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the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

The Politics of Software Requirements

in General Rants , Friday, January 13, 2006

Politics is part of human life. It exists at all levels, and it is not inherently bad. There are good politics as well as bad politics. The fuel of politics is power, and within a software engineering project, requirements specifications are very powerful. They can be used to determine the direction of a project, to promote different viewpoints, to identify culprits in the case of failure – essentially, he who controls the requirements pretty much controls the project. Therefore the role of a requirements manager, which paradoxically is rarely a senior role, is fraught with dangers. There is a good essay (which I mentioned a few posts back) on this topic, which may appear to be black humour, but as you read through it, it becomes apparent that there are some uncomfortable parallels with many real world projects in there. To restate, politics are part of software requirements, and they need to be managed. They need to be managed in a neutral way, without adding fuel to any fires, and without intentionally upsetting anybody. The best way to do this is by presenting an extremely well verified, watertight and managed set of requirements, which are fully visible to all stakeholders. The role of the requirements manager is seriously corrupted if they try to actually influence requirements. The role is to understand, interpret, verify and translate, whilst remaining neutral. The discussion, at whatever level it happens (rational, biased, politically-motivated,…) should happen between stakeholders. If the requirements manager stays out of arguments, and concentrates on steering between obstacles, then there is some chance that a cohesive, realistic requirements specification and a reasonable quality product will emerge. Incurable political players – and they do exist, everywhere – will be left with no option but to find a more easily influenced project to use as a political football.