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					                  Editor: Neil Maiden
                                              requirements  n   City University London                  n   n . a . m . m a i d e n @ c i t y. a c . u k

Oi, Analyst—You’re Barred!
                                              Neil Maiden

                                                       kay, so it’s a little melodramatic, but can      what requirements analyst certification means,
                                                       we actually bar people from being re-            I began to spot potential problems and risks that
                                                       quirements analysts? Can we tell them            provide possible cases against certification, includ-
                                                       that they don’t have the necessary knowl-        ing the perception of dumbing down, the impor-
                                                       edge, skills, or even prerequisites to be        tance of domain knowledge, and the finer details of
                                                       good analysts?                                   determining certification.
                                                  You might wonder what I’m going on about,
                                              what’s vexing me: it’s the certification of require-      Are We Dumbing Down?
                                              ments analysts. In a previous column, I invited           As Barbara’s column reported, attempts to stan-
                                              Barbara Paech to write about this topic because I         dardize definitions, tasks, and roles led to some
                                              was interested in her case for it.1 We weren’t inun-      disagreements among team members. This isn’t
                                              dated with letters from Software readers opposed          surprising, given the breadth and complexity of
                                              to the idea, but some of her arguments didn’t con-        many requirements activities. But I wonder if the
                                              vince me. And in talking to colleagues, I found           only way to achieve widespread agreement is by fo-
                                              others were equally unconvinced. In this column, I        cusing on a relatively small set of tasks and roles. If
                                              put forward some cases against the certification of       so, the community could perceive this as dumbing
                                              requirements analysts.                                    down because it focuses on what the community,
                                                                                                        collectively, already knows. It therefore offers less
                                              The Case for Certification                                to the community and appears to avoid the bigger
                                              To avoid making you rummage through back cop-             challenges that the community faces. Surely re-
                                              ies of Software, let me summarize Barbara’s argu-         quirements work is more diverse than this.
                                              ment in favor of certification. Barbara is a member
                                              of a team of experts that seeks to define require-        What About the Domain?
                                              ments analysts—their responsibilities, the tasks          In my experience, one size doesn’t fit all. Don’t
                                              they should undertake, common techniques to un-           different requirements projects require different
                                              dertake these tasks, and the skills needed to un-         skills? If you were a project manager delivering
                                              dertake them. To enable standardization in what a         a requirements specification for an embedded,
                                              requirements analyst is and does, the team has es-        safety-critical system, would you want to use an-
                                              tablished a common vocabulary for talking about           alysts with experience in acquiring requirements
                                              tasks, techniques, skills, and roles. It has also cre-    for marketing Web sites?
                                              ated a syllabus and examinations for certifying such          The assumptions underlying this certification
                                              analysts, with the goal being that a certified require-   process contradict existing research into require-
                                              ments analyst should know important terms and             ments activities. For example, a classic study re-
                                              techniques and be able to apply them to examples.         vealed that domain knowledge was more critical
                                                  Barbara and her team are part of the Interna-         to good analyst performance than skills or tasks
                                              tional Requirements Engineering Board (IREB;              performed.2 Individual performance was a combi-
                                     which owns and licenses re-       nation of motivation, aptitude, and experience, the
                                              quirements certification exams that organizations         latter of which was acquired on the job. Specifica-
                                              can offer.                                                tion mistakes often occurred when people didn’t
                                                                                                        have sufficient application knowledge to interpret
                                              Possible Cases Against                                    customers’ intentions. Exceptional individuals in
                                              So what’s my objection? Perhaps I’m overreacting;         projects stood out due to superior application do-
                                              maybe all of this certification is innocuous.             main knowledge, which they used to inform their
                                                 Or maybe it’s not—once I started to delve into         requirements and design activities.

0 74 0 -74 5 9 / 0 9 / $ 2 6 . 0 0 © 2 0 0 9 I E E E                                                                    November/December 2009 I E E E S O F T W A R E   13

