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How to optimize your web based software application for the mobile web August 7, 2011

Posted by Paul Seibert in Mobile Software Applications, Product Management, Project Management.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far
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The mobile web is where the action is in 2011.  We have all seen the polls and the statistics: people are spending more and more time accessing the web through their mobile smartphones and mobile tablet computers. The mobile Web grew 110 percent in the U.S. last year and 148 percent worldwide as measured by growth in pageviews.

Including devices such as the Kindle, the iPhone and other smartphones, web-enabled tablets, GPS systems, video games and wireless home appliances, the growth of the mobile web has been exponential — and we’re still just at the beginning of this cycle. Morgan Stanley’s analysts believe that, based on the current rate of change and adoption, the mobile web will be bigger than desktop Internet use by 2015. The proliferation of better devices and the availability of better data coverage are two trends driving growth; having better services and smaller, cheaper devices has led to a huge explosion in mobile technology that far outpaces the growth of any other computing cycle.

Global 3G penetration is expected to hit 21% this year. In Japan, where the U.S. looks to find its mobile roadmap for the future, 96% of mobile subscribers already have 3G coverage. In Western Europe, the penetration is around 54%, just slightly above 46% in the U.S. In developing and/or economically depressed areas, including the Middle East, Africa, parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and South America, 3G penetration is still in the single digits. 3G access is a key point in the success of the mobile web, providing very usable surfing speeds for mobile web usage.

In addition, mobile e-commerce is ramping up faster than online e-commerce, now making up 4% of total retail sales. In certain categories, such as computers, consumer electronics, music, movies, tickets, video games and books, online sales account for between 45% and 20% of the total retail market. Japan’s Rakuten shows how the mobile share of e-commerce is growing as well, from 10% of e-commerce in 2006 to nearly 20% now.

Video now accounts for 69% of mobile data traffic, and the overlap between mobile users and social web users continues to grow; more and more users are accessing the social web from a mobile device. Real-time technology and location-based services are expected to drive mobile retail, and a very interesting fact is that the average iPhone user only spends 45% of his on-device time making voice calls.

Some more mobile web usage statistics and facts:

  • More people have mobile phones than Internet-connected PCs (4 billion) 

  • SMS penetration ~50% and fully mainstream (82% of users <24 y.o.)

  • 82 million Americans can recall seeing advertising on their phone over last 3 mos. (approx. 30% of 270m adult phone users)

  • 25% of phone users (65 mm) are accessing the mobile web but 80% of iPhone users are

  • 40% of Twitter users use the Internet on their phones (76% if you include WiFi) (Pew)

  • Internet Advertising Bureau survey found that 62 percent of agencies, media planners and advertisers believe mobile ad spending will continue to grow and emerge in marketing budgets

  • Mobile device is increasingly becoming small, portable PC experience with an Internet browser experience similar to that of 2000/2001 (just diff’t form factor)

  • In 2007, eMarketer reports that US advertisers spent $900 million on mobile, and double in 2008 to $1.7 billion

  • 21 million iPhones + ~20 million iPod Touches = 40-45million iPod-like devices

  • 50,000 apps from iTunes App Store and Nokia, RIM, MSFT and others now w app stores; 1 billion+ app downloads to date

  • 70% of people sleep with their mobile phones (Zumobi)

  • More than 60 million mobile views per month for New York Times; one of 4 apps pre-loaded on the Palm Pre

  • Joseph Porus of Harris Interactive: “”Mobility could be recession-proof and be one of the strongest ways of effectively marketing in tough economic times”

  • 35% of mobile advertising campaigns cost less than $10,000 (Forrester)

Mobile Device Product Categories & Feature Sets

There are four primary mobile device product categories in widespread use today, and each of these four mobile device product categories is typically configured by the device manufacturers with a certain base set of features and functionality. The four mobile device product categories, listed with their typical bandwidth usage per month, are:

  1. Feature Phones:  Feature Phones such as the Motorola Razr are used primarily to make calls, and they consume little bandwidth even for web activities because they have stripped-down web browsers. Feature phones and their users tend to consume around 100 Megabytes of data downloads a month, using 4 MB of voice calls an hour, and 4 to 5 MB of web browsing per hour.

  2. Smartphones: Smartphones such as Research in Motion’s popular Blackberry are used for phone calls, email, and light web browsing. Smartphones and their users tend to consume around 185 Megabytes of total monthly data downloads, utilizing 4 MB per hour for voice calls, and 4 to 5 MB of web browsing.

  3. Superphones: Superphones are advanced smartphones, including Apple’s iPhone and Motorola’s Droid, that make it easy for people to surf the web and watch online videos, leading to much higher bandwidth use. Superphones and their users tend to consume around 560 Megabytes of total monthly data downloads, using 4 MB per hour for voice calls, 40 MB per hour for web browsing, 60 MB per hour for internet radio, and 200 MB per hour for YouTube videos.

  4. Tablet Computers: Tablet computers such as Apple’s newly unveiled iPad are likely to send data use even higher. The iPad will chew up even more bandwidth than the iPhone because of its larger screen. Tablet computer and iPad users tend to consume 800 to 1,000 Megabytes of total monthly data downloads, using 50 to 60 MB per hour for web browsing, 60 MB per hour for internet radio, and 300 to 400 MB per hour for YouTube videos.

If your web based application or site is not optimized for the mobile web, you are falling behind and losing out on transaction revenue, sales, data, customers: you name it.

There are many methods and techniques that can be used to optimize your web based application or site for the mobile web. In this article I will describe how I optimized a commercial b2c ecommerce application for the mobile web, and then I will go into more details as to how you can use the same techniques I used on the http://www.tshirtnow.net mobile site and also how you can use different techniques to optimize your own web-based mobile application or site.

For the tshirtnow.net mobile site, I utilized a technique to present a mobile-optimized version of the tshirtnow.net web site to mobile browser users such as those surfing the web site on an iPhone, iPad, or Android mobile phone, and the regular version of the tshirtnow.net web site to users who were accessing the web-based b2c tshirtnow.net ecommerce application from regular web browsers on a desktop or laptop computer with a browser like Google Chrome or Microsoft Internet Explorer.

But using a special CSS stylesheet that is optimized for mobile browsers, along with the reglar tshirtnow.net CSS stylesheet, we are able to automatically detect what type of mobile browser platform the user is currently accessing the tshirtnow.net web site with. Using the CSS information contained in the tshirtnow.net mobile cascading style sheet (CSS), we are able to render the exact same html content which represents the different pages on the site such as product detail pages, order status pages, and the home page with different formating and styles, and even content sections, all just by using CSS.

The advantages of this technique are rather obvious. First of all, there is no need to recreate dozens or even hundreds of static html content pages, as the exact same content and pages can be cleverly re-purposed simply by providing for planned degradation of the user’s web experience according to what type of mobile device and mobile browser platform they are currently using.

Secondly, the use of CSS to provide a mobile optimized experience allows for the use of special CSS tags and techniques which can provide iPhone and iPad iOS orientation (landscape or portrait) and touch detection, intelligent web page scaling, special mobile OS (iPhone, iPad iOS or Android, Blackberry, HP WebOS) controls and rich media player capabilities, and phone/web integrated telephony. I will go into much more detail about some of these advanced CSS capabilities and I will provide more information about them as well as links to more resources on the web later in this article.

I encourage readers of this article who have not already done so, to read my previous article, a Glossary of mobile Web Terminology, for references to some of the terms I will use throughout this article. Knowing mobile web terminology will also assist you in creating wireframes and mockups for mobile web applications, and will be a great boon to your mobile application software specifications as well.

The tshirtnow.net mobile web site

For tshirtnow.net, I utilized a mobile optimized CSS style sheet. It detects which type of browser platofrm the user is accessing the tshirtnow.net web site with, and then serves that user either the regular tshirtnow.net home page, or the mobile optimized tshirtnow.net home page. Here is what most users see when they access the tshirtnow.net web site with a normal desktop computer browser:

And here is what a user accessing the same tshirtnow.net home page using mobile safari on an Apple iPhone would see:

The mobile version of the tshirtnow.net home page, as seen on an Apple iPhone (iOS)

As you can see, iPhone users see a gently degraded web page, which contains many of the most important, but not nearly all, of the controls, links, graphics and content of the normal tshirtnow.net home page. This mobile-specific version of the exact same web page is presented to the user not though the use of another web page, but simply through the use of the mobile-optimized style sheet.

