This Month’s Pattern *

52 Feature Soup

The product sports a superabundance of piecemeal features, many of which do little to address the customer’s real business needs.

“Beautiful Soup, so rich and green, Waiting in a hot tureen! Who for such dainties would not stoop? Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!” —Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

It starts innocently. One of the marketing staff has a request from a customer to add an extra pull-down menu. Then a requirement arrives to add an export interface to the product, the product manager wants to include a new analysis report, and the DBA asks for another new field in the database and to change the color of the background. All of these requirements, and many more, are passed to the developers for inclusion in the product. The features of the product grow with each addition, but after a while, everyone—marketing, customers, and development—loses sight of how all these pieces fit together and how they help achieve the business goals. The project that once set out with the intention of meeting a specific purpose has instead become an indigestible soup of unconnected features.

The situation becomes soupier because each of the interested parties views the product’s requirements very differently and there is no common, connective thread. Marketing groups each collection of requirements as a marketable feature—not necessarily with any functional cohesion. The developers group the requirements according to the implementation technology they are using. Each customer thinks of the requirements in terms of the individual fragments of his own work. The impact of these unconnected requirements is that nobody has a consistent way to talk about progress or to make decisions about changes. It becomes impossible to make trade-offs in terms of the themes of a product release because there are no coherent themes; instead, the product becomes a bag of miscellaneous tricks.

So, why do so many products end up as feature soup? It starts with the sources of the requirements: people.

People naturally think that their own requirements are the most important. Different locations of the same organization, or different customers, want their own, idiosyncratic features, and it’s no surprise that their demands do not take the overall business integrity of the product into account. That is the job of the analyst.

When piecemeal requirements arrive, the analyst needs to map them to the business processes that they affect. This mapping provides a way to show different people the effects (sometimes surprising) that a proposed change might have on their work. This analysis provides the analyst with the basis for discovering what people really need—and whether a change offers a real benefit or is just another feature tossed into the soup.

Another contributor to feature soup takes the form of designers including a new feature without considering its overall connections with the existing product. Designers should ask, “Is it within the declared scope?” “What are the interfaces with the existing product?” “Does it overlap or confuse anything that already exists?”

Repeated failure to address these issues leads to a product made up of disconnected fragments. The nature of requirements based on disconnected features means that there is no objective definition of what is in or out of scope. Hence, it is easy for extra requirements to seep into the project from a variety of sources—and they do. The more fragmentary the product becomes, the more difficult it is to assess and to make coherent changes; the downward spiral continues.

Organizations that stay out of the soup share a number of characteristics:

  • Project goals and non-goals are defined as crisply and as early as possible.
  • Project scope is declared and kept up-to-date against a precise definition of input and output data (see Pattern 24, “The White Line”).
  • Iron will is exercised in rejecting requirements that do not advance stated goals and fall demonstrably outside the project scope.
  • New requirements follow an approved, traceable change-control process during which they are evaluated against the stated goals of the project.
Avoiding feature soup takes discipline. And it pays to keep in mind that it is you, the project team—not the requestors of piecemeal features— that will be in the soup.

* Each month we plan to publish here one of the patterns from our Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies — Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior. (Watch this space for a mere 86 months and you'll have read the whole thing.) The book is published by Dorset House Publishing, in the US and Hanser Verlag in Germany. It is available at Amazon and also as a Kindle book.


Wellington, Mastering the Requirements Process part 2
24-Nov-2014 to 25-Nov-2014

Suzanne Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process part 2. Details for this advanced class at Software Education.

Wellington, Mastering the Requirements Process
26-Nov-2014 to 28-Nov-2014

The ever popular Mastering the Requirements Process. For details please contact Software Education.  

Melbourne, Mastering the Requirements Process
1-Dec-2014 to 3-Dec-2014

Suzanne Robertson presents Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact Software Education  for details and registration. 

Sydney, Mastering the Requirements Process
1-Dec-2014 to 3-Dec-2014

DeMarco Keynote at OOP Konferenz 2015 in Munich
27-Jan-2015 to 27-Sep-2014

Tom DeMarco gives the keynote at the OOP Konferenz 2015 in Munich, January 29, 2015.

in depth

James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Writing the Right Agile Stories on YouTube. Download the webinar slides.

Suzanne and James Robertson’s article The Requirements Food Chain explores how the originators and consumers of requirements interact with each other as the requirement matures.

Read Tom DeMarco's article from the July/August edition of IEEE Software: Sigil, BlueGriffon, and the Evolving Software Market.

Suzanne Robertson is one of the Agile Experts who discuss the subject of Scrum versus Kanban. The report is published by the Cutter Consortium and they have kindly made it available to readers of our web site. The lead author, Johanna Rothman, sets forth her argument that one is not necessarily better than the other; they are just different and it's up to the organization to figure out which method is best under which circumstance. In response, seven of Cutter's Agile experts discuss their views on Crossing the Agile Divide.

Tom DeMarco's speculative novel, Andronescu's Paradox is now available from Amazon or Nook.  It will be released in German 1Q2015 by Hanser Verlag. 

"This war isn't going to blow anything up, only turn everything off."

Complete Systems Analysis - the Workbook, the Textbook, the Answers by Suzanne Robertson and James Robertson is now in e-book format. It is available as a Kindle book, from InformIT, or you can download a sample chapter.

Tim Lister was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk.
Lister, Keynote at Agile 2013Tim Lister was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk
was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk - See more at:
was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk - See more at:
Tim Lister, Keynote at Agile 2013

Announcing the publication of the third edition of Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister's iconic text, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.  The book is available now from Amazon or directly from Addison Wesley. See press release on Business Wire.

Read Tom DeMarco's essay from the July/August issue of Software Magazine.  It's entitled, Bells, Whistles, Power, and the Requirements Process.

In this podcast James speaks of his experience in the profession of architecture and how it provides inspiration for his work on innovation and creativity. He also discusses the role of the business analyst in agile teams. Listen to the podcast.

There are now seven books by Guild authors available as ebooks, either as Nook Books or as Kindle Books.  

See what all the fuss is about. Tom DeMarco's article in IEEE Software seems to have annoyed practically everyone: "Software Engineering, an idea whose time has come and gone?"

Shane Hastie's interview with the authors and book excerpt: Mastering the Requirements Process on InfoQ.

The preparation course for the IREB "Certified Professional for Requirements Engineering" is now available as video training. Learn at home or any other place. Including questionnaires to prepare you for the multiple choice test.

Mastering the Requirements Process, third edition Getting Requirements Right is now available as a Kindle Book, Nook Book, or in traditional paper.

A Sci-Fi novel from Tom DeMarco: Andronescu’s Paradox.  Could this be the Apocalypse we’ve all been dreading?  Or has the nineteenth century just returned for an encore?  Click to find out.

The Guild's Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies is now available in a Kindle edition.

Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister's perennially popular book Peopleware is now available in a Kindle Edition.

Tom DeMarco provides a video commentary about the Adrenaline Junkies book project. Learn how this Jolt Award-winning book came about.