   So if, as this classic study suggests, do-                          n You can investigate some procedural                    portant communication, analysis, negotia-
main knowledge is so important, why not                                  knowledge by asking analysts to un-                    tion, and presentation skills.
certify domain expertise for use in differ-                              dertake simple tasks: “Write a short                       In her column, Barbara suggested that
ent applications instead of analyst skills?                              use case.”                                             certification could help managers select
                                                                       n You can investigate some synthesis of                  analysts most suitable for the work. This
How to Certify?                                                          this knowledge by asking analysts to                   might be very useful, but is this the thin
Barbara and her colleagues proposed to                                   combine and apply what they know to                    end of the wedge? In the future, will we
certify analysts via examinations, but can                               new but still limited problems.                        exclude analysts from projects simply be-
we really investigate an analyst’s knowl-                                                                                       cause they didn’t pass an unrepresenta-
edge and skills this way? Are we prepared                             However, exam conditions don’t let you                    tive exam on a certain day, in spite of their
to say that requirements analysts are certi-                          test requirements skills such as acquiring,               wealth of experience and knowledge?
fied because they’re good at passing exams?                           communicating, and negotiating require-                   What should these decertified analysts do?
    Academics have been grappling with                                ments that necessitate collaboration with                 Find another career?
how to evaluate requirements knowledge                                other people. And you can’t investigate                       Finally, exactly who should appoint
and skills for some time, and the answers                             how an analyst deals with the scale of                    and certify the certifiers? If you dig a lit-
aren’t simple. Writing answers in an ex-                              most requirements problems in a two-hour                  tle deeper, you find that certifiers are of-
amination limits the types of knowledge                               exam. Some universities have recognized                   ten self-appointed (this was the case with
you can evaluate:                                                     this problem and moved to more sophis-                    Barbara and her team). What’s the real
                                                                      ticated but time-consuming approaches                     agenda behind certification? Might it be
 n You can investigate declarative                                    to examining requirements skills. One ap-                 to entice analysts to a certifier’s training
   knowledge by asking what analysts                                  proach involves months of team project                    courses and consulting services or to sell
   know: “Give one published definition                               work to produce specifications; such work                 books? It sounds cynical, but certification
   of a use case.”                                                    lets students practice and demonstrate im-                merits a healthy dose of skepticism.

                                                                                                                                    o what can we do? I took some inspira-
     Oh, Neil—What a Crooked Picture!                                                                                               tion from Tom DeMarco, who wrote
     Martin Glinz, University of Zurich                                                                                             about certification of IT professionals
                                                                                                                                10 years ago.3 Tom took a strong stance—
     Can we actually bar people who have                              stand with their name and reputation                      he decertified the certifiers. I could be play-
     failed their medical school exams from                           for what they’re providing and nobody                     ful here (after all, I’m this column’s editor)
     becoming physicians? Yes we can.                                 has a monopoly on certification. The                      and decertify the IREB, but I won’t. Such
         You make four points against                                 real problems are how to                                  discussion merely demonstrates what De-
     certification: barring people who fail,                                                                                    Marco reported as a fundamental fact
                                                                      n arrive at a widely agreed-upon
     dumbing down, lack of adequate                                                                                             about certification: it’s inherently capri-
     domain knowledge, and examination                                                                                          cious and subject to all kinds of mischief.3
                                                                      n devise adequate examinations, and
     problems. Taking your arguments to                                                                                             One alternative that’s worked for de-
                                                                      n emphasize the importance of do-
     the extreme, you’re advocating the                                                                                         cades is simply to let project managers
                                                                        main knowledge.
     abolition of any formal examinations                                                                                       decide for themselves which requirements
     and degrees, including university                                    At the International Requirements                     analysts to hire. I vote for trusting our
     degrees. In any formal education                                 Engineering Board (IREB), we’ve worked                    project managers a little more. Encourage
                                                                      hard towards solutions to these prob-                     them to look beyond the certificate at an
     n people failing final exams are
                                                                      lems. We invite you and IEEE Software                     analyst’s real skills, knowledge, and expe-
                                                                      readers to engage in a discussion about                   rience. After all, how can they really man-
     n some dumbing down inevitably
                                                                      our solutions and help improve them.                      age requirements projects if they don’t
       happens when teaching the basics
                                                                          By the way, why do people frame                       know what an analyst can do?
       of a subject,
                                                                      diplomas and certificates and hang
     n only selected domain knowledge
                                                                      them on their walls? Because they want                    References
       can be provided, and
                                                                      to demonstrate their achievements. It’s                    1. B. Paech, “What Is a Requirements Engineer?”
     n assessment is strongly based on                                                                                              IEEE Software, vol. 25, no. 4, 2008, pp.
                                                                      not just about employers demanding
       written exams.                                                                                                               16–17.
                                                                      certificates—people actually want them.                    2. B. Curtis, H. Krasner, and N. Iscoe, “A Field
         So you’re throwing out the baby with                         So let’s provide certification, consciously                   Study of the Software Design Process for
     the bathwater—decertifying certification                         and seriously.                                                Large Systems,” Comm. ACM, vol. 31, no. 11,
                                                                                                                                    1988, pp. 1268–1287.
     or certifiers doesn’t make sense. Let’s                                                                                     3. T. DeMarco, Letter to the Editors, Cutter IT
     address the problems instead. Having                             Martin Glinz is a professor of informatics at the             J., June 1998;
                                                                      University of Zurich, and a member of the International       GuildSite/TDM/certification.html.
     self-assigned certification boards is a                          Requirements Engineering Board. Contact him at glinz@
     nonproblem as long as board members                    
                                                                                                                                Neil Maiden is a professor of systems engineering at City
                                                                                                                                University London. Contact him at

14    IEEE SOFT WARE   w w w. c o m p u t e r. o rg /s o f t w a re

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