Here is another example of how the tshirtnow.net b2c ecommerce web application is able to detect a mobile browser user and serve up content optimized for mobile from the exact same html page. Here is what the order status page looks like to a user accessing the tshirtnow.net web site from a regular desktop computer browser like Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox:

And here is what a user accessing the same tshirtnow.net order status page using mobile safari on an Apple iPhone would see:

The mobile version of the tshirtnow.net order status page (iOS)

You can see that not only has the check order status button been dynamically resized in order to accomodate the smaller screen width of the iPhone mobile safari browser, but also that the hairline css curved corners border around the order number and email address input form fields has been resized too. All of this dynamic width modification, including the button graphic itself, which is rendered using standards-based css, happens on the fly from one set of html pages.

If you perform platform-specific css coding into your mobile stylesheet, which I will demonstrate how to do later in this article, then you can take advantage of such features as iOS iPad and iPhone orientation detection and dynamic adjustment, touch interface enhancements, and CTI, or Computer Telephony Integration features like click-to-call:

iOS platform-specific controls like this iPhone selection dial are supported natively through CSS

A typical b2b or b2c web-based ecommerce application that provides content pages that are driven by databases and displaying and presenting the results of database queries can produce thousands of individual web pages. To provide a mobile-optimized version of each of these pages is a prohibitively expensive and time-consuming endeavor that is beyond the performance envelope of most software development organizations.

The skillset needed to perform heavy CSS manipulations and platform-specific mobile optimizations may not be present on your current software development team. J2ee and other types of system and application software programmers may not have the requisite ability to manipulate and create a mobile optimized CSS stylesheet, and the necessary experience required to effectively develop and test platform-specific and progressively enhanced mobile CSS may not be present on your current team.

By utilizing a mobile CSS stylesheet to render the same content pages, you have provided a way to render those thousands of dynamic, database-driven web pages on the fly, and ready for your mobile web users. For example, here is one of the many thousands of product detail pages on the tshirtnow.net ecommerce site, as it would appear to a normal desktop web browser:

And here is what a user accessing the same srv tshirt product detail page using mobile safari on an Apple iPhone would see:

A mobile version of a tshirtnow.net tshirt product page (iOS)

You can see that the mobile version of the tshirtnow.net product detail page contains less content, and the content that is displayed on the mobile version of the product detail page is in a different location than the content on the regular, desktop browser version of the tshirtnow.net product detail page. All of this is performed not through HTML manipulations or server side includes, but is instead accomplished exclusively through the use of CSS.

Product detail page features such as tags are specially presented on Apple iPhone iOS through CSS

Because of this use of CSS to render mobile versions of the same html content pages, all scenarios have been accounted for, opening up the entire tshirtnow.net web site, all products, all static html content pages, all dynamic interaction controls such as search engines and results pages, are made available to mobile web browsers using this technique.

If instead the decision had been made to create unique, static html pages for mobile browsers, then a detection mechanism such as WURL or user-agent string detection would have had to have been employed in order to serve up unique html pages. The program to create many thousands of unique pages for all of the major functions, plus a unique mobile template for all of the product detail pages, would have been extremely cost and resource intensive.

Tips for Handheld CSS Style Sheets

Handheld media stylesheets should be as small and compact as possible because of download time.

What can you do to simplify your site and make it more usable in mobiles? First, eliminate some of these problematic items from mobile display.

  • Eliminate floats and frames

  • Eliminate columns – one column with the content first is the best option

  • Eliminate scripted effects such as popups or pop out menus in favor of plain old HTML and simple text menus

  • Eliminate decorative images that slow down the loading process. Use display:none to remove anything that isn’t absolutely necessary, such as links to external resources. Remember, however, that devices that don’t understand CSS won’t do anything withdisplay: none. Any essential images need to be reworked for the small screen and the width and height attributes need to be included in the HTML.

  • Eliminate nested tables and layout tables. If you have tabular data, consider finding a way to present it in a linearized alternate display.

Once you’ve simplified through elimination, start building the rules you need to add. Consider these ideas.

  • If you’re not already using relative measures, switch to ems or percentages rather than pixels

  • Reduce margins, paddings and borders to suit the small screen

  • Use smaller font sizes for headings and paragraph text

  • If you have a long navigation list at the start of the page, add a skip to main content link, or move the links to the end of document flow. Keep the number of clicks required to get to content as minimal as humanly possible. Without a mouse or keyboard, most mobile users have to click laboriously through any top navigation.

  • Make sure your color combinations provide good contrast between foreground and background colors, particularly for devices with fewer color options.

Sample Handheld CSS Stylesheet


/* mobile styles */

@media handheld {

html, body {

font: 12px/15px sans-serif;

background: #fff;

padding: 3px;

color: #000;

margin: 0;

}

#sidebar, #footer {

display: none;

}

h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6 {

font-weight: normal;

}

#content img {

max-width: 250px;

}

.center {

width: 100%; !important;

text-align: center;

}

a:link, a:visited {

text-decoration: underline;

color: #0000CC;

}

a:hover, a:active {

text-decoration: underline;

color: #660066;

}

}

/* iPhone-specific styles */

@media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) {

html {

-webkit-text-size-adjust: none;

}

}

Resources for testing your mobile applications

As with any other type of Web design, testing is a big part of the process. However, testing websites for mobile devices brings additional challenges, and fortunately, there are some tools available that were created especially for these purposes:

Opera Mini Browser Simulator

http://www.opera.com/mobile/demo/

The Opera Web browser comes with a feature that is of use to QA – the Opera Small Screen Renderer.

This tool can be used to test any Web page and see how it will look in a tiny window like on a cell phone. To use it:

 Download the latest version of Opera.

    1. Go to the page you want to test.
    2. Hit Shift-F11.
      The screen will switch to a narrow version of the page.
    3. When you’re done testing, hit Shift-F11 to toggle back to normal view.

Apple iPhone Safari Debugging and Testing Tips & Instructions:

http://developer.apple.com/safari/library/documentation/AppleApplications/Reference/SafariWebContent/DebuggingSafarioniPhoneContent/DebuggingSafarioniPhoneContent.html#//apple_ref/doc/uid/TP40006515-SW1

 W3C mobileOK Checker:

http://validator.w3.org/mobile/

ready.mobi mobile site automated checker & reporting tool:

Ready.mobi

 Blackberry Device Simulators:

http://na.blackberry.com/eng/developers/resources/simulators.jsp

 Nokia Mobile Phone Simulator:

http://mtld.mobi/emulator.php?emulator=nokiaN70&webaddress=mtld.mobi

OpenWave Phone Simulator:

http://developer.openwave.com/dvl/tools_and_sdk/phone_simulator/

iPhoney iPhone Simulator for OS X:

http://www.marketcircle.com/iphoney/

 How to setup desktop Safari on Windows and OS X to emulate iPad and iPhone:

http://developer.apple.com/safari/library/technotes/tn2010/tn2262.html

 Mobile Phone Web-based Emulator:

http://emulator.mtld.mobi/emulator.php?emulator=sonyK750&webaddress=stepforth.mobi

 BrowserCam Cross-Browser Device Screen Captures:

(Instantly see mobile pages in any browser on device operating systems)

http://www.browsercam.com/Default2.aspx

W3C Mobile Test Harness:

http://www.w3.org/2007/03/mth/harness

 Cameron Moll’s Mobile HTML & CSS Styling Test Pages:

http://cameronmoll.com/articles/mobile/mkp/

Patrick Griffith’s Handheld Media Test Page (Test to see if handheld device interprets media=”handheld”):

http://htmldog.com/test/handheld.html

 Good, General Mobile Web Testing Resources Available Here:

http://carsonified.com/blog/mobile/make-your-site-mobile-friendly/

Apple iPhone / iPad / iOS Resources

Apple iPhone Developer Center:

http://developer.apple.com/iphone/index.action

 iUI Interface Library / Framework Documentation:

http://code.google.com/p/iui/

http://www.k10design.net/articles/iui/

 iPhone Web HTML Application Home Screen Icons, Viewport Adjustments:

http://www.hanselman.com/blog/MakeYourWebsiteMobileAndIPhoneFriendlyAddHomeScreenIPhoneIconsAndAdjustTheViewPort.aspx

