NLP · Uncategorized

The perception of quality – a double-edged sword?


It was a while, but now I am back with a short blog on the subject of QUALITY.

I accidently heard two persons at a train station arguing if the ticket service delivered by a ticked machine was of good quality. There where different opinions depending on if you where the buyer or the employee helping out..

What is quality and how does one get it?

Quality is an often misused word. You can hear “the quality was bad” or “supplier has no sense of quality”.

I personally do not think that a majority of cases actually are caused by a DELIBERATE action to deliver something bad or to behave in a bad way, so what is it all about?

If I had to define the meaning of the word quality, it would be something like this:

Quality is the totality of features and characteristics of a system or service that bears its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.

So what am I saying here?

If I want to get something from someone and ask for “good quality” I better be precise in describing what that is, do you agree? Some reflections:

  • How do one know that I get ALL those features and characteristics if I don’t express them in a Correct way and how can I explain them in a Consistent way, so they don’t contradict each other? Very often characteristics can stay on collision course… A product can be user friendly, but perhaps not that secure? Or withstand mechanical force, but not being light weight and cheap?
  • And if I shall give you something that fulfils both stated and implied needs, does that mean that I need to be able to read your mind?

No, of cause not, but the next time you argue that the quality is bad, are you sure it’s the other parties fault all together?

The answer is seldom black or white and I want to argue that a good product in one scenario might be a catastrophe in another. It depends…

The answer is to do some proper systems engineering (at least if you work with complex products or services). But, really, anyone would benefit in thinking on the context, the need, the use case(s) and the end goal required.

Try to put boundaries of your problem space and try to express these needs using correct grammar, a defined consistent vocabulary and try for good sake to avoid contradictions that inevitable will increase the possibility for misunderstanding, confusion and errors.

The hardest part is to be complete in your expression of your need. You can not rely on the recipient being able to read your mind. You have to have the receiver of the information in mind!

A high degree of understanding is dependent on semantics, syntax and something language specialists call pragmatism, or how to use the appropriate language dependent on the context. So, its VERY much up to you as the receiver to send the right signals using a proper way of communication.


I want to end by changing an old phrase:

“You get what you ask for”, to:

“you get what the receiver THINK you ask for”.

That’s a huge difference and perhaps the next time you argue on the lack of quality, you should stop and think on your own role in the game…

PS. The customer at the train station was right. The machine SHOULD give you a ticket when you payed for it and the excuse that “it seems to be broken”, did not solve anything in this case.

To be continued

Next time I think I will continue to discuss language and understanding. Its a fascinating subject!

NLP · requirements · Uncategorized

Go Agile and avoid ALL problems?

Why bother about requirements? – I am Agile!

Again I was triggered by a post I read on the glorious source of infinite stupidity, the internet 😊

This story triggered me this time:

“Requirements were hard enough to manage in the bad old waterfall days. Here, mr XXX will take you through how you can do it, and keep your job, when working with agile.

On a recent project, Stories with unclear requirements were ending up with developers. It was a pain point. Time was spent trying to clarify missing pieces meaning less time to write great code and meaning  developers ended up under even more pressure to get things done”.

I can just say WOW!

Just to start of on the right foot here, I am a firm believer of requirements being the way to clearly specify and manage a complex problem and turn that into a hopefully correct (not so complex) solution, satisfying all relevant stakeholders.

And clearly, the “bad old waterfall” could create an analysis paralysis and a heap of useless documents in the dark ages of engineering, even if those people managed to travel do the moon and get us into the age of computing, but that could have been just luck and a lot of late hours I guess…

But getting back to the Agile folly in the beginning. These people DON’T want to write things down because the want to “write great code”. I guess it speaks for itself?!. They rather have a dozen of sprints than try to work proactive. It better to do something and potentially do it wrong (having an imaginary sense of speed and progress), then taking it down a few notches and examine the problem before they develop the solution. It seems that these agile evangelists never heard about the 80/20 rule?!

Back logs are reactive and story boards and yellow stickers are the most documentation these guys (and girls) want to do…


I am so glad that the coders have compilers saying “syntax error” before the code get into the SW system itself. Unfortunately, people don’t have this function and garbage in equals garbage out and its manifested by lack in functionality, bad quality and a lot of frustration.

