Posted by: RationalRDM | July 9, 2009

Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the ‘Iron Triangle’

This week’s blog comes to us from Andy Gurd, Senior Go-To-Market Manager for IBM Rational Systems Marketing.

Over the past 9 months or so I’ve been putting more effort into understanding what the challenges are for engineering/development teams in different industries, what requirements management needs they have, and how improving their requirements related practices helps them tackle the specific challenges of their market sector. What’s interesting is that although the business challenges of application software and product development often boil down to the classic ‘cost-time-quality iron triangle’ (otherwise known – in the reverse order (!) as better, faster, cheaper), the emphasis put on each of these, and the terminology used to talk about them, can be different across industry sectors.

Let’s take quality first. My particular focus is on the industrial sector – the automotive, aerospace & defense (A&D) and electronics industries. Improving quality is the number one reason for and benefit from improving requirements related practices that I’ve heard from anyone I’ve spoken to across these sectors. As I wrote in my previous entry – the payback in requirements practice improvements is often largest in areas like finding defects sooner and introducing fewer defects, therefore reducing testing and rework time and cost. Quality failures are expensive and embarrassing, regardless of what sector they occur in. As a systems design manager from a global telecoms manufacturer says, in a recent podcast interview “downtime for a system at one of our customers would end up with very poor press and they would lose their customers.” But quality failures are not just expensive to the business – in the automotive, A&D, and medical devices sectors they can be life threatening, which means a greater emphasis must be put on practices that improve and ensure quality, like requirements engineering. As an independent consultant in the automotive sector working on projects like collision avoidance systems says, ‘If I was to miss a requirement the impact could be catastrophic’ (Hear more in this interview on requirements engineering in the auto industry).

What about the ‘time’ factor, doesn’t everyone want to reduce ‘time-to-market’? Well let’s look at what this means. If I’m developing a software package or consumer electronics product then yes, I want to get to market at the right time and ahead of my competition, to maximise my revenue opportunities. Therefore I would look for ways to reduce development cycle times, and I’d look for requirements practices to help me improve productivity. But if I’m building the software and/or electronics for a radar system for a new fleet of aircraft carriers, does ‘time-to-market’ really matter? Certainly time is still important, but from the perspective that I need to deliver my components to my customer on the agreed schedule (If I’m 6 months early in my delivery and the ship is still years away from completion, there’s no real benefit to be had. However if I’m late it could cause slippages to the whole project and I’ll likely incur heavy financial penalties.) I’d be interested in requirements practices that can help me better manage project scope and stay in control of schedules if changes are requested.

Lastly, but probably most importantly, we come to ‘cost’. This is where I’d say most industry sectors have the same objectives – they of course want to reduce development costs. I say ‘most’ because again there are exceptions. While no one would want to increase costs, if you have a development budget allocated to you, you often want to make sure you spend all of that budget to ensure you get at least that amount again when the next round of funding occurs. In this case it’s more important to be able to manage project scope and have increased visibility of project status to be able to improve predictability of your spending.

And of course you have to be able to balance the ‘cost-time-quality’ triangle. In talking to various practitioners across industry sectors, I’ve learnt that effective requirements practices can help you maintain that balance, and most importantly reduce or stay in control of costs without sacrificing (and even improving) quality, and reducing time-to-market/staying in control of your schedules.

Find out more about the challenges and benefits of requirements engineering in the following industry sectors:
Automotive
Telecommunications Network Equipment Providers

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