 Touch Interface Detection:

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2607248/optimize-website-for-touch-devices

 iPad Orientation Detection CSS:

http://catharsis.tumblr.com/post/501657271/ipad-orientation-css-revised

http://www.cloudfour.com/ipad-orientation-css/

http://www.cloudfour.com/ipad-css/

 Preparing Your Web Content for iPad:

http://developer.apple.com/safari/library/technotes/tn2010/tn2262.html

iPad CSS How To:

http://thomasmaier.me/2010/03/howto-css-for-the-ipad/

 Building an iPhone App using jQTouch & PhoneGap, without Objective-C:

http://net.tutsplus.com/tutorials/html-css-techniques/the-easiest-way-to-build-your-first-iphone-app/

http://radar.oreilly.com/2010/01/ipad-opportunities-for-web-dev.html

http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596805784/

Blackberry Developer Zone:

http://na.blackberry.com/eng/developers/

Blackberry Browsers Stylesheet and CSS Support Information:

http://docs.blackberry.com/en/developers/deliverables/11844/Feature_CSS_512751_11.jsp

How to target the Blackberry browser:

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/913040/how-to-target-the-blackberry-browser

Blackberry Device Simulators:

http://na.blackberry.com/eng/developers/resources/simulators.jsp

 RIM Blackberry Developers Reference Guide: Blackberry Browser HTML, CSS and JS Information:

http://docs.blackberry.com/en/developers/subcategories/?userType=21&category=BlackBerry%20Browser

 RIM Blackberry Browser CSS Reference Guide:

http://docs.blackberry.com/en/developers/deliverables/5683/CSS_Reference.pdf

RIM Blackberry Browser Content Design Guidelines:

http://docs.blackberry.com/en/developers/deliverables/4305/BlackBerry_Browser-4.6.0-US.pdf

In the BlackBerry Documentation for Developers, there is a documentation for the BlackBerry Browser, including CSS Reference – BlackBerry Browser. There is no specific mention of CSS3, but that document lists supported CSS properties.

There is also a BlackBerry Widget web standards support page that states 4.7.1 and 5.0 have partial support for CSS 3 color and full support for CSS 3 marquee, CSS 3 media queries, CSS 3 namespaces and CSS 3 selectors.

Opera Mini 5 Optimization:

http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/opera-mini-5-beta-developers/#optimizing

Opera Mini Browser-based Simulator:

http://www.opera.com/mobile/demo/

How to serve the right content to mobile browsers:

http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/how-to-serve-the-right-content-to-mobile/

 W3C CCS3 Media Queries Specification:

http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-mediaqueries/

 Mobile Device Support through JavaScript & CCS Media Queries:

http://floggingenglish.com/2009/06/18/mobile-device-support-through-javascript-and-css/

 Safe Cross-Platform, Cross-Device Media Queries:

http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/safe-media-queries/

HTML & CSS For Mobiles:

http://www.htmldog.com/ptg/archives/000055.php

Mobile CSS is a reality:

http://www.htmldog.com/ptg/archives/000056.php

CSS Discuss: Handheld Style Sheets:

http://css-discuss.incutio.com/wiki/Handheld_Stylesheets

Mobile Style Guides:

http://patterns.design4mobile.com/index.php/Mobile_Style_Guides_-_Screen_Design,_Part_1

You can try acid3.acidtests.org and http://www.css3.info/selectors-test/test.html on the respective browsers to check some compatibility, but that may not be an exact determining factor of full compatibility. However I don’t think any of the mobile browsers currently fully support CSS3.

—————————-

Both iPhone and Android systems use WebKit as the rendering engine in their mobile browsers. I believe Blackberry are moving to Webkit as well at some point. This engine has some of the best support for parts of CSS 3 available at the moment, as well as quite a lot of proprietary extensions.

I would recommend researching what is available in WebKit, and then testing.

A great resource for support tables is http://www.quirksmode.org where PPK is doing more and more mobile browser testing to answer just these kind of questions.

http://www.russellbeattie.com/blog/css3-and-the-death-of-handheld-stylesheets

An Introduction to the Mobile Web:

http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/introduction-to-the-mobile-web/

The Mobile Phone Directory –  Phone Specifications, Glossary of Terms:

http://www.mobile-phone-directory.org/

Mobile Web Glossary from the BBC:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/web/glossary.shtml?d

WURFL — Wireless Universal Resource File –  (SourceForge):

http://wurfl.sourceforge.net/

WURFL API Intro:

http://wurfl.sourceforge.net/newapi/

WURFL Java API:

http://wurfl.sourceforge.net/njava/

Wikipedia Entry – Microbrowser:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microbrowser

Wikipedia Entry – Mobile Phone:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phone

Cameron Moll’s Mobile Web Design Series:

Part 1: http://www.cameronmoll.com/archives/000415.html

Part 2: http://www.cameronmoll.com/archives/000428.html

Part 3: http://www.cameronmoll.com/archives/000577.html

Making Small Devices Look Great:

http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/making-small-devices-look-great/

The Pros and Cons of Developing a Mobile Version of Your Website:

http://www.dirjournal.com/articles/mobile-search-the-pro-and-cons-of-developing-a-mobile-version-of-your-website/

Bulletproof Mobile Device Detection:

http://www.bushidodesigns.net/blog/mobile-device-detection-css-without-user-agent/

A List Apart: “Return of the Handheld Stylesheet”:

http://www.alistapart.com/articles/return-of-the-mobile-stylesheet

A List Apart: “Put Your Content in My Pocket” (iPhone information):

http://www.alistapart.com/articles/putyourcontentinmypocket/

A List Apart: “Understanding Progressive Enhancement”:

http://www.alistapart.com/articles/understandingprogressiveenhancement/

Progressive Enhancement for Mobile Media Queries:

http://www.iheni.com/progressive-enhancement-for-mobile-media-queries/

Server-Side Scripting for Bulk Mobile Site Page Re-engineering:

http://www.mikeindustries.com/blog/archive/2005/07/make-your-site-mobile-friendly

Mobile Browser / Mobile Web Usage Statistics

http://gs.statcounter.com/#mobile_browser-ww-monthly-200903-201004

http://www.upsdell.com/BrowserNews/stat_trends.htm

http://www.webdevelopersnotes.com/articles/mobile-web-browser-usage-statistics.php

http://developer.apple.com/safari/library/technotes/tn2010/tn2262.html

http://johannburkard.de/blog/www/mobile/mobile-browser-statistics-webkit-on-the-rise-opera-losing-share.html

http://moconews.net/article/419-the-top-mobile-browsers-are-not-what-you-think/


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About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. I have been working in the software engineering and ecommerce industries for over fifteen years. My interests include computers, electronics, robotics and programmable microcontrollers, and I am an avid outdoorsman and guitar player. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Quora, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m a Technical PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of several ecommerce and web-based software startups, the latest of which are Twitterminers.com and Tshirtnow.net.

How do you write software requirements? What are software requirements? What is a software requirement? July 28, 2011

Posted by Paul Seibert in Project Management.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far
Waterfall Model

Image via Wikipedia

What is a software requirement?

A software requirement, simply stated, is something that matters to someone who matters.

A software requirement may take the form of anything from a high-level, abstract statement of a service or constraint to a detailed, formal specification. Software requirements must serve many purposes during the software engineering process, and so this is the reason that there is so much variation in how they are written and presented.

My main approach to writing requirements can vary in format from project to project, but I tend to prepare a list of software requirements in a computer spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel or Google Docs, or Open Office Spreadsheet. This requirements document is always dated, ranked, the source of the requirements is always noted for traceability, and it is usually accompanied and supplemented by a catalog of use cases and a functional specification document with mockups and wireframes.

What are the characteristics of good software requirements?

