The benefits of using a wiki to manage requirements

Author: Adriana Beal

In this previous article on building a better BA practice I started to answer an excellent question posed by John Davis:

Short of hiring a company such as IAG, how can we as BAs best help our organisation – or a client organisation for those of us in IT Services – develop more maturity in requirements definition and management?

In that initial article I mentioned the importance of taking a disciplined, iterative approach to change, so that inefficient or defect-prone BA activities are identified and replaced or revised in a consistent, effective manner.

In this article, the discussion will focus on what I consider one of the most effective tools for organizations interested in improving their requirements process: the wiki.

A wiki can provide great value even for companies that use a requirements management tool, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll focus here on corporations still applying a traditional requirements documentation model (e.g., Word documents), to illustrate how the collaborative content creation environment provided by a wiki can benefit every aspect of the requirements development process.

The advantages of using a wiki to support the requirements projects are many, including:

Incentive For Stakeholder Participation

Increased stakeholder participation allows business analysts to detect and correct misunderstandings and conflicts at an earlier stage, thus helping improve the quality of the requirements development process. Getting stakeholders to continuously review and give feedback on captured requirements is not an easy task. Busy stakeholders typically find it much easier to follow a conversation about the project scope or detailed requirements visiting a wiki where the history of discussion and approval is easily retrieved at any time. Instead of having to open Word documents attached to emails for review, stakeholders can simply open the wiki on a browser and read the documentation online (also eliminating the risk of reviewing an out-of-date document that has already been modified as a result of the feedback from others).

Email alerts can be set up so stakeholders are informed when a new resource is available on the wiki, which also facilitates the collaboration process.

Support For More Consistent Documentation

Many wiki tools offer the possibility to use templates for creating wiki pages. Each type of requirement artifact on the company’s documentation model (use cases, functional requirements, etc.) can correspond to a standardized templat as a way to reduce unnecessary differences in styles of documenting requirements across different BAs and projects. Open-document export functionality can be implemented to allow requirements documents to be generated using a standardized text format.

Improved Search and Traceability

Finding and tracing requirements in traditional requirements documentation are not easy tasks, particularly when it is necessary to reference requirements in multiple documents. Often people can’t remember where to find a document stored in a folder structure, or links are missing, become out-of-date, or point to the wrong location.

In a well-structured wiki, project stakeholders simply have to go to the main page to easily find the information they are looking for. As the requirements are being developed, the BA can create links between different articles – for example, from a page reproducing interviews with stakeholders to functional and non-functional requirements contained in separate wiki pages.

Through the links between the different wiki pages, traceability is established automatically. Non-existing pages are highlighted by the wiki, allowing BAs to keep track of which artifacts still have to be created. Attributes can be added to enable (semantic) search to generate different views of the requirements documentation via the retrieval of these attributes.

Support for Baselining and Versioning Requirements

A wiki tool can provide baselining functionality that allows the business analyst to gather all documents inside a wiki in their current version and saves this information as a whole. By doing this, the BA can ensure that not only each requirements artifact is versioned, but an entire version of a requirements specification can be restored with all its included requirements artifacts.

Support for Collaborative Requirements Review

The ability to create comments (separated from the actual content of a requirements artifact stored in a wiki page) is a great facilitator for the requirements review process. By posting comments and replying to existing ones, stakeholders can express their concerns, ask questions, and offer their approval for requirements statements, as well as provide answers for pending items.

Support for Requirements Management

In addition to the features already mentioned that facilitate managing and documenting requirements, wikis can be configured to associate “states” to a change request article (for example, initial, under review, accepted, rejected) to support managing change requests.

. . .

A wiki can be instrumental for any organization interested in improving its business analysis practices and building a better requirements process. Maintaining an organized project wiki requires considerable effort, but its potential to foster collaboration, replace an inconsistent approach and documentation formats, and raise the performance standards for business analysts within the company more than justify the required investment.

 

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Comments

  1. is this the same as wiki in sharepoint?

  2. Kai, I only used Sharepoint for document management, haven’t used their wiki functionality, so I don’t know how good the wiki features in Sharepoint are for the purpose of requirements management. In any case, if you have access to a wiki in Sharepoint it will give you a good idea of how wikis work.

  3. Hello–
    Thanks for an interesting article, and to the various contributors for suggestions and links.

    One particularly interesting link is no longer current: examples by Kevin “of documents generated from templates
    (http://nvisia.com/techs/?p=367article).”
    Is this still available somewhere?
    Thanks,
    –Jim

  4. Hi, Jim,

    Thanks for pointing out the broken link. I’ll try to see if the website still has the same material available in a different URL and will update the article accordingly.

    Cheers,

    Adriana

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