Going Agile is great for small, isolated and not so complex tasks where the developers can sit as a team in a room and “write grate-isch code” and have a fun work environment and getting instant feedback from the users. I don’t question that, but I am sooo glad that complex and safety critical systems uses more rigid and “robust” development practices. By the way, what happened to Rational Unified Process, RUP? I thought it was a great attempt to become less stuck with paperwork and more “light on the feets”.

Agile vs Waterfall

Again, requirements in any shape and form; natural language text, models, user stories, personas, even as I saw the other day pictures and drawings on a white board, is there to illustrate and COMMUNICATE a need and put focus on solving the right problem in the right way. The biggest issue is that humans have one compiler each (our own brain) and syntax errors are introduced when we think that we understand, guess and interpret things based on our own experience, logic, motivation, drivers, culture, language, etc.

So, please, please STOP being digital, saying “I am Agile” (most popular) or “I am NOT Agile” (old dinosaurs). The real systems engineer says, “it depends” what processes to use and it should not get in the way of trying to develop a CORRECT, COMPLETE and CONSISTENT understanding between all parties involved and I am a strong advocate of doing so before I start to run to manage the resources and risks, but that’s just me…

architecture · NLP · requirements · Uncategorized

Fifty shades of requirements, part three – Architecture distortion

Hi again,

This time I want to talk about the “next” step in the requirements journey. I can right away say that I am a fan of agile and rapid development, but for the sake of this chat I like to describe a stepped approach. A newly formulated requirement should materialise on the solution side as one or many design elements. These elements form part of the architecture.

If you remember the blog here by Hillary Sillitto he described different views: System, Operational, Physical, Functional. The book he have written on architecting is brilliant and really to recommend. All of these views should capture different aspects of the design suggestion that eventually satisfy all the stated requirements. That’s all well, but what tend to happened in may cases?

We really now start to compare apples with pears (or should I say fruit salad?). Its really hard to compare written text with models. Are they correct, complete or are we missing something.


So, is this a big deal? Well if we make a recap from last post. I then argued that most errors (and I then mean errors not found with a spell checker) are brought to the architects and system designer I need to validate that their proposed solution is Ok, right? But If I can not really penetrate their ideas because they are using other techniques, tools and languages I might loose that ability. Do you agree?


The graph really show that the architects and designers are pretty good at doing their job and they find more errors due to the bad requirements than they produce and that’s a relief, but they will probably not find those errors that are caused by ambiguities, missing parts or plain wrong information. The architects produces and architecture that is supposed to cover all aspects that has been stated in the requirements, but they should not do anything if they don’t find a requirement justifying the design element or function.

One can argue that techniques like Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) are solving a great number of complexity issues and you can do so much magic when you are able to look at those views to see the complete picture, but you can not really validate it with people that don’t “read” SySML. Those people are all the stakeholders, customers, users that you so desperately need to communicate with and they don’t speak your language as an architect. Ok, again its now possible to add a requirement view in the modelling tools, but then you are just adding a notepad functionality and you miss all of issues of having correct semantics and syntax. You are basically back where you started (you have just moved them to another domain and probably tool).

Major problems in the transformation from in this case written requirements in one language (let’s say English) to an architecting language like UML or SYSML is the inability to validate Correctness, Completeness and Consistency. A rather academic picture and text I have stolen from my friend and colleague Prof. Juan llorens (sorry!) is this:


Bearing in mind that the goal of requirements is to specify a product, service or system, then we have two complementary points of view to define good or bad requirements. From the point of view of the sender, the final quality of requirements is validability, i.e., the sender must be able to confirm that the system architecture effectively expresses the system solution that answers his or her needs. This property can be further unfolded, in a second level, into three other properties: completeness, consistency and understandability.

From the point of view of the receiver, instead, the two essential qualities are: verifiability, i.e. it is possible to check that the developed system architecture meets the specified system requirements; and modifiability, i.e. it is possible to modify the architecture to enable change. Verifiability depends on the same three second-order properties already mentioned (completeness, consistency and understandability), as well as on three other properties: unambiguity, traceability and abstraction; modifiability depends also closely on these three last properties.