The IEEE has a standard, IEEE 830, that lays out the characteristics according to the IEEE of good software requirements:

1. Correct: The SRS, or software requirements specification, should correctly describe the system behavior. It is not productive to have a requirements document that describes implausible or impossible expected system behavior or user goals.

2. Unambiguous: Software requirements should be written in such a manner as they are not subject to different interpretations. The use of specific and appropriate language can help avoid ambiguity in interpretation.

3. Complete: the software requirements document should completely describe the system’s expected behaviors and feature set.

4. Consistent: Requirements for the system under discussion must not contradict each other.

5. Ranked: You must rank your software requirements for importance. Each software requirement has its own level of importance and criticality, and they are not all equal. By ranking the requirements, software designers ensure that guidance is given to the development team regarding effective prioritization.

6. Verifiable: If the requirement cannot be verified as having been met, then the requirement itself is written poorly. The requirements have to be testable.

7. Modifiable: The requirements must be easy to modify or change.

8. Traceable: The requirements must be traceable, and it is essential that traceability information has been provided, as the requirements document provides the starting point in the traceability chain. I have written elsewhere in this blog at length about the importance of software requirements traceability and have provided examples of software requirement traceability matrixes. Many software development organizations use proprietary CASE software tools and other methods to enforce traceability policies that stipulate how much traceability information regarding requirements must be maintained.

What are some wording and language best practices for software requirements?

I have many years of hard won expertise in writing software requirements. About this topic I have discovered many tips and tricks of the trade that can serve you well as excellent best practices. I suggest that you invent and use a standard format for all of your requirements and requirements documents, including use cases and functional specifications. You should take great care to use language in a consistent way when writing your software requirements.

I recommend that you use “Shall” when you are writing mandatory software requirements, such as “The system shall provide a facility for a store manager to enter an alternate shipping address onto the order confirmation page”.

I recommend that you use “Should” for desireable software requirements, such as “The system should enable the use of as many payment gateways as have been configured by engineering prior to the current release”.

Feel free to boldface or otherwise emphasize or highlight key parts of the requirement. This holds true for use cases ad functional specification documents as well.

I recommend that unless it is absolutely necessary, you should avoid technical language or implementation details in your requirements documents.

What do bad software requirements look like?

What makes software requirements “Bad” software requirements? Well, lack of specificity is one way requirements can be reckoned to be poor. Another way in which software requirements can fail to serve their purpose in the software development effort is when they are written in a way in which they are they are not verifiable. If, for instance, a software requirements engineer were to write a software requirement in which he or she stated the system under discussion was to be “completely reliable”, what exactly would they mean, and how would “reliable” be quantified? If a percentage is used in the writing of a software requirement, the whole or the baseline percentage and boundaries should be specified.

The following are some examples of very poor software requirements — you really don’t want to write software requirements which look like these, trust me:

“The system shall be completely reliable”

“The system shall be maintainable”

“Order rejections shall be less than 99%”

“The system shall be fast”

“The system should use artificial intelligence”

“The system should be totally modular”

What do good software requirements look like?

I have already mentioned IEEE standard 830, which can serve as a fundamental basis guide for you when you set out to write your own software requirements, but let me emphasize a few key points here before setting some example good software requirements before you.

Make sure that your requirements are traceable, verifiable, and specific. Ensure that when you write your software requirements that you quantify any specific qualities that you write about as desireable User goals or User Stories. Make sure you rank your requirements for software development and date them, notating the source of the requirement, the venue of the requirement’s origin, the primary internal and external stakeholders, and the DRI, or directly responsible individual, who is assigned to sheparding that requirement through development. Make sure that you use “Shall” for mandatory requirements and “Should” for optional, or “nice to have” requirements.

“The response time for the system to present the checkout page upon an order button click on a product detail page shall be less than 500ms”

“95% of all transactions on the public-facing webstore portal shall be processed in less than 4s”

“MTBF for the domain controller server shall be 5000 hours of continuous operation”

“The system shall present the closest 5 stores to the user on the map page, provided that 5 stores are within the user-defined search radius”

How do you rank software requirements?

For the most part, I generally advocate a three level rating system for software requirements: mandatory, desirable, and optional. The mandatory requirements cannot be sacrificed, desirable requirements are important but could be sacrificed if necessary to meet schedule or budgetary concerns. Optional requirements are ones which may not be developed, simply due to the fact that they have been rated as being “nice to have”.

Ranking of software requirements comes in handy when the development team needs to make tradeoffs. For example, if time or work force is limited, the development team’s focus can then be placed on the higher ranked requirements.

What is the role of the requirements document in the software development process?

The requirements document is the official statement of what is required of the system developers. The requirements document should include both a definition and a specification of requirements. However, the requirements document is not a design document. To the extent that it is possible, the requirements document should be a set of statements regarding what the system should do, not how it should do it. In the real world, the requirements document does tend to contain some design specifications, which can box in the programmers later if carried too far.

Precise software specifications provide the fundamentals for analyzing the requirements, validating that they are the stakeholder’s intentions, defining what the designers have to build, and verifying that they have done so correctly.

Requirements allow the system’s programmers and software engineers to know the motivation for development of the system under construction. Software requirements also help the engineers manage the process of evolving the software over time and across suites of related software products and web-based services.

Who typically uses software requirements documents?

There are a great variety of stakeholders, both internal and external, who utilize the requirements documents throughout a typical software development project lifecycle. Each of these stakeholders will have a different perspective on the requirements document and they will each put the requirements document to a different use:

1. Customers or clients: will desire to, as completely as possible, express how their needs can be met. They continue to do this throughout the software development lifecycle process as their perceptions of their own needs change.

2. Developers or programmers: will attempt to create a software design that will satisfy all of the requirements laid out by the system designers.

3. QA personnel and testers: will use the requirements document as a basis for writing and conducting the tests they will use to verify that the system functions as it was designed.

4. Managers and project leaders: will use the requirements document as a contract to bid upon the system and then control the production of the software throughout the software development lifecycle.

5. System and Maintenance engineers: will use the requirements document as evidence of what the designers of the system had originally intended for it to do, using this as a guide for continuing evolution and maintenance efforts.

What is software requirements engineering?

Software requirements engineering is a subset or subdiscipline of software engineering that is focused on determining and specifying the functions, constraints, and user goals of the software system being designed.

The software requirements engineering process begins with a discovery project or feasibility study which leads to a discovery project findings document or project feasability report. There are instances, rare though they may be, when a software development project feasability study will actually conclude that the best course of action for a development organization is to not move forward with the development project. Feasibility studies can help your discovery team uncover answers to questions such as these:

1. Is a new technology needed for us to develop the system under discussion? What expenses will be involved in acquiring this new technology or resources experienced in working with it?

2. What is the impact, in all aspects, of not constructing the proposed system?

3. What are the current problems the system under discussion is proposed to alleviate?

4. How will the proposed system allievated these concerns?

5. What will be some of the development and integration problems encountered by the system’s design and programming project teams?

Software requirements engineering is strongly influenced by computer science and systems engineering, however, as developing software is an art, not a science, and since developing software is a human endeavor not generally considered a “true” engineering discipline, software requirements engineering draws upon a number of different disciplines and fields of study. Particularly with respect to understanding the user goals and needs and desires of humans, individuals with a diverse background in anthropolgy, philosophy, cognitive psychology, linguistics and other liberal arts fields often make superb requirements elicitators and software requirements engineers. It is oftentimes business analysts who take the fore in requirements elicitation and gathering in many organizations.

Software requirements engineering for a software development project has a few typical phases:

1. Requirements elicitation and gathering is always a necessary step, as frequently primary internal and external project stakeholders do not know what they want, the requirements can be deeply “hidden” within a client organization, prior requirements may not be validated or verifiable, and even completely incorrect. This is the phase of the project which will largely determine the success or failure of the project.

2. Requirements modeling is a way in which the written, prose requirements are presented in another format. Although effectively doing this can prove difficult for novices, many techniques such as use case modeling, UML diagrams, user stories and user goals can help system designers and requirements engineers and business analysts represent the requirements in a more easily comprehensible or shareable form.

