Requirements Management: A Few Good Tools

Dec 28, 2009
Ken Hofeling

There are a lot of web based requirements management tools popping up on the landscape these days. Some are more robust than others. Does your business really need a large, pricey application like Rational Tools? Could a smaller, functional, flexible, cost efficient web application work just as well for your business?

There are many great management tools out there that can make your project design and planning jobs much easier (especially if you still use the archaic, cumbersome Word and Excel method for requirements management). The appropriate tool for your project largely depends on the type of project and kind of methodology you use to execute your project. Some tools are meant more for the traditional waterfall methodology and others are best for more Agile style projects.

Listed below are some tools I have found that I feel would give you a good return on investment. I will also provide my personal commentary on each tool.

BrightGreenProjects: http://www.brightgreenprojects.com/overview

Gather Space: http://www.gatherspace.com/

Protoshare: http://www.protoshare.com/ProtoShare-Benefits/

Greenhopper: http://www.atlassian.com/software/greenhopper/

Bright Green Projects is a robust requirements management tool for Agile projects. It gives the users the ability to design and manage project iterations in a virtual environment with such functionality as:

  • Feature cards to create backlogs,
  • Ability to run burn chart reports
  • Ability to estimate and prioritize features
  • Visually slick, intuitive interface

More good news for the users; besides a plethora of helpful features, it has an easy learning curve.

Users can create stories, prioritize them and assign them to iterations. They can move them around iterations as needed. This tool can be used in both as the requirements definition process and ongoing in the project management process. In my opinion, it is not as advantageous for traditional projects because it doesn't spit out traditional requirements documents and doesn't provide sections for more detailed info regarding technical and software requirements. I must say, this tool is ideally suited for designing and managing agile projects. If you are an Agile shop (or have an Agile client), you should seriously consider giving this tool a try.

Gather Space is a requirements management tool that I feel is best used for more traditional, waterfall-like projects. It is a lighter solution than traditional, pricey desktop software such as Rational Tools however the web-based interface makes it flexible and super easy to share project with remote teams and clients. Here is a highlight of some of the many features and benefits of this application:

  • Easy to use and very intuitive
  • Ability to auto-extract a substantive requirements document from the input
  • Ability for map use cases directly to requirements
  • Ability to integrate with testing software via XML to streamline test case authoring process
  • Ability to attach detailed software requirements to business requirements
  • Ability to map one or more requirements back to a feature
  • Ability to attach files to features, requirements, use cases and issues

(I could go on and on but you probably get the idea.)

With all the fantastic features, the one big con I see with this tool (though it's definitely not a deal breaker) is the requirements document extraction tool. Let me just say that this is a great feature to have (and one major thing that attracted me to this tool) but I wish the tool was a bit more robust. If you want to add your own charts and diagrams, you must do this after the fact. In the area of versioning, this becomes a bit of a hassle. You unfortunately have to re-add this stuff every time you create new versions.

The above complaint aside (it's really more of a whine), this is a great little tool for creating and managing requirements and use cases, creating test cases from the requirements. It may not have all the massive, complex functionality of Rational Tools but do you honestly really need all of it anyway?

Protoshare is a tool designed for annotating wireframes and managing front end design comps. It can really streamline front end development, especially with remote teams. Though I don't see it as a true, full-bodied requirements management tool, it is great for creating and managing visual functional specifications for developers/clients. Protoshare is ideal for visually prototyping functional website requirements and it easily facilitates collaboration with the client and/or team members.

Due to the sheer volume of versions of wireframes most medium to large sized web projects require, I definitely suggest using Protoshare as a supplement to your requirements gathering tool (or lack of one). It will definitely streamline your design and development process.

Greenhopper is a plug-in designed for Jira by Atlassian software. Jira is an excellent web-based issue management application (in my opinion) and is the preferred application to for Oshyn QA to manage and resolve development bugs and other issues. Greenhopper can be attached to the Jira application for the purpose of allowing teams to visually be able to prioritize issues and assign them to iterations and developers. It acts as a web-based card chart which is an especially huge benefit for virtual teams that cannot always be in the same room together (many agile teams use the sticky note on a board method for arranging and prioritizing issues within their war room).

Because it is a plug-in it is relatively light on functionality, but it can really benefit teams as a dash board to keep them up-to-date regarding critical tasks within a development project (in the area of assignment, status, priority, remaining allocated hours, etc). It was designed for this purpose to enhance the Jira issue management software application (which I happen to love). Oshyn uses JIRA almost exclusively uses JIRA for its project QA cycles and MRO contracts to manage and resolve bugs, enhancements and other project issues.