The Comfort of Methodology


Ill-specified systems are as common today as they were when we first began to talk about Requirements Engineering twenty or more years ago. Yet the task of creating complete and perfect specifications is not rocket science. We have adequate and comprehensible theories at our disposal for specification of finite state automata. We have proceeded over the past decades to develop and refine a discipline of applying these theories to real-world systems. In our methodological focus, we may have lost sight of some endemic problems that plague not the process but the people who do the process. Is it possible that an engineering approach to requirements is as badly suited to our real need as would be an engineering approach to raising teenagers? I’m beginning to think so . . .

— Tom DeMarco, “Requirements Engineering: Why Aren’t We Better at It?”, 2nd International Conference on Requirements Engineering
Requirements engineering

There are zillions of books on how to raise kids, and I think my wife has read most of them, along with countless magazine articles . . .

In fact, she’s far more open to taking child-rearing advice from books and magazines than she is from me, despite the fact that none of the authors has ever met our kid, and can therefore offer no insight into our particular situation.

But how comforting must it be to think that there’s a “methodology” for raising kids or for building good software — that someone has already solved all the hard problems for us . . . that we don’t have to rely solely on our own judgment to make critical decisions when we have only a limited amount of time, a limited amount of information, and no certain knowledge of the consequences . . .

Thus spoke The Programmer.

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  • Peopleware
    If I could require that everyone in the IT business read one book, this would be it. Tom DeMarco (see above) is one of the co-authors.

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