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17 March 2010

Requirements Documents in an iPad World

One of the items which I have intermittently struggled with as a BA is how to properly format requirements documents. It has always frustrated me that requirements documents created in a word processor are tied to the default paper size for their country and how spreadsheet requirements documents are tied to no format at all. What I desperately want is an electronic requirements format that is formatted to my screen. When I say 'my screen', I don't mean the monitor on my desk at work, but the screen of whatever device I happen to currently be using to view the document, be that my dual 20" desktop monitors, my Dell laptop monitor, my MacBook Pro or my iPhone.

This article by Craig Mod, about how the iPad could change book layouts, really got me thinking again about requirements documents layouts. Any time I get a chance to speak with new BAs about requirements documents, I always end up spending a large quantity of time discussing how to properly format a document using the built in tools provided by all modern word processing and spreadsheet programs. I do this to 1) save their sanity from the quirky editing rules built into these applications and 2) to ensure their stakeholders sanity when reading these documents.

Why is there not a way for me to simply take text, mock-ups (images), diagrams and matrices (what I consider to be the 4 foundational blocks of requirements documents) and let the requirements application do the formatting for me? How much time would I save this way?

Wouldn't it be great if we could create project artifacts that contain the required business information but without any formatting? Each artifact could then be viewed in whatever format is most appropriate for the device which has opened the artifact. If you're trying to print, all the information rearranges in such a way as to fit the paper size used by your country or geography. If you're trying to view on a mobile device, the graphical content is viewable inline as a reduced quality graphic (so as to shorten the download and rendering process) but can be tapped and zoomed for additional detail. A device like an iPad would allow the textual elements to fill the space of the screen, just like a printed page but using the device's native screen size and still allow for zooming in to view the detail of diagrams and data sheets.

Its not only formatting that could be improved in this new world but also how we manage requirements would change if all project members had a device like the iPad. What if I could shadow a person who has a very mobile job, keeping a Visio-like application open the whole time, dropping in an action box every time they performed a new step in a task? This is something very difficult to manage today with a laptop as when you're moving around a lot, you need someplace to set down the laptop to be able to use it. The iPad simply has less of this type of limitation when it comes to mobile content creation.

I see devices like the iPad being the future of our profession. My laptop is an indispensable tool for me as a BA, but if anyone ever creates a 'killer BA iPad app' like I have described, then I would buy one of these devices in a heartbeat.

What about you? What ways do you see the iPad being useful (or not) in your projects?