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Planguage for Requirements

Quality Tools > Tools of the Trade > Planguage for Requirements

 

One of the most common reasons that projects fail is confusion over what is really wanted. This typically starts in the requirements phase, where what is needed should be clearly defined, but seldom is. Weak requirements lead to propagated error with specifications, designs and build that do not really meet original customer needs.

A second, related problem that follows from the first is creeping requirements. Customers changing their minds and changing the requirements is much easier when the requirements are not clear. If you have a precise definition of what is needed, then it is easier to control.

A good tool for addressing this is provided by Tom Gilb in his book ‘Competitive Engineering’. ‘Planguage’ stands for ‘planning language’ and is simpler than it sounds. The basic principle is to use a set of closely defined identifiers (‘tags’) to describe and quantify specific elements of the requirements.

Here is a simple partial example of using Planguage:

 

PLAN [01-Sep 2012]: Full product release
GIST : Develop XYZ product ready for product release
STAKEHOLDER [planning, final signoff]: Product Quality Manager
AUTHORITY [final signoff]: Marketing Manager
METER [Product]: Signed off acceptance by <those with final signoff>
MUST [01-Sep 2012]: Partial product release
WISH [01-Aug 2012]: Full product release

 

The format as can be seen is:

  • One element per line

  • Keyword ‘tag’ in capitals

  • Tag qualifiers in [square brackets]

  • Further description after colon :

  • <angle brackets enclose fuzzy items that may need improving>

There is somewhat more in Planguage, although much can be done with relatively few keywords, as shown in the table below.

 

GIST

A short description to help understanding

PLAN

The level at which success can be claimed

SCALE

The scale of measurement used to quantify the statement

METER

The process or device used to measure using the SCALE

MUST

The minimum level required to avoid failure 

STRETCH

The best if everything goes perfectly

WISH

A desirable level of achievement

RECORD

The best-known achievement 

PAST

Previous results that may be used for comparison 

TREND

A set of historical data or extrapolation of this

STAKEHOLDER 

A person or organisation materially affected

AUTHORITY

The person, group or level of authorization allocated

DEFINED

The official definition of a term

 

A requirements document will often need more narrative than is provided by a Planguage format, though this approach is very good for definitive descriptions in the parts that need close attention (which is often more than is realised). It is also useful in legal documents such as contracts and proposals where people may be held to account for specific items.

The critical principle of Planguage is precision. It forces you to think carefully and define everything. It is also a good facilitation tool with which you can sit down with others and work through their ideas and requirements. Most of all, it gives you a definitive document that will lead to a higher quality, on-time product.

The Planguage Concept Glossary can be found here: http://www.gilb.com/tiki-page.php?pageName=Competitive-Engineering-Glossary

 

Next time: Quality Cost Audit

 

This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Chartered Quality Institute

 

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