Unambiguity and understandability are interrelated (according to some, they would be even the same property), since, if a requirement is ambiguous, then it cannot be properly understood. Note also that abstraction and unambiguity are not opposing concepts: a requirement must have a single interpretation at the abstract level of specification (unambiguity) and at the same time must avoid technical details about the implementation (abstraction).

Other things worth mentioning is also that organisations seldom have one tool from one tool vendor, they have probably multiple tools spread and used differently in different parts of the organisation and to that we can ad a layer of self-made hacks, spread sheets and databases.

At one point I will write a future blog post on using natural language processing, requirement patterns and techniques to decode the language so that one can create requirements out of models (or vice versa), but for now I will say good night, auf wiedersehen and hope you read next blog on the test phase.

I have called it “the test catastrophe, but lest push on for that delivery”.

NLP · peer reviews · requirements · Uncategorized

Fifty shades of requirements, part two – The peer-review folly

Last time I discussed what I called the “the death spiral” where I claimed that loosing focus on the true need gets transformed into unclear or badly stated system requirements.

If we for a moment start to think on how we usually “find errors” in our requirements we trust what’s known as the peer review technique. We typically generate a requirement specification or an export from our requirements database on a sub-set of the requirements ready for review and approval and then we invite some people and hope for the best (that is of cause that we don’t get massacred from senior colleagues).

peer review

The Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers). It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards of quality, improve performance, and provide credibility (source: Wikipedia).

But, does peer-reviews really work and above that doe they work for reviewing requirements?

My point is that peer review is impossible to define in operational terms. Peer review is thus like poetry, love, or justice. But it is something to do with a document (or in this case a set of requirements) being scrutinized by a third party—who is neither the author nor the person making a judgement on whether to approve the content.

But who is a peer? Somebody doing exactly the same kind of work (in which case he or she is probably a already involved)? Somebody in the same discipline? Somebody who is an expert on methodology? And what is review? Somebody saying `The document looks all right to me’, which is sadly what peer review sometimes seems to be. Or somebody pouring all over the document (or set of requirements), asking for data, rational, repeating analyses, checking all the references, and making detailed suggestions for improvement? Such a review is vanishingly rare.

If we start to look at the peer-review as a phenomenon we find evidence that’s peer reviews are one the point of useless and it’s a product of “this is what we always have done” or even worse “this is what I am told to do”. The process itself is often ill regulated and to my experience not well suited for reviewing requirements and can turn ugly and insulting:

“The process is unjust, unaccountable … often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong. We are correcting minors and missing majors.” – Richard Horton

A research made by IBM is actually supporting this idea:

Requirements faulire graphs

Of ALL errors that’s later found in a system 70% of them originates from the requirement phase. Ok, now hold on for a moment! We typically don’t write the requirements once, but rather in smaller iterations. That’s fine, since this study looks at all requirements written on the system level regardless if they where formulated in the beginning of the project or at requirement freeze.

But ONLY 4% (yes, you read this correctly) where found through the different reviews. The rest where given to the next person or group in the design food chain to chew on.

Of those pitiful fractions of defects, I am pretty sure that the majority were of the character “spelling errors” or simple semantics like forgetting a comma. A rather famous requirements guru said:

“Fixing typographical and grammatical errors is useful because any changes that enhance effective communication are valuable. However, this should be done before sending out the document out for broad review. Otherwise, reviewers can trip on these superficial errors and fail to spot the big defects that lie underneath.” – Carl Wiegers

Ok, so that can we do? Well, I would say that it comes down to the old classical things like:

  • Having proper knowledge on the importance of correct, complete and consistently formulated requirements.
  • This goes on all levels from management that must enforce good practices to requirements authors who need the skills, and;
  • Tools and techniques to write high quality requirements on the right things and of cause.

When it comes to tooling I must say that focus right now have been on requirements management tools like IBM Doors or Jama, but there have come some innovative tools that helps you in writing high quality requirements. Jama has some really nice features for collaborative reviewing and on-line work, but still you will not get any help on semantics or syntax. A bad requirement will be likely be less bad, since you wouldn’t get any help on the writing part of the problem, but you make it easier to review and spot lacy reviewers who just say “its fine” after a short glance.