3. Analyzing requirements is the process whereby the requirements are checked for consistency, correctness, completeness, sufficient detail, and writing style and format.

4. Requirements change management is a requisite activity for business analysts and software requirements engineers, as requirements are changing all the time and this process is to be expected and prepared for.

What different types of software requirements are there?

Even though there are many different types of forms software requirements may take, in my own experience a requirements document may encorporate a few different types of requirements within the same document, sometimes subdivided into sections or categorized. I wanted to take some time to explain a little about each of the types of software requirements so that when you are discussing requirements with stakeholders internal and external, as well as your project team, you can more easily express what you mean in terms of what type of requirements and for what purpose you wish to write them.

There is quite a bit of overlap in the functions of each of the types of software requirements I’m about to discuss. Keep this in mind, and remember that one of the points of this excercise is to familiarize yourself with the lingo. Knowing what each of these terms for software requirements refers to can help you forget about classifying your requirements and instead focus on just getting the requirements down on paper (or rather into your computer spreadsheet program or requirements management database) quickly.

1. Functional requirements are generally written from a bird’s-eye viewpoint, or at a high level, although they can also be very detailed, and contain annotations and notes, as well as references to other materials such as screen and page mockups and flow diagrams. They can describe not only what the system under construction should do, but also what it should not do.

2. Nonfunctional requirements are boundary conditions or externalities to the system under construction which will effect the performance envelope or capabilities of the system once it is operation. These types of requirements may include things such as environmental constraints, compliance with federal and state laws or industry regulations, safety standards, timing constraints, quality or uptime properties, programming languages to be used, etc.

3. Design constraint requirements include nonfunctional requirements that relate to hardware limitations and industry standards compliance.

4. Logical database requirements include things such as required data models or database schemas, data entity relationship diagrams (ERDs) stipulating database requirements, data entities and their required relationships, data retention and data integrity constraints, as well as database requirements that specify data access frequency of use data and accessing capabilities.

5. Domain requirements are a type of nonfunctional requirement which has been dictated to the system designers by the application’s domain of operation. For example, a health care application software system may have data integrity and security domain requirements which are derived from the HIPAA health care industry standards regarding private health care information (PHI). Domain requirements may impose new functional requirements or boundary conditions on existing requirements.

6. System attribute requirements are functional requirements which include information regarding the desired system availability, reliability, maintainability, portability and security.

7. Interface specifications are yet another type of functional requirements for software systems which are defined in terms of specifying how the system should interoperate with other software systems. There are many types of formalized notation systems used to specify these types of interfaces, including UML, or unified modeling language diagrams. The interface specifications focus on defining the data entities to be exchanged with other software systems, their structures and representations, as well as defining the interfaces themselves.

7. Performance requirements quantify the desired performance of the system being constructed. Performance requirements are a type of functional requirement, and there are two major types of performance requirements, those that measure or stipulate the performance of static system objects, processes or events, and those that stipulate the performance of dynamic system objects, processes or events. Performance requirements for software system generally take the form of numerically expressed time constraints. A software system’s static performance requirements might include things such as the number of simultaneous users the system would need to support at any given moment of time, whereby a system’s dynamic performance requirements might include such constraints as the number of work orders that would need to be processed by the system within certain time periods for both normal and peak workload conditions.

How are software requirements validated?

It is important to ensure that the requirements for the software system under construction accurately represent not only what the software developers and programmers are building, but also what the customer or client originally desired. Validation is very important, as catching requirement errors early on in the software development lifecycle reduces expense greatly. Rectifying a requirements error after delivery may cost up to 100 times the cost of fixing an implementation error.

The IEEE has developed another standard, IEEE 830, for best practices for validating software requirements. The IEEE 830 standard lays out some suggested process improvements and gateways, including:

1. Requirements reviews.

2. Manual systematic analysis of the requirements.

3. Software prototyping.

4. Using an executable model of the system in order to verify the requirements.

5. Test case generation.

6. Developing test cases from the requirements in order to validate that they are in fact testable and verifiable requirements as written.

7. Automated consistency analysis.

What is software requirements modeling?

There are a number of different techniques which can be used to model software requirements. Some of these software requirements modeling techniques I have discussed at length elsewhere in this hub tech insider blog, and some of the other techniques for modeling requirements I will explore in more detail within these pages in future articles. User stories, user goals, use cases, and UML diagrams are some of the techniques oftentimes used to model software requirements, but there are many others including formal methods, natural languages, and structured diagrams.

The reason that modeling techniques are used in addition to prose requirements is that English, or any other natural language, inherently adds difficulty to the process of communicating requirements for the poduction of software. These difficulties can include lack of precision and clarity of language to the improper mixing of functional and nonfunctional requirements. The needless overcomplexity of combining requirements until they no longer make sense, in a wierd amalgamation of needs, is a common problem, as is ambiguity of language.

How do you conduct a requirements elicitation and gathering session?

There are many common problems encountered when elicitating requirements for a software system to be constructed. Requirements elicitation is a process in which requirements engineers or business analysts work with customers in order to determine the proposed system’s operational constraints, services, and application scope. There are many people involved in most requirements elicitation and gathering phases of a software development project, and they are collectively known as project stakeholders. Project stakeholders may include domain experts, managers, engineers, end users, and other internal and external personnel.

One of the primary concerns of the requirements engineer is eliciting requirements from stakeholders who are not sure what it is they really want from the system under discussion. Stakeholders can in fact introduce many serious detrimental issues into the requirements gathering and elicitation process that you should be aware of. These can include expressing requirements in their own, often incorrect terminology, providing conflicting requirements, and the introduction by stakeholders of organizational politics and other bureaucratic externalities which may unduly influence the requirements. It is not at all uncommon for stakeholders to feel free to change the requirements at will in response to new stakeholders who may emerge mid-project, as well as shifting business environments. All of these detrimental factors must be carefully monitored and counteracted by the requirements engineer when necessary.

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About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. I have been working in the software engineering and ecommerce industries for over fifteen years. My interests include computers, electronics, robotics and programmable microcontrollers, and I am an avid outdoorsman and guitar player. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Quora, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m a PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of several ecommerce and web-based software startups, the latest of which is  Tshirtnow.net.

How do you create a Competitive Analysis? What is a competitive analysis? July 24, 2011

Posted by Paul Seibert in Product Management, Project Management.
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How do you create a Competitive Analysis document? What is a competitive analysis?

Competitive analysis documents can be found as a primary product management deliverable in most every industry, and even the simplest competitive analysis document displays two critical dimensions: the competitors and the criteria, or the competitive framework. The purpose of the competitive framework is to present the analysis data in a way that makes it easy to compare the various products, companies, or services across the different marketplace features or comparative criteria.

Elements of an effective competitive anlysis

Competitive analyses vary along two dimensions: competitors and criteria, and so it is common for most competitive analysis documents to provide a visual mechanism for representing two or more products or services side-by-side with the differences showcased. The specific nature of those differences will vary depending on the competitive criteria the analysis author has selected. These competitive anlysis documents can vary in size, with some much longer than others because they their authors have elected to highlight more product features or more marketplace competitors on the analysis document.

“Two-by-two” competitive analysis plot

Every competitive analysis document shares three essential elements: a purpose statement, the competitive framework, which is the competitors and the criteria, and the comparative data. The analysis document may also provide more details about the overall products, the competitors and their market positioning, or the method behind the comparative analysis results.

The purpose of the competitive framework is to present the data in such a manner as to make it easy for a reader or viewer to compare the products or service offerings across the different comparative criteria.

When the competitive framework takes the form of a table, the competitors or products can run along the top of the table and the comparative criteria along the side. The criteria can vary from the very general to the very specific.

A typical table competitive analysis

A different kind of competitive framework is known in MBA programs as the “two-by-two” graph or plot. The “two-by-two” plots competitors or products on a simple grid depicting only two comparative criteria.

