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User Requirements Document

lytecyde profile image Mik Seljamaa 🇪🇪 ・3 min read

There has been much interest recently in `Business Process Re-Engineering', (BPR). This is the practice of examining one's business processes to determine if they can be improved, and it often has to be done simply because the passage of time has altered the nature of the organization's businesses. It is sometimes overlooked that software engineering has always included a significant component of BPR because otherwise, a customer will find that a computer system that automates an outmoded business process will not include the workarounds that staff will have implemented to handle change, and the system will fail. The first duty of the software engineer is, therefore, to help the customer understand the nature of their own requirement. In the example of the one-bit program, it is the crystallization of the desire from general discomfort to a specific need for more light. The software engineer is aided in this task by the discipline of having to write a computer program. It isn't possible to hide ambiguities in flowery code, as one can in a text report. A useful URD, therefore, captures as clear an understanding of the user's needs as can be had at the beginning of a project, as understood by user and engineer, in the user's language. The URD will almost certainly need clarification later as the programming discipline identifies ambiguities, whether the amendments are tracked as part of the document or not.

An issue which causes a great deal of confusion here is a joint purpose that the URD has developed. From an engineering perspective, the URD must be a living document, but from the commercial and legal perspective, it takes the place of a reference document for the duration of the project. The two objectives are quite distinct. When they are confused, we get the spectacle of engineers, unfamiliar with legal knowledge (such as it is) trying to write clauses out of `A Day at the Races', while crucial issues of the business process go unexamined.

Sometimes the only way out of this is to have two documents. One specifies the contractual minimum, and may well be written solely by the customer, as some methodologies suggest. The other is a living, internal document that tells us what would delight the customer'. It is what we are trying to aim for on his behalf. How can we delight the customer if the only clue we have to how to do this is a something that will serve our commercial colleagues well in a court of law? The extent to which the customer should have visibility of thereal URD ' depends on commercial circumstances.

Be very careful of integrated feature tracking environments' that purport to capture your URD and track its clauses through design, to code, and through to test case. Such environments often forget that requirements can be met by not doing something, that several requirements may be implemented across several code segments, without any direct mapping between requirement and segment, and that it is hard to test for perfectly reasonable general requirements with specific test cases. This is not to say such tools have no use - for tasks like configuration and datafilling they work perfectly. One could even track the features of a specified group of classes for GUI manipulation. But for generaluser level' black-box requirements they either distort what can be expressed in the URD, or impose a style of development that encourages long hand coding of individual features instead of performing abstractions wherever possible.
Software Requirements Document

Where the URD describes the needed system in the user's language, the SRD describes it in the engineer's. It is in this document that system sizing calculations can first appear. Particularly with modern object methodologies, the need for an SRD has been reduced, because the architecture will consist of pragmatic classes that have a clear relationship with the language of the URD. In this situation, the SRD and ADD can be combined.

Sculptors are told to think of the completed work as residing within the block of stone or wood they are carving. It helps. In the same way, we can imagine ourselves looking over our user's shoulder, one day in the future when our design has been delivered. As we watch them using the features of the system, we can ask ourselves, `How must that have been implemented?' A software engineer's description of the user's needs is then easy to capture.

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