One vendor of really cool tools is the REUSE Company with their tools tool Verification Studio and RAT (that’s correct like the mouse in the movie Ratatouille where the young chef has a small rat under his chef’s hat instructing him on how to prepare meals). This tools will guide you into writing correct requirements and use AI and reasoning in addressing how complete and inconsistent a specification is.


These tools can not replace human engineering, but they take you pretty far and for sure wash out all that dirt before going into a peer review.

Check out these tools on:

So PLEASE stop relying on those peer reviews and start to take the requirements work more serious from start. Get help in writing high quality requirements. It will cost your project lots of hard work, frustration and a heap of money to fix it later in the design process if you don’t.

Next time I will explain what happens with those newly reviewed (but still bad) requirements when they are put to challenge by the design teams. Why are more errors introduced than spotted in that phase you might think?

Over and out!

NLP · requirements · Uncategorized

Fifty shades of requirements, part one – The spiral of death

The misplaced and flawed conception of requirements work leads to a death spiral


Lindsay Weinstein and Jacob Simon perform a so called death spiral at the 2015 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships.

Imagine that you are working in an organisation with diverse knowledge of requirements work. Some projects work better than others and you don’t think so much about it. You write requirements because you are used to do so and to be honest, you don’t really understand why. When you started to work here you tried to question the current way of working but had no clear answer from either colleagues or your manager “we use requirements as part of contracting” you were told. You have some processes in place explaining the different steps on a high level focusing on handover, roles and responsibilities. You also have a requirements management tool where you store your requirements. You basically use this to be able to link requirements to test cases in the testing tool and that seems to work.

So, now after a couple of years on the job you have stopped to think about the steps of writing a specification at the start of any new project. You have actually seen that even though you discuss about the increased technological complexity in your domain, your feeling is that you cut-n-paste more now than ever and you look with envy on that other project that talks about new agile methods and reduced amount of documentation. To be honest it’s not at all fun writing documents. That was not the reason why you chosen to become an engineer in the first place.


“I wonder if we should consider skipping the boring requirements definition part and go straight to the more interesting and (for me) rewarding design phase”, you think. No one seems to care anyhow, well that’s not entirely true. Both people from contracting and test usually come when we are almost done and starts to question our work, saying that we have deviated from the requirements. It’s a habit they evolved actually. The new project that works agile explains that they will not have this problem. They have daily meetings and meet the customer on a regular basis. That’s good since the customer have changed their mind a few times now, even after the contract was signed.

You have also noticed when you get those monthly reports that the company is starting have problems with lost market shares, lower cash flow due to projects having problems delivering and increased customer complaints. But these problems will surely fix themselves now when the CEO was replaced and the new one talks about “maximizing the value flow” and put focus on “optimizing the innovation throughput”. You have also heard rumours about a reorganisation to help the organisation to change.

Does any of this seem familiar in any way? Well, for me I have come across this multiple time in the past. I have reorganised just to be reorganised six month later. Introduced new improved processes and Lean methods and coached, trained, managed and supervised people with various degree of interest or change resistance.

I will try to elaborate around WHY the above occur and especially the role that BAD REQUIREMENT PRACICES. So what has requirements got to do with all of the above? I call it the Spiral of Death.

The spiral of project deathThe spiral of death

So what is this picture basically saying? Well, If one starts with unclear needs from a customer or other stakeholders, they will for sure result in an unclear input to the project and design efforts. I am not saying in any way that we need to stay in the needs definition or requirements specification phase “for ever”, but we absolutely need to be sure of the boundaries of the project (the scope), the market drivers (the unique selling points), the risks and the fundamental needs from bench marks, surveys and support and failure logs.

If we rush through this phase and quickly “cut and paste” from previous and similar projects we will start of on the wrong foot, loose track on special needs, the context and engineering decisions made in the source project. We will start the troublesome journey downwards the spiral of death.

But, you might say. We do extensive peer-reviews on our requirements both before we start as part of the contract review AND as part of our engineering process OR we do agile development so we find out quite early where we have made mistakes and are able to correct these. The problem must lie somewhere else?!

