Subtitle: It’s not easy being green
The theme for IEEE’s RE08 conference is “Requirements engineering for a sustainable world”. The obvious topics that relate to this theme are about how we gather requirements for projects that are targeted at being “green”. However, I decided to look at the problem from a different viewpoint. I was curious about how we can reduce our impact on the environment when eliciting, documenting and reviewing requirements.
The two areas that jumped out at me were:
- Reduce the amount of paper we use
- Reduce the amount of travel we do, particularly on airplanes
Today’s post focuses on the paper reduction and my next post will cover the travel aspects.
The first suggestion for greener requirements processes is to reduce the use of paper. It has been my experience that people print more “stuff” for requirements activities than for most other parts of the software development process. My initial thought is that we print so much because we need to see things next to each other that do not fit nicely on a screen. For example, we like to quickly flip between pages of text, look at large diagrams of a system, and draw on documents. A document is inherently linear in its organization. If requirements relate to multiple sections of the document, it’s hard to switch between non-adjacent sections. And, for whatever reason, it’s easier to read some things on paper than on a screen. A few immediate solutions come to mind around software and hardware tools.
A well-designed requirements tool that is widely adopted in an organization (over using Word and Excel) would reduce a lot of the need to print requirements documents. Ideally, a requirements management tool would manage text requirements and associated diagrams and allow you to link objects at any level, quickly and intuitively. Unfortunately, the requirements tools offered to date are not solving this problem well.
Bigger Viewing Areas
I recently increased the size of the monitor on my home computer. It’s amazing how useful the increased size is for working on large volumes of information, simply because I can view more items at once. Potentially, we could use larger LCD monitors in our primary working spaces. This would require less flipping around within documents and reduce the urge to print everything out.
I sometimes see people print documents to bring to meetings to read once or share with others. The first obvious solution to this problem is to ensure the people creating requirements have laptops. Secondly, we need projectors to easily share information with others. I’d like to see a projection option built into a laptop so we can avoid lugging projectors around. Imagine you could run to someone’s desk and just project onto their wall without any setup. A final suggestion here is to use tablet PCs. I have no personal experience with them but, if they allowed us to easily sketch diagrams, move things around on the screen quickly, and jot notes on existing documents, tablets could be easier to use than the current common solutions (and require less paper of course!).
When there is no option other than hand-writing and drawing things, we should use whiteboards as much as possible (ideally scanning ones that can capture your work electronically). We could also use sticky flip-chart paper that is reusable like a whiteboard. Heck, maybe even use reusable whiteboard-style sticky notes!
Disclaimer: There are some obvious assumptions here around the technologies being more energy efficient than the resources used in paper waste.
Take-away question: Notice every time you print something in the next week. Why did you need to print it? Post your realizations here.