Software Requirements, Third Edition – A major, long-needed update of a classic book – #software #business #bookreview

Software Requirements, Third Edition

Karl Wiegers and Joy Beatty
(Microsoft Press - paperback, Kindle)

A lot changes in 10 years, particularly in the world of software development. The previous edition of this book appeared in 2003, and I never knew about it while I struggled over software requirements documents and user manuals as a technical writer for several big and small companies.

In those days, pulling information out of software engineers was on par with pulling their wisdom teeth using needle-nosed pliers. And management seldom was helpful. Sometimes, I would be sitting at my desk, working on some project, and a high-level delegation suddenly would arrive.

“We are releasing a new software update tomorrow,” the delegation leader would announce. “And we need some documentation written. Here is the latest requirements document. We need for you to expand it into a release document. Oh, and some kind of user manual.”

Fortunately and unfortunately, the software release almost always slipped from tomorrow to the next week and then to the next month as bugs emerged during final testing. While the customer grumbled or screamed, I had time to produce new documents from the software requirements, plus interviews with any engineer I could grab and threaten to name in the materials that I would send out to customers.

It was all seat-of-the-pants stuff. Now, after retiring several years ago, I can only wish I had had this well-written “best practices” guide to creating, managing, and making best use of software requirements documents.

Software Requirements, Third Edition covers a lot of ground in its 637 (print-edition) pages. The 32 chapters are organized into five major parts:

  • Part I – Software Requirements: What, Why, and Who
  • Part II – Requirements Development
  • Part III – Requirements for Specific Project Classes
  • Part IV – Requirements Management
  • Part V – Implementing Requirements Engineering

The book’s two authors, each an expert in software requirements development, emphasize that a software requirements document can be a shining beacon of guidance and clarity or a confusing array of ill-defined features and functions–or it can be something that hovers perilously between good and bad.

The writers emphasize: “Many problems in the software world arise from shortcomings in the ways that people learn about, document, agree upon and modify the product’s requirements….[C]ommon problem areas are information gathering, implied functionality, miscommunicated assumptions, poorly specified requirements, and a casual change process. Various studies suggest that errors introduced during requirements activities account for 40 to 50 percent of all defects found in a software product….Inadequate user input and shortcomings in specifying and managing customer requirements are major contributors to unsuccessful projects. Despite this evidence,” they warn, “many organizations still practice ineffective requirements methods.”

Indeed, they add: “Nowhere more than in the requirements do the interests of all the stakeholders in a project intersect….These stakeholders include customers, users, business analysts, developers, and many others. Handled well, this intersection can lead to delighted customers and fulfilled developers. Handled poorly, it is the source of misunderstanding and friction that undermine the product’s quality and business value.”

The intended primary readership for the book includes “business analysts and requirements engineers, along with software architects, developers, project managers, and other stakeholders.”

In my view, Software Requirements, Third Edition should be read by an even bigger audience. This includes anyone who works in software development, anyone who manages software developers, anyone who sells software development services, plus other key personnel in companies that create, sell, or buy specialized or customized software products or services. The buyer must understand the software requirements process just as keenly as the seller. Otherwise, the software development company may try to hide behind certain jargon or definitions or introduce new processes or changes previously undefined as a delaying tactic, particularly if it has fallen behind schedule or otherwise is failing to deliver what it has promised.

A well-structured, well-worded, well-managed requirements document can help save time, money and, most importantly, the reputations of the companies and people on all sides of a software project. This important, newly updated book shows exactly how such documents can be created, managed, and maintained.

Si Dunn

Lean Analytics and Lean UX – Two new guides to better business and user experiences – #bookreview

Okay, how are we leaning today? Leaning in? Leaning back? Leaning to the left or right? Leaning over? Or just leaning toward chucking all “hot new” postures that supposedly help us pose ourselves for career success?

Here’s some good news. None of the above leanings are topics in two new books from O’Reilly’s popular “Lean” series, edited by Eric Ries.