NO, they absolutely do not and next time I will continue to discuss this topic focusing on understandability, peer-reviews as a phenomenon and provide examples and evidence supporting my statement made in this blog post.

Until then, be careful out there 😊

architecture · NLP · requirements · Uncategorized

Agile doesn´t work!?

By starting with the statement “Agile doesn´t work” you really ask for trouble these days. I was attending a conference earlier this week and I meet Agile coaches, Agile Managers, Agile Testers, Agile Requirement Engineers and Agile Evangelists in general. The conference itself was very good and I got the possibility to talk about the requirements role for a successful project. Unfortunately, I needed to leave early so perhaps you might call me an Agile planner?

No, but on the metro back to the office (you know my Agile Schedule) a LinkedIn post by Oleg Vishnepolsky, CTO at DailyMail in UK, caught my attention. It started “Agile does NOT work!”.


He started; “Try telling someone that you are not agile. You might be arrested on the spot. The issue is that the word agile in the eyes of everyone is similar to the word good. Try telling others that you are not good, and they will call for a psychiatrist.”

I continued to read the post with great joy. I think he is spot on!!

Why Agile isn´t a silver bullet

Agile can be defined as “Agile (software) development describes a set of values and principles for software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams” (source Wikipedia).



First of all, don’t get we wrong. I don´t like the approach with “analysis paralysis” and so heavy front loading that you never get through the first base of requirements elicitation and definition. Many organizations have historically lacked the ability to say “this is good enough” and moved further in the development chain. If you stop to long the inertia of badly performed Systems Engineering will force the project to continue and start to develop stuff regardless. They have deadlines and a customer to satisfy, AND doing Agile projects makes it easier to skip the boring work of documenting both requirements and design. The team can go right ahead and do the fun stuff..

But is Agile as an opposite the salvation of any badly performing organization with schedule overruns, lost margins, port system quality and unhappy stakeholders?

I would argue not! You have the same people coming to work, but now let’s do the mistakes in an Agile manner instead.

Well, of cause, Agile basic principles are nice and I do like them:

  • You have customer focus (instead of technology focus)
  • You divide the work in suitable chunks, and;
  • You group in teams instead of stove pipes so that you get much better cross pollination of views and ideas. That’s great!

But it is still humans that needs to understand the problem they are there to solve. Perhaps Agile is a way of getting it better, but not getting it right? Could an old Waterfall organization that goes Agile like this approach because it reveals the problems earlier than before? Are they really looking into the root cause of the problems they are facing (which haven’t gone away just because you went Agile).

The common-sense methodology

Mr Vishnepolsky introduces the common-sense methodology and I like that thinking very much. Instead of digging trenches and throwing dirt on anyone not from the right belief, you might like to make a short retrospect and look at yourself before you continue this argument.

I would like to add my small contribution: For god sake, look at the scope and early requirement definition phase and do it with FOCUS and a sence of INFORMATION QUALITY!

Making it right from start so that people understand what you mean

Ok, I might add that you can develop this type of knowledge using an arbitrary methodology, but just for the sake of it say that you write some business or stakeholder requirements to make sure that you understand the problem you are there to solve. After you have agreed with the stakeholders the task at hand (to a reasonable level of detail) you might develop technical requirements using natural language techniques (writing requirements) and/or doing some system modelling to get the system boundary and interfaces in place. You might have read the architecting blog series here by Hillary Sillitto?!

But who do you have in mind when you do this work? You are not doing this because it’s fun or because someone asked you to, you do it to COMMUNICATE with others. The stakeholders need to understand your solution to his/her need AND the next person receiving your information (developers, testers, integrators, etc.) also need to understand what you are proposingIT_DEPENDSSo, please start to do your requirements with some level of curiosity from the team working with them. You really need to understand their role here as drivers of knowledge from one part to the next. They first of all need to be correct and together with their other requirement siblings at the same abstraction level, they need to be complete (to the degree to level risk and avoid costly errors) and also not in conflict with each other so that one says “right” and another “left”.

But primarily, human write requirements for other humans. Perhaps using a second language and communicating through barriers like: culture, development contracts, technology domains and/or business hierarchies.

That’s my contribution to the common-sense discussion. Over and out!

Read the post by Mr Vishnepolsky here: