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Requirements are still a problem, right?

I was recently writing a paper where I wanted to reference literature that explained how requirements are one of the key failure points in software projects. I was thinking this would be easy – I’d just reference the CHAOS report or some other academic studies.

And intuitively (and experientially), it makes sense to say that all the requirements problems are not solved quite yet! I know I’ve personally seen projects get delayed or deploy the wrong features because of poor requirements. But what surprised me is that I had a really hard time finding recent research indicating scientific results to this end!

Like all of us, I have read the many references to the Standish Group’s CHAOSE report to the top three reasons for project failure being related to requirements. But, I have not read the report myself, as it’s a bit pricey after all. But even if those references are all valid, the CHAOS report is from the mid-90’s (scary thing – that’s over ten years old!). The Standish Group has done updates every few years since 1994, but interestingly, I cannot find many credible sources to validate those CHAOS report updates still reflect that requirements are the top issues.
In my quest to find academic research to support this claim, I once again came up empty-handed on recent research. All of the papers I read as part of my research referenced the exact same set of papers from a long time ago. One paper was from 1976 by Bell and Thayer. It is the generally accepted original work to recognize requirements were an issue (a very interesting read, though clearly not current!). Ralph Young has a nice summary of the existing literature most commonly referenced in Chapter One of Effective Requirements Practices, including work by Boehm in 1981 and Davis in 1995. But again, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything written after the 1990’s.

It’s just very interesting that it seems like requirements are still an issue. And it seems as though the industry and academia accept this as fact. But yet, no one I could find has done a recent study to actually prove this is still the case, or more importantly, to measure what the specific problems are today. In an industry that changes as fast as this one, simply said, it’s really surprised me.

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