Traditionally, many software developers have used general-purpose tools such as MS Word and Excel to manage the requirements of whatever software products they were working on. In fact, a surprisingly high percentage of companies still stick to these solutions, despite their obvious disadvantages (which we'll explore later in this post).
At first, it may seem like they have their reasons to continue using these suboptimal solutions. But most companies that do finally make the transition to a more advanced requirements management platform quickly realize the benefits it brings. Let's see what issues Word or Excel can cause in the process of managing requirements, and what other options are available for software development teams.
MS Office (Word and Excel) in requirements management
On one hand, you could say that using Word or Excel makes sense: MS Office solutions are low-cost, easy to use, and are "standard" software tools installed on almost all work computers. This greatly facilitates collaboration with external parties, e.g. your customers are likely to have Word on their computers.
Since these legacy tools have been in use for ages, there may be a lot of internal processes built on or around them. Overall, while these tools are not really suitable for requirements management, coupled with simple issue trackers and a lot of manual work, development teams can get by. However, if you're developing complex or safety-critical software products, the inefficiencies and the difficulty of proving compliance using MS Office solutions start to become obvious.
Basically, if you're using Word or Excel to manage requirements, you're essentially wasting a lot of resources. There's no way that can be justified in any business environment. When using Word or Excel files and a simple bug tracker software, for instance, differentiating between various data sources is highly problematic. Process visibility and transparency are very difficult to provide: staying on top of how development progresses, and of the test coverage of requirements is an ongoing struggle that requires a lot of manual work.
The more complex your product, the more obvious it becomes that Word or Excel are simply not suitable for managing requirements.
Common issues with MS Office solutions
The most common problems experienced when using MS Office to manage requirements are:
- Multiple versions of certain documents are being used by the various teams and team members, making it difficult to ensure data consistency.
- Transparency is minimal, as tracking all changes to all MS Excel requirements documents is practically impossible (who changed what, when). Change logs can only be kept manually, which of course increases the chance of errors.
- Ensuring process visibility and traceability is an effort-intensive, manual task (a separate traceability document needs to be maintained throughout the lifecycle).
What all this boils down to is, of course, profitability – which is adversely affected by the use of inadequate requirements management tools such as MS Word, Excel and simple issue trackers. Not only is it a problem of efficiency, however: requirements-related issues are the leading cause of software project failure. Therefore, inadequate tooling contributes to project failures or at least delays, and wasted resources.
Efficient requirements management
Luckily, most of the above issues can be mitigated or reduced using the right tools. It is no surprise that more and more companies decide to start the search for an adequate requirements management platform. The requirements-related features and capabilities of codeBeamer ALM take much of the burden of requirements management off your shoulders. Gapless end-to-end traceability is automatically provided, and can be reported on. All changes to all your work items are automatically logged, so you don't have to worry about change control and transparency either. Collaboration is made easier, since everyone's always using the most up-to-date version of requirements documents.
Related blog post: A Guide to Future-proofing Your Requirements Management
What's even better: with codeBeamer, you don't have to completely stop using Word or Excel. If your partners or customers are still using MS Office solutions, you can simply rely on codeBeamer's round-trip export-import feature. This allows you to export requirements to Word or Excel, make changes to it while "offline", then simply reimport the document and be notified of all changes, which you can either approve or reject individually. This way, you can stay on top of all changes to all requirements even when using MS Office documents.
Interested in finding out more about how codeBeamer ALM could help increase the efficiency of your requirements management processes? Simply download codeBeamer's evaluation version for free.