Regular readers of this blog know one of my favorite (some would say repetitive) topics is how organizations shouldn't see technological tools as a panacea. Tools generally can't address all of the people and process issues that are important factors in the success of any project. Still, a good set of tools can help, by making it possible to streamline or automate processes and/or by making it easier for folks to collaborate with each other. Both of those things are especially important when developing software.
Gathering software requirements tends to be a tricky process at best and a deeply flawed one at worst. It's the one area that really makes or breaks a development project. Close communication between business users and developers is a well-known best practice, yet it's one that many organizations struggle to maintain.
Many development teams use basic productivity applications such as spreadsheets for compiling and updating requirements. Darren Levy, CEO of GatherSpace, said products designed specifically for software development, like his company's GatherSpace requirements management tool, facilitate closer communication between business users and developers, largely by enabling a more seamless handoff between business and technical teams.
While static documents like spreadsheets "can get lost in people's inboxes," Levy told me, "GatherSpace promotes a smooth workflow of building, managing and socializing requirements. It also provides a clean traceability matrix to make sure there are no gaps between tech and business requirements."
As a hosted cloud application, GatherSpace also makes it simpler for distributed teams to review requirements, suggest changes and make updates. Teams can rank requirements, assign them to different iterations and prioritize them, all in real time if desired, something that's simply not possible with an offline spreadsheet.
GatherSpace just updated the product, which was introduced in 2009, tweaking the interface to make it more user friendly and streamlining reporting functionality for mobile devices. New features include a requirements search drill down that allows users to quickly view specific and high-priority items, an at-a-glance activity tab for improved collaboration and workflow; and added fields for enhanced importing and exporting of data, including the ability to instantly publish on demand Web-based reports.
Levy said the new features are designed to facilitate higher customer involvement, more accurate requirements capture and more detailed definition. This provides "a solid baseline from which change management can be controlled," he said.
The product supports several of the most popular methods of software development, including agile, waterfall and Ruby on Rails. Levy said it works well for teams using hybrid development methods, an increasingly common practice. Noting that a growing number of business analysts and product managers apply at least some of the concepts of agile development, Levy told me GatherSpace supports ranking requirements and tagging iterations. Since it's delivered via the cloud, he added, GatherSpace can quickly and easily incorporate updates to support different methodologies.
GatherSpace can be purchased on a per-seat basis or as an enterprise license. As Levy mentioned, as with most SaaS products, updates are free to existing users. The company also offers a free 30-day trial.