In a two-by-two competitive framework, the number of criteria is down to two, so the analysis tends to be much broader than a traditional competitive framework. The “two-by-two” competitive framework is excellent at turning subjective information into objective information. Although it is technically possible for a “two-by-two” competitive analysis author to use real numbers and actually plot along the scale, most two-by-two presentations are ideal for very broad criteria that might not lend themselves to hard numbers. This type of plot is useful to help identify holes in a market or competitive landscape. Competitors that are clustered around certain areas of the two-by-two plot may indicate that there are opportunities for a competitive product or service to fill those vacuums.

A “two-by-two” competitive analysis plot

Some research organizations use a modified version of the “two-by-two” plot format. Sometimes you may see competitors plotted out on a single square, with “waves” or “bands” of features, strategies, or market postions illustrated as areas of the single square. This format is equally effective, and it has the advantage of being an excellent format for the creation of a catalog of different one square competive analysis plots, one for each area of focus within the competitive landscape. So you could for instance have a single square plot for market positioning, one for revenue or scale of business, one for pltting out competitors’ different revenue situations, etc.

An example of a “wave” or “band” single-square plot

Yet another competitive framework that appears in competitive analysis documents and especially comparisons of different sites or user interfaces: the “small multiples”. This term was coined by information architect and data visualization guru Edward Tufte. In Tufte’s “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”, he states, “Small multiples represent the frames of a movie: a series of graphics, showing the same combination of variables, indexed by changes in another variable.” In other words, “small multiples” are a series of graphics that allow the viewer to easily compare similar sets of information. In the case of user interface design or information architecture for the web, or graphics design for print or interactive media, this approach is most effective for comparing online and offline page layouts or interactive storyboards.

“Small multiples” chart comparing web site detail pages

Sometimes a competitive analysis will take the form of a table, with various stages of detail added as comparative criteria for each competive category. Great care should be taken by the author of the competitive analysis document that the length of the analysis does not become too unwieldy. Consider breaking up long competitive analysis documents into sections or categories.

Try to use as many graphic elements as possible in your competitive analysis documents. Graphs, charts, plots and tables are all excellent ways to present your competitve analysis data, and you should leverage these artifacts into your presentations and marketing communications.

The data is of paramount importance in a competitive analysis. The data can be as simple as yes-no values, indicating whether a product or service or competitor meets a particular criterion, or it can be descriptive, going into some detail for each criterion.

Yes-No values are a very common way to provide differentiating data in a competitive analysis. You’ve seen these kinds of competitive analyses on infomercials where the product in question is lined up with “other leading brands.” For each feature, the product gets a check mark while its competitors get an X, to show you how versatile the product is.

Feature comparison table

Spelling out your process can help address any possible methodological inadequacies. You might want to spend some time in a section of your competitive analysis document rationalizing the selection of competitors and criteria to increase the impact and veracity of your conclusions.

Explanation of a competitive analysis methodology

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You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies, software development, Agile project management, managing software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projects, ecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. I have been working in the software engineering and ecommerce industries for over fifteen years. My interests include computers, electronics, robotics and programmable microcontrollers, and I am an avid outdoorsman and guitar player. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Quora, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m a PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of several ecommerce and web-based software startups, the latest of which is Tshirtnow.net.

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What is a Product Roadmap? What is an Engineering Roadmap? July 21, 2011

Posted by Paul Seibert in Agile Software Development, Project Management.
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English: Five-Year Technology Roadmap

English: Five-Year Technology Roadmap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is a Product Roadmap? What is an Engineering Roadmap?

Product roadmaps can provide an organization, particularly a software development one, with the critical difference between success and failure when marketing and delivering software, services, or products to the marketplace.

While normally the purview of a product manager or director, another senior manager (project, program) or executive can also be charged with preparing and presenting a product or engineering roadmap, and when prepared properly, they can be extremely effective.

The benefits of roadmaps can include retention of key customers, business and channel partners, and engineering and product roadmaps can ably guide the strategic planning and engineering efforts of a company.

As amazing it may sound, I have frequently encountered, within the development organizations I have worked at within the Boston area, a lack of types of artifacts I am about to describe. The lack of product and engineering roadmaps that are accessible to viewers, easy for presenters to use in their slide decks and demos, and visually compelling enough and understandable enough so that audiences can grip the feature sets and timelines shown to them is a major cause of planning and project failure.

It is easy to visualize, once we have gone into a bit more detail regarding the different types of product and engineering roadmaps, how project and product planning attempts at companies without these types of deliverables (or the in-house skillset required to even prepare such artifacts) fail miserably. Computer programmers are not the best resources, in general, to call upon to produce these types of artifacts, nor are engineers who have been promoted to management positions. Typically the best preparers of roadmap documents will be from the business or management world, or have a diverse skillset that may be based in engineering, but you definitely need people who can generate business documents quickly and effectively.

Having folks that are knowledgable and skilled with graphic design programs like adobe photoshop, Illustrator, and microsoft visio can speed the roadmap creation process tremendously. When you have found the right internal resource or team to create these roadmap documents, you will know it, as the right people will already possess some amount of experience with roadmap and business strategy content creation.

It is not enough, please keep in mind, for a company to “short shift” the production of these roadmap documents, because it is only through the repeated creation of roadmap documents, and through their constant updating and presenting to audiences internal and external, will your organization be able to increase its ability to produce roadmap documents quickly.

A complete catalog of engineering and product roadmap documents should be created: eventually. If your company cannot mount such a concerted document creation efforts due to staffing concerns, just create what you can. Cherry pick the type of roadmap document you think would create the most value for your own organizational requirements from my detailed list below.

An example of a roadmap from Microsoft

It could very well be that your organization’s needs for a roadmap document are clouded by the sales department or company management demanding an engineering or product roadmap (sometimes in support of sales efforts) under-the-gun. Never fear: I have not only provided the information you need, I have lots of examples and pictures of product and engineering roadmaps as well as Microsoft visio and excel templates for simple and complex roadmap documents. You can use these microsoft excel product roadmap template and microsoft visio product roadmap templates to create your product or engineering roadmap quickly, avoiding trouble just when you’re getting started.

If you are a product management professional, and you are tasked with the responsibility for the ultimate success of a product line or engineering effort for your company, it is of paramount importance that you produce a roadmap document that can drive strategy, provide a clear idea of where you are headed with your efforts or product(s), and can be shared easily with internal and external stakeholders and business partners and analysts, even the press.

A product or engineering roadmap document may be appropriate when you are called upon to support a pre-sales or sales effort for your organization. Demos, presentations, press releases, investor and business meetings are all very good occasions for product or engineering roadmaps to assure clients, partners, and employees that there is a consistent and cogent plan of action and guide for resource planning and engineering efforts.

There is a wide variety of different names and definitions for all manner of roadmap documents. The important principle to adhere to is you should find and adapt the type of roadmap document you are comfortable with and that you find works for you.

What are the different types of product roadmaps? What are the different types of engineering roadmaps?

Speaking generally, there are five major types of roadmap documents: Product roadmaps, platform roadmaps, market roadmaps, strategic roadmaps, vision roadmaps, and technology or engineering roadmaps. You can, of course, mix and match these roadmap types to suit your organization’s needs.

How do you create a product roadmap? How do you create an engineering roadmap?

There are eight steps I always follow when I am asked to create each of these types of roadmap documents – you can mix this list of steps with your own ideas and experiences in creating roadmap documents:

1. Decide upon which type of roadmap document you will use based on your individual requirement for a roadmap document.

2. Think about how much time and effort, as well as level of detail, you think will be required for you to invest, or that you care to invest, in the creation of your chosen roadmap document type.

3. Brainstorm about significant forces or trends that you might want to represent on your roadmap document. These could include technical breakthroughs, market forces, and moves the competition has made recently.

4. Elicitate the precise roadmap document requirements from the primary internal stakeholders in the project, and document and prioritize those requirements, being careful to estalish and maintain traceability.

5. Product Roadmap documents are intrinsically linked with time, so think about the timeline you want to use and represent in your document.

6. Think about the impression your strategy will make and how you want to present that strategy in your roadmap document. This is one of the central purposes of the document you are preparing, to show that you have a strategy and are planning to implement it well and to schedule.

7. Sometimes I create an internal roadmap document and distribute it to the primary internal stakeholders within my organization for review and commentary. After gathering the project team’s comments regarding the internal roadmap, there is a good basis on which to draft the external roadmap document.