Lean Analytics deals with using data to help you determine if there is a profitable need for the product or service you hope to offer with a startup business. Lean UX, meanwhile, deals with the process of designing a better user experience (UX) for a company’s apps, website or other products.  Here are short reviews of each book:

Lean Analytics
Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster
Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz
(O’Reilly – hardback, Kindle)

“Entrepreneurs,” the authors state, “are particularly good at lying to themselves. Lying may even be a prerequisite for succeeding as an entrepreneur–after all, you need to convince others that something is true in the absence of good, hard evidence. You need believers to take a leap of faith with you. As an entrepreneur, you need to live in a semi-delusional state just to survive the inevitable rollercoaster ride of running your startup.”

But…you also need cold, hard data. And what you learn from that data may not mesh well with the lie you are living as you try to start a new business from scratch. Yet, it may save you from failing and wasting a lot of money.

“Your delusions,” the authors argue, “no matter how convincing, will wither under the harsh light of data. Analytics is the necessary counterweight to lying, the yin to the yang of hyperbole. Moreover, data-driven learning is the cornerstone of success in startups. It’s how you learn what’s working and iterate toward the right product and market before the money runs out.”

Lean Analytics builds on the Lean Startup process developed by Eric Ries. In today’s digital world, the authors explain, “[w]e’re in the midst of a fundamental shift in how companies are built. It’s vanishingly cheap to create the first version of something. Clouds are free. Social media is free. Competitive research is free. Even billing and transactions are free.”

Taken together, these facilities mean “you can build something, measure its effect, and learn from it to build something better next time. You can iterate quickly, deciding early on if you should double down on your idea or fold and move on to the next one.”

Their 409-page book is not quick reading. But it deserves attention and study, whether you want to start a business, already have started a business, or hope to revamp and improve a business that has been in operation for some time. Lean Analytics presents many examples and case studies that illustrate how you can gather and analyze existing data, then test products or services to determine if they are something that customers actually need, want and will use.

With new data from the tests and the ability to continue testing, you can modify your product or service and focus more resources, energy, and time on improving and refining what will work best for your customers–and your bottom line.

***

Lean UX
Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience
Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden
(O’Reilly - hardback, Kindle)

“Lean UX is a collaborative process,” the two authors of this book emphasize. “It brings designers and non-designers together in co-creation. It yields ideas that are bigger than those of the individual contributors. But it’s not design-by-committee. Instead, Lean UX increases a team’s ownership over the work by providing an opportunity for all opinions to be heard much earlier in the process.”

For example, forget the notion of a web designer hiding in an office for a week or so and then emerging with what he or she insists will be a “masterpiece” as the company’s new home page.

Particularly in software development, a key aspect of Lean and Agile development theories is the notion of creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). “Lean UX makes heavy use of the notion of MVP,” the two authors explain. “MVPs help test our assumptions–will this tactic achieve the desired outcome?–while minimizing the work we put into unproven ideas. The sooner we can find which features are worth investing in, the sooner we can focus our limited resources on the best solutions to our business problems. This concept is an important part of how Lean UX minimizes waste.”

The web designer’s “masterpiece” might work okay, but it also might offer costly confusions for customers and others visiting the website. Instead, Lean UX emphasizes collaboration, teamwork, testing prototypes, analyzing the results, gathering feedback from outsiders, revamping the project, testing it again–and continuing the process.

According to the writers, the most powerful tool in Lean UX is one that is basic to human beings: conversation. Indeed, conversation should be “the primary means of communication among team members.” Some of the other tools for collaboration also are basic: pencils, pens, notepads, whiteboards, blackboards, and simple paper templates that can spur discussions, opinions, and basic designs for the Minimum Viable Product and its successors, before moving the work to computers.

Lean UX is just 130 pages long. But it is rich with how-to examples, process descriptions, short case studies, clear steps, useful illustrations, and good examples that you can adapt and employ to create cheaper, faster, and better user experiences.


Si Dunn

Shipping Greatness – How to build and launch outstanding software – #bookreview #projectmanagement

Shipping Greatness
Chris Vander Mey
(O’Reilly, paperbackKindle)

The subtitle of this excellent new book deserves its own paragraph, so here it is:

“Practical lessons on building and launching outstanding software, learned on the job at Google and Amazon.”

Back when I worked in software development, we never shipped “greatness,” nor anything that resembled “outstanding.” We shipped software that was overdue, incomplete, and inadequately tested. Then we followed up, always in panic mode, with patches, dot releases, and releases that had multiple dots.

