"The system shall [not] . . ."

Discrete lists misused to discredit all requirements

by Conrad Weisert
© 2011 Information Disciplines, Inc., Chicago

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Having it both ways (or neither way)

Several years ago we noted an alarming trend in the form in which systems analysts were writing functional specifications or detailed user requirements. Instead of a well structured system specification they were producing only a discrete list of declarative statements beginning with "The system shall". Since then, we've seen further growth of that custom, which is now being vigorously condemned by the agile crowd. I've even attended IIBA presentations in which a speaker presented discrete lists as a normal way of writing system specifications and didn't draw a single objection from the audience.

So a surprising majority of today's systems analysts seem to be divided between:

What ever happened to well-structured system specifications? Has everyone forgotten the lessons of the structured revolution of the 1980s?

Not deliberately misleading

We've noted instances of a radical methodologist trying to discredit a technique by deliberately misusing it, and then showing that the misuse leads to project failure or other unpleasant consequences. I don't think that's the case with the discrete requirements list crowd; they just don't understand.

It may be hard to accept the fact that many people who claim to be professional systems analysts (or business analysts as they now prefer to be called) haven't a clue about about how to specify an application system. Nor do some of the managers and recruiters who select and hire them.


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Last modified March 2, 2011