8. This colloborative approach is critical to obtaining buy-in from senior management as well as the roadmap document project team. This method also prevents surprises and last-minute revisions. Discussions surrounding the creation of roadmap documents can help solidify the company’s direction and clarify the intents of management to employees very effectively.

Prioritizing product and engineering roadmap features

There are probably potentially many features you could choose to highlight as a part of your product or engineering roadmap document. But in the interests of brevity and clarity, you will need to prioritize the features that are included in each of your upcoming product or service introductions or software releases and shown on your roadmap.

I have always found that a prioritization matrix document is the best bet for effective and colloborative feature selection for inclusion in a roadmap document. Microsoft Excel or another computer spreadsheet program works very well for preparing this type of document. The matrix should hold information regarding such components as startegic importance, tactical importance to the current release cycle, customer desireability level, retain revenue threat from customer dissatisfaction, revenue impact, source and date of the feature, planned release, etc.

Themes can be used to categorize major feature trends that you begin to see emerge from your prioritization matrix. Categorize like features into themes and then select one or a few major themes to represent graphically on your roadmap documents.

Timed release cycles use the timescale along the edge of your roadmap document to show when features will become available. This type of roadmap document is driven by time and not by features. Once the release interval is decided upon, then the feature list is divided up amongst the releases those features are planned to become available with.

The golden feature technique is one where each release is governed mainly by one important or central feature. Once you have selcted the golden feature for each release of a product or service that you are attempting to show on your roadmap document, then you will be able to focus the audience’s attention on that one feature, and highlight it in all your continued planning efforts for that release.

Using multiple roadmap documents

Combining a few or several different types of roadmap documents can greatly enhance your presentation, showing that you know where your company is headed and why it is that you have choosen to pursue a certain strategy. A vision roadmap could be used to open your presentation, showing trends in society at large that are afecting your marketplace. A technology roadmap could then be shown to your audience that reflects how your company and it’s products are capitalizing on technology trends within the marketplace. Then it is time for you to show off your internal and external product roadmaps, and perhaps your engineering roadmap that shows your planned releases and when certain feature sets will become available.

Showing multiple product lines on roadmap documents

You may need to show a few or several of your product lines on a roadmap, in order to visually represent how each of your product lines will evolve in accordance with a technology or marketplace trend. This is very easy to accomplish; simply create a roadmap document for one of your product lines or services,and then use that one product line as a template for showing the others on your single roadmap document.

I have found that it is helpful in many cases to create a prioritization matrix such as the one I mentioned elsewhere in this article regarding features to show on your roadmap documents. You can also create a product line prioritization matrix that can be used for discussion and colloboration with your internal stakeholders.

A product roadmap showcasing multiple product lines

Try and decide upon which projects, products, or services your company is undertaking that are the most important to your company, which ones should be funded and resourced, and which ones should be cut. Revenue potential, market positioning, strategic importance to the company, and interdependencies can and should be plotted out on this matrix. Once you have decided which products you want to represent on your roadmap document, it is a simple matter to modify your format to include multiple product lines on a single roadmap.

Five tips for creating product roadmaps

Here are a few more best practices that I have discovered throughout my career of preparing product roadmap documents.

It is essential that you realize from the outset that when working with a technical (programmer) audience in certain working environments, there may be a fair bit of resistance or friction originating within internal departments or product groups at your own company that you will need to overcome.

Many internal stakeholders may take umbrage at the point in the release cycle that certain features are slated for release on your roadmap document, they may assert strongly or even rudely that your presentation is false or feature sets you are publicly committing to will not be available.

It is important for you to always be ready to provide reasoning why the roadmaps are necessary, and why managing without such documents, at certain levels of business, becomes untenable.

1. Make sure that you colloborate early with your team. Your chances of being able to secure ultimate buy-in from the different internal constiuency groups within your company goes up markedly if they have been included from the roadmap document project’s outset.

2. Always use code names on your roadmap documents until they have been approved by the senior management team for release to the public at large. You cannot be sure that your roadmap documents will not be leaked out, even by senior managers. You can revise the code names to final product and project names when they are approved.

3. Minor releases and localized, international releases are sometimes not shown on product or engineering roadmaps, and they should be included, as they frequently enter into the follow-on conversations.

4. Create roadmap documents for an internal audience that are very specific in information and dates; roadmap documents intended for an external audience should be worded in more vague language and terminology.

5. Present your roadmap documents as uneditable adobe .pdf documents — this will prevent other parties internal to your company from taking the roadmap documents and altering them – these alterations can emerge unpleasantly later during the project(s) as a committment made to a client or customer by a senior manager or executive, so take care to avoid this scenario.

Examples of internal and external roadmap documents

Product roadmaps

Microsoft SQL server product roadmap

If you need to show your audience when your product’s new features will be available, what the theme or main and secondary features of the product release or next few releases will be, then an effective product roadmap should be your tool of choice.

Internal product roadmaps can be used to communicate budget, resource planning, project priority, and release planning to employees and department heads. They are extremely effective for driving efforts to obtain funding from senior management or corporate action committees.

An example of a product roadmap

External product roadmaps can be used to support funding efforts from investors or investment groups, business partner meetings. External product roadmap documents and slides can be used to reinforce public press releases and press conferences, analyst meetings and conference calls or webcasts, clients and channel partner webinars. It is oftentimes apparent that external roadmaps have been recast in a more vague tone as a result of internal roadmap feedback, which is generally a good thing.

Platform roadmaps

A platform roadmap

A platform roadmap is used to showcase what will be n the works for the platform or PaaS (Platform as a Service) that a particular company has under development. They are used to communicate that company’s overall platform strategy and the availability of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces, basically plug-ins to amd from the company’s platform software) and development tools for the company’s platform or PaaS.

If a company has developed and is supporting a platform in the marketplace currently, you can be sure that they have a platform strategy that relies on partners and clients working closely with them. The need to communicate the platform’s strategy in a clear and focused manner is very important. Examples of platforms include Salesforce.com (Force.com), Windoes (Windows Azure Cloud), Amazon S3 and Ec2, Google, Apple Mac OS X, Apple iOS, Hp WebOS, and many others.

Vision roadmaps

A vision roadmap example

There are times when at the onset of a demo or presentation, it is necessary to highlight for your audience how your product or products fit into a movement or trend within society in general or your company’s inductry in particular. This is a fantastic way in which you can build excitement and marketplace momentum for your company’s products or services by visually demonstrating how you fit into the big picture.

Marketing roadmaps

Microsoft Windows OS roadmap

A marketing roadmap communicates to your internal and external stakeholders what market segements your products and services are targeting, and how you plan to enter any of those markets in which you are not currently competing. As such, these types of roadmaps include information on the demographics and opportunity size of each marketplace, and information regarding how you plan to develop products and services to address each market. The timescale involved on marketing roadmaps can span years.

Marketing roadmap example

A marketing & strategy roadmap

Technology and Engineering Roadmaps

Technology and engineering roadmaps chart out major technology trends that exist in the marketplace, and show how your company’s products and services coordinate with those trends over time. Engineering roadmap documents are used to communicate feature sets that will be available in certain releases. The approximate release dates of each of the company’s upcoming product releases will be shown.

A technology roadmap

It is very common for a software development organization to create and maintain multiple engineering roadmaps, suitable for showing to various segmented audiences of internal and external stakeholders and directly responsible individuals. These engineering roadmaps are super tools for updating major clients and customers of your release cycle and aid greatly in the change management process.

A Microsoft Technology Roadmap

Engineering roadmaps also provide your internal development groups, qa, testers, programmers, business analysts, and product, program and project managers, as well as senior management, with a view into the development life of the company. A development organization that fails to produce such planning artifacts is essentially flying blind, and as they scale up (if they do scale up) as their business improves, they will find they lack the requisite skills needed to plan effectively and manage their clients’ expectations for quality products, software and services well.

Product roadmap template

Engineering roadmap template

I have included in this article many pictures and descriptions that you can use to create your own highly compelling product roadmap documents. They should serve as an excellent guide for not only the different types of roadmap documents that exist out here in the marketplace, but also how to place multiple product lines and services on a roadmap document.

