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Prototyping

Prototyping is commonly a means for validating the software engineer’s interpretation of the software requirements, as well as for eliciting new requirements. As with elicitation, there is a range of prototyping techniques and a number of points in the process where prototype validation may be appropriate. The advantage of prototypes is that they can make it easier to interpret the software engineer’s assumptions and, where needed, give useful feedback on why they are wrong. For example, the dynamic behavior of a user interface can be better understood through an animated prototype than through textual description or graphical models. There are also disadvantages, however. These include the danger of users’ attention being distracted from the core underlying functionality by cosmetic issues or quality problems with the prototype. For this reason, several people recommend prototypes which avoid software, such as flip-chart-based mockups. Prototypes may be costly to develop. However, if they avoid the wastage of resources caused by trying to satisfy erroneous requirements, their cost can be more easily justified.

Model validation

It is typically necessary to validate the quality of the models developed during analysis. For example, in object models, it is useful to perform a static analysis to verify that communication paths exist between objects which, in the stakeholders’ domain, exchange data. If formal specification notations are used, it is possible to use formal reasoning to prove specification properties.

Acceptance tests

An essential property of a software requirement is that it should be possible to validate that the finished product satisfies it. Requirements which cannot be validated are really just “wishes.” An important task is therefore planning how to verify each requirement. In most cases, designing acceptance tests does this.

Identifying and designing acceptance tests may be difficult for non-functional requirements. To be validated, they must first be analyzed to the point where they can be expressed quantitatively.

Practical considerations

The first level of decomposition of subareas presented in this KA may seem to describe a linear sequence of activities. This is a simplified view of the process.

The requirements process spans the whole software life cycle. Change management and the maintenance of the requirements in a state which accurately mirrors the software to be built, or that has been built, are key to the success of the software engineering process.

Not every organization has a culture of documenting and managing requirements. It is frequent in dynamic start-up companies, driven by a strong “product vision” and limited resources, to view requirements documentation as an unnecessary overhead. Most often, however, as these companies expand, as their customer base grows, and as their product starts to evolve, they discover that they need to recover the requirements that motivated product features in order to assess the impact of proposed changes. Hence, requirements documentation and change management are key to the success of any requirements process.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Software engineering. OpenStax CNX. Jul 29, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10790/1.1
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