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'Requirements Critic' checks documents for problems

Requirements Critic spots agent/action gaps in your documentation and, even more important, verifies your requirements against glossaries of acceptable terms. It also spots problematic phrases like "easy to use," "strong encryption" or "very fast"–phrases that experts consider dangerously vague.
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Written by Ed Gottsman on

Requirements Critic ("RC") is a joint project out of our Silicon Valley and Bangalore labs (time difference: An almost perfect 11.5 hours) that's looking for ways to aid the process of requirements development. Its current prototype is a Microsoft Word plug-in that acts sort of like a grammar checker-except it's checking the wording of your requirements documents for a range of common problems.

RC is part of a larger innovation agenda for Requirements Engineering that the Labs have developed in co-operation with the Global Delivery Excellence group. The broader vision is called "ACcenture Requirements Engineering Suite (ACRES)". The comprehensive suite that Labs is working toward will include a combination of commercial offerings and Labs-developed tools.

So What?

One statistic has it that 82 percent of project rework is caused by defects in requirements, so it's pretty obvious where we have to focus if we're going to "move the dial" on software quality. With this in mind, our Silicon Valley lab has been investing heavily in requirements research. Requirements Critic is its first deliverable.

As a rule, a well-written requirement (if there is such an animal) needs an agent (e.g., a person) that performs an action (e.g., press a key). These agents and actions should be described consistently throughout the requirements document–but maintaining that consistency is hard when documents become large. And inconsistency leads to confusion, which leads to re-work, cost over-runs, and general badness.

Requirements Critic spots agent/action gaps in your documentation and, even more important, verifies your requirements against glossaries of acceptable terms. It also spots problematic phrases like "easy to use," "strong encryption" or "very fast"–phrases that experts consider dangerously vague.

The Requirements Critic is aimed at improving the clarity and consistency of requirements documents. This is part of a broader goal of improving analysts' processes, products and efficiency by encouraging re-use wherever possible.

To support these objectives, the team is planning to offer several ambitious tools, including a Reuse Assistant; a Methods Assistant; a Visualization and Prototyping Toolkit; and a Session Capture and Annotation Toolkit.

If you're interested in learning more about Requirements Critic or the broader requirements engineering research effort, please feel free to get in touch with Accenture Technology Labs' Kunal Verma or Alex Kass, both of whom are working in this space.

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