requirements that are clean and consistent.
Caliber, at roughly the same price point, is an RM tool that adds a bit more visual capability, including the ability to create storyboards, simulations and models.
Jama tops the list as far as cost goes, coming in at $2400/year. But there’s a reason why — Jama is the biggest name in requirements documentation. It’s also particularly popular and ubiquitous for software engineering needs. Jama is extremely customizable, and it offers the capability for live traceability and impact analysis. QVscribe integrates well with Jama — making for a frustration-free experience when authoring requirements in the program.
Pearls is a diverse and versatile RM tool that lets users define certain elements — e.g., use case, actor, condition and flow — and offers a robust set of features, including user role, backlog and specifications management. Pearls allows for the one-click generation of word documents — a feature offering a clear advantage over “old-fashioned” Microsoft Word composition and inputting.
There are a wide variety of considerations when selecting the right tool or tools to use for requirements management needs. Cost is, of course, the most obvious — the above tools range from $10/ month all the way up to $200/month and more. (And some offer free trials, prorated monthly fees or the ability to go month-to-month rather than pay for a whole year — whereas some do not.)
Beyond the basic considerations like cost, brand trust and existing familiarity with products or software, it’s also important to consider what type of integration capability a given program offers. If the lion’s share of requirements engineering is taking place on a certain program or with a particular piece of software, it is of course critically important that it can integrate with the selected requirements management tool.
Further, some requirements management tools get particularly high marks for their customer service, training and support — this is always a plus, but it can be particularly important when existing familiarity with a system is low.
Finally, logistics must be considered. As RM software will need to be implemented globally across a system, engineers and firms must determine whether an on-premise solution or a cloud-based system is desired.
QVscribe can be licensed for individuals, for offices and for teams. Each version of the program varies, but for the team version, which is most robust, QVscribe offers:
- Quality analysis for best practice compliance
- Terminology and unit consistency analysis
- Requirements similarity analysis
- Universal Quantifier warnings
- Passive Voice Detection
- Incomplete Sentence Detection
- Requirements export
- User-configurable analysis
- Customized PDF reports
- Easy Approach to Requirements Syntax (EARS) Templating
- Centralized analysis configurations
- Concurrent licensing
- User management