Data is King for good RM, RE, & CM

I have seen satellites built too heavily, causing the project to add 100 million euro for another launcher. I have seen military cargo planes with turboprops too large, causing structural damage due to electronic mishaps. I have seen electronic harnesses built too short during assembly, causing a major passenger plane project to be delayed by an unknown number of weeks. I have seen military vessels ending up too short after three years in development. I have seen unmanned aircraft projects become obsolete due to regulatory problems. I have seen unmanned aircraft trainers falling out of the sky due to unknown reasons (never released by the authorities). I have seen electric vehicles managing only 80 km on a charge during the winter season despite being driven at 80km/h on average. I have seen functional problems during testing because common requirements are obviously not common enough.

Issues in multimillion dollar projects have a great number of sources, but it often comes down to poorly-managed requirements. Hence, to get great products of the ground or follow up with an existing product, a number of parameters have to align. To build on an already existing success, you have to include a couple disciplines and rules. Early Requirements Management (RM) and experienced Change Management (CM) are key for ongoing success.

After the successful launch of a great product, developing an even greater successor relies on good Requirements Engineering (RE) practices, embracing changes in competitive conditions and the supplying vendors’ performance. A simple example might sound familiar to you. Your sales team has just arrived back home with news about their meeting with a new or familiar client. He immediately starts to disclose ideas that his technical background and expertise allows him to understand the technical implications when the salesperson adds how important it is to meet customer satisfaction and expectations.

A better product than last time, but how? What are the necessary steps to follow up and improve on an already successful product? That is what I am going to discuss now. I have worked as a systems engineer for several companies, including Airbus, Mercedes and BMW. I have seen what RE, RM and CM look like in a large enterprise’s environment, and I believe we are just at the beginning of a better product development process (or as others call it, Product Lifecycle Management).

Controlling the design process in current engineering environments requires great coordination, collaboration and information exchange that is almost impossible with today’s technologies. It involves many different perspectives and research involving executives, sales, clients and engineers. The process itself has means to improve on an existing product or to develop a new idea to target a particular market segment or segments.

In order for the product to evolve as planned, it is crucial for large entities to produce documents for design, architecture, implementation, integration and testing. The central role is held by the project engineer and/or manager who’s in charge to keep the project within its economic boundaries.

There are several patterns on how to incrementally or iteratively manage a product’s life cycle. Along with the RM and CM processes, it might be imperative to observe a modular design or your group’s standard depending on how sophisticated your company already is. A modern approach facilitates well-tested components in order to comply with well-tested standards. All of this is an essential part of a company’s success.

Datamining as a tool for product development

Assume a product exists and the company already has a foundation to start from using framework conditions. The first step would be to understand how this product was built in the first place. Going through available documentation is vital for an efficient start. Source code, architecture models, handbooks, product fliers, maintenance, testing, quality reports and old personnel who have been involved with the project are an invaluable knowledge base. Treat them like that. Lessons learned are very good resources, too, but experience has shown that corporations don’t usually take the time to do it themselves. They leave it up to consultants, who may not be available by the time development is about to start, or they don’t gather them at all.

External resources such as papers, questionnaires or publicly available user recessions are, if available, also a great place to start. It’s highly likely they don’t exist or they are really hard to find. If all those efforts lead to even more questions, it might be time to go into more detail using common methods such as SysML or reverse engineering. SysML is a systematic approach adapted from the software engineering discipline. If done properly, you are most likely to find your system’s boundaries as well as your interface to other systems.

There are a number of ways to obtain reliable information to build a successor product. That means it’s even more important to include that into your project timeline. But not only that, an ongoing systems analysis prevents problems from becoming unresolvable when properly executed. It seems like a lot of work, but it is necessary when a product’s scale and change is an ongoing piece of your project. All this information has to be accessible to all project stakeholders with update mechanisms at all times.

Change

To incorporate change and improved performance, the requirements engineer’s job is:

  • to make sure that, most of all, requirements are documented
  • the requirements don’t interfere with one other
  • the requirements compliment with standards and business rules
  • the requirements are within budget
  • the requirements are discussed with all necessary stakeholders

CM takes care of properly executed improvements during the product’s lifecycle. What’s really critical when RE and sales identify “showstoppers” and/or opportunities. Those have to be addressed. Project management and RE are also in charge to make sure a minimum viable product will be on track and on budget. All this information has to be found throughout the development process and included in all decisions.

Requirements are one stepping stone to a successful product or its successor with an RE who is in charge to understand conflicting requirements of various stakeholders, analyze, document, validate and manage software or system requirements. As important as good requirements are, it’s equally important to make sure all requirements are safely stored and linked with a unique point of truth. This is possible with software tailored to your needs.

Combine and integrate new components

Along with the planned requirements, CM has to securely integrate the innovation the market requires. However, if the rules are too strict, you’ll end up working too slow. On the contrary, if the rules are loose and flawed with gaps, you’ll end up creating other expensive problems throughout the product development process. The latter can be mitigated by introducing the proper tools and teams responsible for design and implementation, in addition to measures concerning quality, configuration, reviews and risk assessment.

Change lies within the nature of things and has to be embraced as such. Applied with the proper means, product development can be much quicker and more secure after properly installed. With a much quicker and safer output, products will become more proficient and your company will satisfy its clients needs much more efficiently.