Agile Requirements Management: Tools & Process

Instructor: Bob Bruner

Bob is a software professional with 24 years in the industry. He has a bachelor's degree in Geology, and also has extensive experience in the Oil and Gas industry.

Regardless of the methodology a software team uses, good requirements are the backbone of good software development. This lesson will explore the basic processes and tools that an agile team will typically employ to manage requirements.

Software Requirements

Suppose that you had a vision for a new product and that your product required some specialized software to make that vision become a reality. If you are not a developer yourself, you need an effective way to communicate and prioritize your critical software requirements, keep them well organized, and move them forward through development, testing, and final delivery. In the Agile Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC), you would want to turn to a team that has the right tools and processes for your basic requirements management.

Agile Software Requirements Process

The Product Backlog

As an agile team, your requirements are captured in what is referred to as the product backlog. Most agile teams use the product backlog to capture user stories. Rather than creating a highly detailed set of software requirements at the start of the project, these user stories are typically written in a much more conversational tone. In fact, user stories are often written by the product owner sitting down with the client and having a conversation about the 'who, what and why' of a particular requirement or feature.

The product owner will also assign a priority and often, a value in the product backlog to each of the user stories. Taken together, these two attributes help the team understand which item in the list of deliverables will be worked on next. In some cases, the story with the highest business value will be the next logical item of work. However, you can imagine a case where a specific piece of infrastructure code is required to make other features work, in which case, it will be given a higher priority in your backlog. As with most everything in agile, these attributes are not intended to be static values. Backlog grooming is a process used to update user stories and their priority and value in an effort to ensure the backlog remains up to date and accurate.

User Story Sizing

Another key component of the user story is that it is given a size. You may be surprised to learn that size isn't necessarily how big a requirement is. Instead, size is a unitless measure usually accounted for as story points, which the team arrives at by a consensus estimate at their planning meetings. Project teams will estimate the complexity, effort, and doubt attached to each user story in order to determine its size or assign story points. One factor of this sizing estimate that makes it unique in project management is that the story points are intended to reflect the amount of uncertainty or risk that a story inherently holds. One key fact to remember is that since all stories are sized by the same estimation technique, each story's relative value becomes a useful planning tool, particularly in determining how much work the team can tackle in any one iteration.

Committing a User Story to an Iteration

A user story only becomes truly active for development work at an iteration planning meeting. Here, the product owner takes the time to review the user story with the entire team at some length, talking through it together so that all team members share a common vision of the story details. Often, the team will ask additional questions for clarity, with those questions and answers being captured as part of the active user story. Velocity is the rate at which team can develop the software for a user story. Based on the story size, and knowing the velocity from previous iterations, one or more stories are committed to by the team for delivery during that iteration. These stories are moved from the product backlog to the active iteration through this process of commitment.

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