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I'm tasked with the redevelopment of an existing application and ran into the following problem.

The application includes batch processing, e.g. scheduled processes that run on data without user input. Now I have to write the requirements for said processes in an Excel table. As these processes are quite long the requirements become quite unreadable when there are many ways for the process to go. So my question is:

Does anyone have a tip for writing requirements for batch processes?

  • By requirements, do you mean like CPU requirements like RAM, CPU cores, disk space, etc.? In that case, I don't understand why you would need to care about how many different ways a batch process can run. Requirements should cover only the most taxing way these processes can be launched, no more no less. – Neil Jan 28 at 8:44
  • Two thoughts: 1) Divide and conquer. Split the batch processes into high-level steps and write down requirements for those steps. 2) Why Excel? Excel is fantastic for working with tabular data, but sucks at representing structured information. – Hans-Martin Mosner Jan 28 at 9:21
  • @Neil I mean requirements as in requirements engineering. – SittingDough Jan 28 at 9:43
  • @Hans-Martin Mosner unfortunately they use a premade spreadsheet. What do you mean by high level steps? I have a process like if( case a and case b and case d then ...) it isn’t hard to write this in code but it’s hard to format into a requirement and make it readable. – SittingDough Jan 28 at 9:43
  • If they expect you to use that spreadsheet and it's making your work harder than necessary, you might want to mention that to your manager and then do the hard work. If it takes longer to complete, well so be it. You can be thankful that they don't require you to chisel the requirements onto stone slabs :-) – Hans-Martin Mosner Jan 28 at 16:25
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Batch processes usually have some input data, some processing, and some output data. And often these things cover most of the functional requirements of a batch process. So I see nothing which is not easily doable by using Excel:

  • For a good high-level view, I would recommend using data flow diagrams. This gives a good overview about the system's structure and how different processes are dependent on each other (note Excel's drawing capabilities are quite sufficient for this). Data flow diagrams are especially helpful when you have multiple batch processes to describe, or when you have a batch process which can be splitted up into several partial processes.

  • For the description of the processes themselfes, you can use high-level pseudocode, and/or verbal descriptions. You will use Excel as a text editor here, maybe with some formatting options for headlines. It is not the ideal tool for this, but often sufficient. You could also try to draw some activity diagrams with those drawing tools, but in my opinion, these don't give you enough "bang for the buck" - lots of effort to draw them for something which can be described in some pseudocode much quicker, in a much more comprehensive way.

  • You may need to give some representative examples for the input and output data. If this data has tabular structure, that should be a no-brainer in Excel.

Non-functional requirements can be described in a simple two-column table as well: one column for the type of requirement, and one for the spec (like "performance - should not last more than 10 minutes", or "compatibility - must be compilable with C++11 since we have to support older compilers for system XY"). So nothing which cannot be done easily with a spreadsheet.

the requirements become quite unreadable when there are many ways for the process to go

You need to figure out how to break down the processes into smaller, manageable parts, that is one of the main tasks in requirements analysis. This is not a problem a tool can solve for you, neither Excel nor any other tool.

Of course, all of the steps I mentioned can be done in a word processor like MS Word as well, some of them probably better. But if you have serious problems to create a readable in spec in Excel, you will encounter the same problems using Word.

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