Five Pillars of Successful Requirements Management
by Mark Thever
In the intensely competitive and rapidly evolving technology industry, companies must continuously fulfill market needs by efficiently developing innovative new products. A critical component of an effective new product development process is the incorporation of requirements into product development plans. This ensures that the right product configurations are reaching the right customers. Requirements management can quickly become a multifaceted challenge, especially in an organization with a complex portfolio, multiple unique target markets, and several simultaneous product development efforts. After creating and implementing effective requirements management practices for top companies in high technology, we have identified five main pillars of successful requirements management.
Five Pillars of Successful Requirements Management
1. Use four core documents: Best-in-class high technology companies employ no more than four requirements document types. The number of requirements document types and formats can proliferate through company growth, separation of business silos, and the integration of acquired businesses. Keeping requirements documents to a small, core set creates consistency across the organization, allows proper tracking and transparency, and provides engineering groups with uniformity in product development expectations. The four document types are Market, Product, Technical, and Test.
Market Requirements Document:
- Defines market opportunity and/or market need.
- Contains executive summary, vision, target market, competitive positioning, list of features.
Product Requirements Document:
- Articulates product’s purpose, features, functionality, and behavior from the customer’s point of view. Defines “what” the product must do.
- Contains product overview, product requirements description (features, and functions, interface, mechanical, environmental, performance, regulatory, financials – cost and pricing), configurations, datasheets, package requirements, training and support.
Technical Specification Document:
- Outlines detail-level engineering information. Defines “how” the product requirements will be achieved.
- Contains requirements overview, system overview, high-level architecture, technical documentation, detailed architecture, interface details, data flow, input/output, initial validation plan.
Master Test Plan:
- Defines the complete plan for the testing of the product.
- Contains preliminary test program development schedule, estimates of manpower resources and equipment requirements (test and probe time), target platform/system test bed, hardware support plans, failure analysis support plans, program generation software requirements, test time projections and plans, test scripts, plans for characterization support, integration of system test plan.
2. Use a centralized platform/repository for all requirements: Utilizing a robust, centralized requirements management system for requirements across all projects allows for easier change control, improved efficiency and heightened security. Ideally, the platform will incorporate structured content, enabling requirements tracking across different products, analytics, metrics and reporting. A robust requirements management platform preferably offers the following features:
- Document level change control
- Linkage between product lifecycle management and requirements documents
- Ability to track requirements reuse across different products
- Requirements where-referenced
- Requirement level change control
- Status reporting
- Data warehouse & analytics
- Linkage between part and requirements
- Linkage between bill of material and requirements
- Linkage between systems design and test cases
- Export to multiple document formats or HTML
3. Lock and limit requirements: Establish a milestone in the product development process immediately prior to the commencement of the development phase signifying the completion of requirements gathering and assessment. At this point, the list of requirements that will be incorporated into a product should be largely collected and locked. In a perfect world, this list of requirements would not change throughout the rest of the product development process, but in actual practice, customer needs change, the competitive landscape constantly evolves, and resource constraints limit what can be accomplished. Even with these changing dynamics, best-in-class organizations manage to incorporate 98% of requirements from the commencement of the development phase into the final product, while average organizations incorporate 93% of requirements. If late requirement requests do come in after the development phase has started (“late” meaning after development has begun), the product development team must evaluate and either reject or incorporate those changes in an efficient, timely fashion with broad visibility to all internal stakeholders. Having static requirements with few changes will allow the engineering teams to execute to a clear, consistent vision of the product. This will speed development efforts and reduce time to market.
4. Link requirements to test cases: One of the perks of using a robust requirements management platform is the availability of structured data. Generally speaking, structured data is information that is highly organized and stored in a relational database that can be readily parsed and searched. Structured data enables the compartmentalization of information such that individual requirements can be traced to the specific engineering tests that were carried out to validate the compatibility of the requirement with desired system performance. This facilitates the development process and provides specific detail for customers who may want to trace the link between a requirement and its associated test and/or validation.
5. Define success and use the right metrics to track goals: A successful requirements management process facilitates the overall product development process by providing the framework for a straightforward, static vision of the desired product and clear visibility of all individual requirements and test cases. It is important to establish metrics that can be tracked and used to gauge success and optimize the process over time. Some examples of requirements management metrics are:
- Effectiveness Metric: % of requirements changes incorporated after development begins.
- Efficiency Metric: Cycle time from late requirement request to approval and incorporation.
Effective requirements management is a multifaceted endeavor with a direct impact on product development efficiency. Bringing correctly configured products to market in a timely fashion is critical to edging out competition and establishing long-standing customer relationships. The five pillars of requirements management success provide the framework for an efficient internal requirements management process.
About the Author
Mark Thever has more than 10 years of experience in business optimization, commercial management, and research in the semiconductor and life science industries. Through consulting and internal management roles, his accomplishments include significant time to market improvements in product development cycles, the creation of streamlined requirements management frameworks, and the implementation of enhanced business processes for Fortune 500 clients. Mr. Thever earned his BS and MS degrees from UC San Diego, his MBA from The Rady School of Management at UC San Diego, and his credential in leadership from Harvard Business School.
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