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Use a requirements management tool to keep everything in one place

Many benefits of using a requirements management tool don’t become obvious until you actually use one.  On a recent project, we used Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server (TFS) to organize all our project information, and it was amazing how it simplified everything. It was such a relief to have everything in one place! No one on the team had to ask where anything was anymore, they could just look in TFS. It works best if you get everybody on the team to participate:  business analysts, product managers, program managers, developers, testers, and whoever else you have on your team.

The book Getting Things Done extols the virtues of listing out everything that needs to be done so that nothing gets lost. It is such a stress reliever to know that everything is written down, especially when it’s all in a single place so that everyone on the team knows where to look for it.  In large projects, there are so many people involved and so many moving parts that things can easily be forgotten or missed if you don’t capture everything.

What kinds of things did we put into the tool? All the streams of information that related to the project:  tasks, issues, user stories, acceptance criteria, test cases, visual requirements models, bugs, product backlog items, and anything else that we could think of. By having everything in one place, we eliminated all the normally wasted time on a project:  time spent sending files to each other, time spent asking about these things in emails, and time spent looking for things. If you add up all that time for dozens of team members over the course of several months, the time savings for all of us accumulated exponentially.

As with most new things, the toughest part about using a tool is simply getting started. In general, people initially resist when they are told to start using a new tool. However, fairly quickly the benefits become obvious and everybody gets on board. To get it right, you must require early on that everything go in the tool.  Without strictly enforcing this rule, things will start existing outside of the tool and the big benefit of having everything in one place will disappear.

Once the tool is used by everyone, you will begin to wonder how you survived without one. Did you really previously keep your project information in a complicated combination of Outlook, Excel, Word, SharePoint, and your handwritten notebooks?  Did you really have to ask somebody to email you software requirements before you got started on any tasks?  With everything in one place, there is no question where the latest version of anything is. And until you try it, you don’t realize how much stress that removes from everyone on your team.

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