Keep in mind, these are living documents, and should be continuously maintained and updated. Do not succumb to the programmer’s maxim “You can’t plan the future”. Remember: Plans are worthless, planning is priceless. The activity of creation, the discussion that surround the roadmap process, are all essentially components of effective long term product planning and corporate strategy.

Roadmaps can be used to share information with internal teams, external constituents or as a planning tool for the Product Management team, but whichever you choose, you have to figure out whether you are going to make the focus of the roadmap strategy or release calendar. If it is strategy, your timeline can be vague — quarters or years. If it’s release calendar, the near-term has to be pretty specific: exact date or month, but the future can be more nebulous.

I have include a few simple microsoft visio and microsoft excel roadmap document templates to get you started. By all means, you should feel free to use the illustrations and prose contained in this article, as well as any graphics or business drawing tools that you are comfortable with, to create your own formats and presentations. Some of my favorite programs for creating these types of artifacts with include adobe illustrator, photoshop, microsoft visio, microsoft excel, and coreldraw. I also have a big bag of Linux and Apple Mac OS X tools that I use to create roadmap documents in addition to the ones I have just mentioned. Product management software such as Accept, Accompa, FeaturePlan, FocalPoint and others can also assist you in creating roadmap documents. If you need help or advice, I am always available via email or social media like LinkedIn. If we’re not connected on LinkedIn, please send me an invitation to connect. And good luck with your roadmaps!

roadmap_template1


Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies, software development, Agile project management, managing software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projects, ecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Quora, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m a PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of several ecommerce and web-based software startups, the latest of which is  Tshirtnow.net.

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What is UML? What is Unified Modeling Language? July 17, 2011

Posted by Paul Seibert in Agile Software Development, Project Management, Software.
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A collage of UML diagrams including use case d...

A collage of UML diagrams including use case diagram, class diagram, activity diagrams, sequence diagrams, deployment diagram,component diagrams, composite structure diagram, package diagrams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

What is UML?

UML is an acronym for Unified Modeling Language. UML is widely accepted as the de facto standard description language for the specification and design of object-oriented software systems. UML is a family of “languages”, or diagram types, that attempt to bring together the “best in breed” software specification techniques for describing software systems. Users and practicioners of UML can choose which members of the family are the most suitable for their application domain.

Personally, I have become associated with UML through my years and years of specifying software products. Several of the UML diagram types that I will discuss below are among my primary tools for communicating application and system requirements and software designs to programmers.

I do not advocate, nor do I personally practice, an over-attachment to UML. Like many of these project management and requirements management techniques, there is a time and a place for the proper introduction of these types of UML artifacts into the software development process. Programmers may be unfamiliar with the UML diagram types and symbology, and so if you are a business analyst, project, program or product manager, and you are using these types of project deliverables with a new staff of engineers, be prepared to explain the UML diagram type you are using, keep the introductions down to one or two different new UML “Languages”, or diagram types, at a time.

I also recommend that if you insert UML diagrams into your functional specification documents, and I recommend that if you have invested the time to properly prepare UML diagrams that you do leverage them into your spec docs, make sure that you include an explanatory prose component into your accompanying functional specification document’s text.

There are nine different types of UML languages, or diagram types:

1. Use Case.

2. Sequence.

3. Collaboration.

4. Statechart.

5. Activity.

6. Class.

7. Object.

8. Component.

9. Deployment.

Five of these diagram types render behavioral views, the use case, sequence, collaboration, statechart and activity diagrams, while the remaining four diagram types are concerned with architectural or static aspects of the software design.

 

How does UML help in specifying a software design?

UML is a graphical language that is based on the premise that any software system can be described in terms of interacting business entities and that various aspects of these entities and their interactions, can be described visually using one or more of the above nine types of UML diagrams.

Use Case diagrams represent and document the dialog between external (to the system under discussion, as in an embedded system) actors and the system.

Sequence and collaboration diagrams describe interactions between objects.

Activity diagrams illustrate the flow of control between objects.

Statecharts represent the internal dynamics of active objects.

 

What is UML 2.0?

UML 2.0 is a revision to Unified Modeling Language that incorporates several improvements to UML. UML 2.0 is only just now beginning to supplant UML as the de facto standard.

A shorthand description of UML 2.0 is that it is designed for more rigor of specification, and it can sometimes be too much, or too much of a fine-grained distinction to bandy about when in an actual day-to-day, working software development environment. You are very likely to be working with only a subset of the UML languages, or diagram types, I outlined above at any one given point in the development project.

UML 2.0, when the diagrams are laid out in a software program such as VisualUML or others, can actually be used to generate working object code. If the business analysts have developed their proficiency enough with UML diagramming software, they can actually construct and output from these programs working java (or other programming language) object code.

In order to obtain this level of integration with application programmers, UML 2.0 had to have more access to a more robust and constrained specification language. The improvements to UML 2.0 include:

1. New base classes that provide the foundation for UML modeling constructs.

2. Object constraint language, a formal method that canbe used to better describe object interactions.

3. An improved diagram meta-model that allows users to model systems from four viewpoints:

a. Static models (e.g., class diagrams)

b. Interaction (e.g., using sequence diagrams)

c. Activity (i.e., to describe the flow of activities within a system)

d. State (i.e., to create FSMs, or Finite State Machines, using state charts)

UML has always been used to not only specify software systems for systems and application programming, but also specification for embedded systems as well. This emphasis on the notion of time and state is evident in the way that sequence diagrams are implemented in UML, and indicates the special considerations that were undertaken to support embedded systems design in the original conception of UML.


Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies, software development, Agile project management, managing software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projects, ecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Quora, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m a PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of several ecommerce and web-based software startups, the latest of which is Tshirtnow.net.

What are the qualities of bad software code? How can you tell if your software project has bad code? July 12, 2011

Posted by Paul Seibert in Agile Software Development, Project Management, Software.
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What are the qualities of bad code? How can you tell if your software project has bad code?

Troubled software projects and bad code are facts of life in the software business. Today’s applications, system software, even embedded and operating systems programming is increasing being outsourced or at least distributed.

The need for being able to quickly evaluate the quality of software code, describe any known issue in simple aterms and then execute on a planned approach to rectify these issues is greater than ever.

A common vocabulary for project teams, refactoring engineers, and project managers and stakeholders is of a fundamental assistance in manageing software development projects.

You may find yourself sitting in a meeting or conference room or perhaps on a conference call with a group of computer programmers who are discussing some sections of code, or if you are particularly unlucky, perhaps an entire application of software development project, that is troubled using some of these below listed terms. After each of these negative, “bad code” terms I have tried to describe what is meant by each of these terms for bad software. After each description, I list the term for the opposite, positive “good code” quality contrary to the bad code quality.

1. Fragility: When changes in the software code cause the system to break in places that have no conceptual relationship to the part that was changed. This is a sign of poor design. The opposite of fragility is known as robustness.

2. Immobility: When the code is hard to resuse. The opposite of immobility is known as re-usability.

3. Needless complexity: When the design is more elaborate than it needs to be. This is sometimes also called “Gold plating”. The opposite of complexity is known as simplicity.

4. Needless repetition: This occurs when cut-and-paste of code segments is used too frequently. The opposite of repetition is known as parsimony.

5. Opacity: When the code is written in such as manner as it is not clear. The opposite of opacity is known as clarity.

6. Rigidity: When the design is hard to change because every time you change something, there are many other changes needed to other parts of the system. The opposite of rigidity is known as flexibility.

7. Viscosity: When it is easier to do the wrong thing, such as a quick and dirty fix, than the right thing. The opposite of viscosity is known as fluidity.

In order for your software development project to feature the opposite, more desirable positive qualities to the ones listed above, your project must exhibit a good software architecture, solid software design, and effective coding practices.

For further reading on this topic, I highly recommend the excellent book by R.C. Martin, “Agile Software Development, Principles, Patterns, and Practices“, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 2002.

Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies, software development, Agile project management, managing software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projects, ecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Quora, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m a Technical PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of several ecommerce and web-based software startups, the latest of which are Twitterminers.com and Tshirtnow.net.

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