Everyone – from our customers to our sales force, managers, and finance department— hated us. (Indeed, more than once, I was a tech-writer minion in a software-development group that was thrown out an employer’s door en masse.)

Anyone who works in software development today or manages software development teams should consider reading Chris Vander Mey’s spirited and eye-opening project management guide.

“Shipping,” he writes, “is about meeting customer needs well and quickly, in addition to becoming rich and famous. Your mission, therefore, is to solve a customer problem. Your strategy is your unique approach to meeting a need that a group of people—a market segment—shares. It sounds pretty simple, and it is, in theory.”

In reality, of course, it is also fraught with crises, gotchas, unwanted surprises, management squabbles, and corporate-wide earthquakes, to name just a few distractions.

With this book, his goal is to get you beyond management theory and into the rapid, real-life flow of software creation and shipping, with the skills and knowledge necessary to both survive and thrive.

Shipping Greatness is organized into two parts and contains a total of 215 pages, 13 chapters and three appendices.

Part One: The Shipping Greatness Process

  • 1. How to Build a Great Mission and Strategy
  • 2. How to Define a Great Product
  • 3. How to Build a Great User Experience
  • 4. How to Achieve Project Management Greatness on a Budget
  • 5. How to Do a Great Job Testing
  • 6. How to Measure Greatness
  • 7. How to Have a Great Launch

Part Two: The Shipping Greatness Skills

  • 8. How to Build a Shipping-Ready Team
  • 9. How to Build Great, Shippable Technology
  • 10. How to Be a Great Shipping Communicator
  • 11. How to Make Great Decisions
  • 12. How to Stay a Great Person While Shipping
  • 13. That Was Great; Let’s Do It Again

The three appendices are: Appendix A – 10 Principals of Shipping; Appendix B – Essential Artifacts Your Team Needs; and Appendix C – References and Further Reading.

Chris Vander Rey’s new book offers a wealth of how-to discussions, techniques to consider, and tips to adopt. One of my favorite small bits of advice is: Never have a launch party during a software launch. “It’s really demoralizing when your team members can’t go to their own party,” he says. Instead, many of them likely will be hunched in their cubicles monitoring server traffic or watching for user problems with the release.

You can’t get a degree (yet) in this kind of shipping. But Shipping Greatness is the textbook that can help you graduate to greatness in the ever-changing, ever-challenging world of software.

Si Dunn

SharePoint 2010 for Project Management, 2nd Edition – #bookreview

SharePoint 2010 for Project Management, 2nd Edition
By Dux Raymond Sy
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $44.99; Kindle edition, list price $34.99)

Project management now provides the top use of Microsoft SharePoint 2010, and this updated edition quickly jumps straight into using SharePoint to create and run a Project Management Information System (PMIS). 

The book is written and structured for those “not interested in the nitty-gritty technical details of SharePoint,” the author says. His work “is focused on helping you leverage SharePoint for project management regardless of what industry you are in.”

And he emphasizes: “If you are interested in using SharePoint to deploy a corporate portal, create an ecommerce website, or develop a proprietary SharePoint application, this is not the book for you.”

In organizations large and small and even for individual users, “[t]he main purpose of SharePoint is to empower users with document management and team collaboration tools,” the author notes.  He points out that “SharePoint does not refer to a specific product or technology. Using the phrase ‘Microsoft SharePoint’ is like using the phrase ‘Microsoft Office.” It refers to several aspects of collaborative solutions.”

 This new edition is aimed at project managers, project team members, program managers, IT/IS directors and SharePoint consultants.

The 209-page book has nine chapters:

  • 1. Project Kickoff
  • 2. Setting Up the PMIS
  • 3. Adding PMIS Components
  • 4. Adding Stakeholders to the PMIS
  • 5. Supporting Team Collaboration
  • 6. Project Tracking
  • 7. Project Reporting
  • 8. Integrating PM Tools
  • 9. Project Closing

SharePoint 2010 for Project Management, 2nd Edition is well-written and tightly focused, with how-to instructions and illustrations on nearly every page.  It also provides a case study so readers can practice applying PMIS skills in SharePoint.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. His latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle.