Requirements and the Siren Song of Microsoft Office

What is it about Microsoft Office? I’ve been in the requirements management space for over 20 years, and I still shake my head when I run into organizations that use Word and Excel to manage their requirements. In a recent poll, 68% of Serena Software customers said they use Office for requirements management, which is slightly lower than the industry average of 80%.  See complete poll results below.

Why does Office continue to lure organizations?

  • It’s “free”: everyone already has a license on their computer.
  • Easy to use: everyone knows how to use Excel and Word.
  • Extreme flexibility: it’s easy to capture exactly what you want, how you want it with PowerPoint and Visio.

But those strengths are also Office’s biggest problems. Here are just some of the dangers with the Microsoft siren song:

  • It’s not really “free”: I’ve conducted many workshops where companies showed me how Office wasted millions in rework, communication errors, and delays.
  • Ad hoc communication: Communicating requirements is often done via email or SharePoint, and the lack of process often results in wasted workforce productivity.
  • The impact of change: if a customer changes a requirement, how do you communicate that change to all impacted projects?
  • Reinventing the wheel: it’s so hard to find something buried in thousands of Word and Excel documents, so it’s easier to just reinvent instead of reuse.

I continually preach against this insanity that circumvents the basics of a good requirements process, and I’ll continue doing so. If I do it enough, I hope one day that unsuspecting IT organizations will no longer be lured by the call of Microsoft Office’s requirements mediocrity.

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