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How to evaluate, choose software requirements tools

Learn how to choose the right requirements tool for your organization with a series of steps that consider process, users and tasks. Some basic questions at the beginning of the tool selection process can lead to a well-informed decision. This tip will cover how to evaluate tool vendors, tool ratings and the operating environment and budget, and explain the details of each part of the selection process.

As you explore selections for a requirements tool, keep in mind that these tools must align with your needs and...

be right for your organization. You must expect this if you do indeed expect your selection to actually facilitate your requirement activities. First and foremost, before any glitzy demos, you need to give some thought to how you intend to use this tool along with featured you highly desire.

  • What process or tasks will it support?
  • Who will be using it? What are their roles?
  • What types of information will be captured and managed?
While these questions seem basic, they're importance and relevancy is often grossly underestimated. These below guidelines will make it easier to for you to select the optimal requirements tool for your organization. All too often a tool is pegged a misfit, not so much because it is a lousy tool but because there was not a fundamental agreement regarding its purpose, use and users. These most basic questions were probably never considered.

Requirement tool selection steps
The following steps will facilitate the selection of the right requirements tool and the Requirements Tool Evaluation can support this effort.

Be prepared by:

Agreeing on tool purpose, use and users

  • Determining operating environment and budget
  • Providing guidance for the tool evaluation
  • Refining questions and assigning relative importance
  • Developing a realistic usage scenario

Select tool vendors by:

  • Identifying viable tool vendors
  • Working with tool vendors

Gather tool evaluation information by:

  • Exploring the tool based on your expected usage
  • Rating each tool

Make a tool decision by:

  • Leveraging the tool ratings
  • Balancing information with intuition

Now, let us explore each aspect of selecting the right requirements tool.

Be prepared by:

Agreeing on tool purpose, use and users
When selecting a tool to support requirement activities, the answers to these initial questions might be:

  • What process or tasks will it support?

  • Requirements elicitation, definition, validation or reporting
  • Who will be using it? What are their roles?

  • Business analysts capture requirements; customers review requirements
  • What types of information will be captured and managed?

  • Requirement name and definition; relationships between requirements traces; point in time capture of a set of requirements baseline

Determining operating environment and budget
Based on the answers above, determine the following:

  • What will be the operating environment?
  • Consider both hardware and software
  • What will be the budget for all costs?
  • Consider tools and platforms, training, vendor support and local maintenance

Providing guidance for the tool evaluation
To effectively leverage these questions, you need to develop some simple guidance for those who will be involved in the tool evaluation. A consistent approach is needed for determining:

  • The relative importance of any particular aspect
  • An evaluator's satisfaction rating

Consistency is really important here. Everyone does not have to come to the same conclusion, but they do need to be using the same criteria and the same basic approach to arrive at a decision. Just think of the muddle if everyone determined relative importance and their satisfaction rating individually with different and inconsistent approaches.

Refining questions and assigning relative importance
Next, form some more probing questions. The Requirements Tool Evaluation below provides a set of questions which explore a variety of considerations.

Market and vendor The vendor needs to be stable and in good financial standing with a vision for the future.
Requirement tool The tool itself should align with your organization's needs regarding requirement organization, user interface, tool configuration, tool integrations, import/export, reporting, requirement changes/impact analysis, security, performance and administration.
Training, maintenance and support It really does not matter how good the tool is if a user does not know how to use it or cannot get support when there is a problem.
Licensing, financial and deployment To be effective you need to plan for success by having the financial backing for:
  • The appropriate number of licenses
  • An effective deployment that factors in training, lessons learned and development project expectations

  • Developing a realistic usage scenario
    While your refined set of questions in the Requirements Tool Evaluation will provide you with a thorough and consistent review of each tool, there is no substitute for understanding how the tool will actually be used. Develop a realistic usage scenario that will help you put each tool through its paces in the way you intend to use it. This usage scenario can serve as the basis for a proof of concept or pilot which in turn will go a long way toward cementing your tool choice.

    Select tool vendors by:

    • Identifying viable tool vendors
      Armed with the knowledge of what your organization needs from a requirements tool will go a long way in helping you select tools/tool vendors that have a chance of measuring up. Of course, checking tool ratings from independent sources provides yet another perspective.

    • Working with tool vendors
      Finally, you are ready to start talking to tool vendors. It is very likely that you already have some in mind or have even seen a demo or two. It is so important to remain objective and to not let the familiar become the course of least resistance. You want to be making a conscious choice rather than making a tool decision that involved little or no choice. Ask for another demo or proof of concept, this time focused on those important aspects that have surfaced in your list of evaluation questions. Do not be hesitant to share with tool vendors what is important to your organization. This will help the vendor hone in on your needs and realize that you are taking this tool decision seriously. The tool vendors want your business, and they usually pay more attention to those potential customers who have done their homework.
    Evaluate tool by:
    • Exploring the tool based on your expected usage

    • There is no substitute for testing out a tool in a realistic situation. This is the acid test of how this tool will work in your organization.

    • Rating each tool

    • Rating each tool will yield a weighted score for each answer and will ultimately provide an average weighted score for each tool.
    Make tool decision by:
    • Leveraging the tool ratings

    • Of course, average weighted score for each tool is only an indicator of what you hopefully already know is the right choice.

    • Balancing tool ratings with intuition

    • If the race is close, re-examine those areas that are most important to your organization. It is important to pay attention to and weigh all information, including the tool ratings, independent ratings, current user opinions and your intuition.
    Being prepared when making a tool selection is critical. Ask those basic questions, modify the evaluation questions to reflect your situation and priorities, provide some evaluation guidance and develop a realistic usage scenario. This preparation sets the stage for selecting requirement tool vendors that are viable in your environment. Evaluating each tool consists of exploring expected usage and rating it on a variety of aspects weighted by importance. After that, making a tool decision will be an informed decision.

    It is important to realize that no tool is a perfect, out-of-the-box fit, but aligning with requirement best practices and understanding your organization's needs will go a long way toward easing the adjustment.

    This was last published in November 2009

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