Conceptual Modeling in Requirements Analysis

Conceptual models are models of entities from the problem domain that are configured to reflect their real-world relationships and dependencies. This section explains several kinds of models that can be developed. This includes data and control flows, state models, event traces, user interactions, object models, data models, and many others. The model must be selected according to the nature of the problem, the expertise of the software engineer, the process requirements of the customer, and the availability of methods and tools.

This topic is concerned with the process of analyzing requirements to

  • Detect and resolve conflicts between requirements
  • Discover the bounds of the software and how it must interact with its environment
  • Elaborate system requirements to derive software requirements

The traditional view of requirements analysis has been that it be reduced to conceptual modeling using one of anumber of analysis methods such as the Structured Analysis and Design Technique (SADT). While conceptual modeling is important, we include the classification of requirements to help inform trade-offs between requirements (requirements classification) and the process of establishing these trade-offs (requirements negotiation).

Care must be taken to describe requirements precisely enough to enable the requirements to be validated, their implementation to be verified, and their costs to be estimated.


Requirements Classification

Requirements can be classified on a number of dimensions:



Figure 3. Requirement types

Other classifications may be appropriate, depending upon the organization's normal practice and the application itself.

There is a strong overlap between requirements classification and requirements attributes.


Conceptual Modeling

The development of models of a real-world problem is key to software requirements analysis. Their purpose is to aid in understanding the problem, rather than to initiate design of the solution. Hence, conceptual models comprise models of entities from the problem domain configured to reflect their real-world relationships and dependencies.

Several kinds of models can be developed. These include data and control flows, state models, event traces, user interactions, object models, data models, and many others. The factors that influence the choice of model include

  • The nature of the problem. Some types of software demand that certain aspects be analyzed particularly rigorously. For example, control flow and state models are likely to be more important for real-time software than for management information software, while it would usually be the opposite for data models.
  • The expertise of the software engineer. It is often more productive to adopt a modeling notation or method with which the software engineer has experience.
  • The process requirements of the customer. Customers may impose their favored notation or method, or prohibit any with which they are unfamiliar. This factor can conflict with the previous factor.
  • The availability of methods and tools. Notations or methods which are poorly supported by training and tools may not achieve widespread acceptance even if they are suited to particular types of problems.

Note that, in almost all cases, it is useful to start by building a model of the software context. The software context provides a connection between the intended software and its external environment. This is crucial to understanding the software's context in its operational environment and to identifying its interfaces with the environment.

The issue of modeling is tightly coupled with that of methods. For practical purposes, a method is a notation (or set of notations) supported by a process which guides the application of the notations. There is little empirical evidence to support claims for the superiority of one notation over another. However, the widespread acceptance of a particular method or notation can lead to beneficial industry-wide pooling of skills and knowledge. This is currently the situation with the UML (Unified Modeling Language).

Formal modeling using notations based on discrete mathematics, and which are traceable to logical reasoning, have made an impact in some specialized domains. These may be imposed by customers or standards or may offer compelling advantages to the analysis of certain critical functions or components.

Two standards provide notations which may be useful in performing conceptual modeling–IEEE Std 1320.1, IDEF0 for functional modeling; and IEEE Std 1320.2, IDEF1X97 (IDEFObject) for information modeling.


Architectural Design and Requirements Allocation

At some point, the architecture of the solution must be derived. Architectural design is the point at which the requirements process overlaps with software or systems design and illustrates how impossible it is to cleanly decouple the two tasks. This topic is closely related to the Software Structure and Architecture subarea in the Software Design KA. In many cases, the software engineer acts as software architect because the process of analyzing and elaborating the requirements demands that the components that will be responsible for satisfying the requirements be identified. This is requirements allocation–the assignment, to components, of the responsibility for satisfying requirements.

Allocation is important to permit detailed analysis of requirements. Hence, for example, once a set of requirements has been allocated to a component, the individual requirements can be further analyzed to discover further requirements on how the component needs to interact with other components in order to satisfy the allocated requirements. In large projects, allocation stimulates a new round of analysis for each subsystem.

Architectural design is closely identified with conceptual modeling. The mapping from real-world domain entities to software components is not always obvious, so architectural design is identified as a separate topic. The requirements of notations and methods are broadly the same for both conceptual modeling and architectural design.


Requirements Negotiation

Another term commonly used for this sub-topic is "conflict resolution". This concerns resolving problems with requirements where conflicts occur between two stakeholders requiring mutually incompatible features, between requirements and resources, or between functional and non-functional requirements. In most cases, it is unwise for the software engineer to make a unilateral decision, and so it becomes necessary to consult with the stakeholder(s) to reach a consensus on an appropriate trade-off. It is often important for contractual reasons that such decisions be traceable back to the customer. We have classified this as a software requirements analysis topic because problems emerge as the result of analysis. However, a strong case can also be made for considering it a requirements validation topic.


Requirements Specification

For most engineering professions, the term "specification" refers to the assignment of numerical values or limits to a product's design goals. Typical physical systems have a relatively small number of such values. Typical software has a large number of requirements, and the emphasis is shared between performing the numerical quantification and managing the complexity of interaction among the large number of requirements. So, in software engineering jargon, "software requirements specification" typically refers to the production of a document, or its electronic equivalent, which can be systematically reviewed, evaluated, and approved.

For complex systems, particularly those involving substantial non-software components, as many as three different types of documents are produced: system definition, system requirements, and software requirements. For simple software products, only the third of these is required.

There are some approaches to requirements specification:

  • Natural language
  • Structured natural language
  • Design description language
  • Requirements specification language
  • Graphical notation
  • Formal specification


Figure 4. Types of requirement document


The System Definition Document

This document (sometimes known as the user requirements document or concept of operations) records the system requirements. It defines the high-level system requirements from the domain perspective. Its readership includes representatives of the system users/customers (marketing may play these roles for market-driven software), so its content must be couched in terms of the domain. The document lists the system requirements along with background information about the overall objectives for the system, its target environment and a statement of the constraints, assumptions, and non-functional requirements. It may include conceptual models designed to illustrate the system context, usage scenarios and the principal domain entities, as well as data, information, and workflows. IEEE Std 1362, Concept of Operations Document, provides advice on the preparation and content of such a document. (IEEE1362-98)


System Requirements Specification

Developers of systems with substantial software and non-software components, a modern airliner, for example, often separate the description of system requirements from the description of software requirements. In this view, system requirements are specified, the software requirements are derived from the system requirements, and then the requirements for the software components are specified. Strictly speaking, system requirements specification is a systems engineering activity and falls outside the scope of this Guide. IEEE Std 1233 is a guide for developing system requirements.


Software Requirements Specification

Software requirements specification establishes the basis for agreement between customers and contractors or suppliers (in market-driven projects, these roles may be played by the marketing and development divisions) on what the software product is to do, as well as what it is not expected to do. For non-technical readers, the software requirements specification document is often accompanied by a software requirements definition document.

Software requirements specification permits a rigorous assessment of requirements before design can begin and reduces later redesign. It should also provide a realistic basis for estimating product costs, risks, and schedules.

Organizations can also use a software requirements specification document to develop their own validation and verification plans more productively.

Software requirements specification provides an informed basis for transferring a software product to new users or new machines. Finally, it can provide a basis for software enhancement.

Software requirements are often written in natural language, but, in software requirements specification, this may be supplemented by formal or semi-formal descriptions. Selection of appropriate notations permits particular requirements and aspects of the software architecture to be described more precisely and concisely than natural language. The general rule is that notations should be used which allow the requirements to be described as precisely as possible. This is particularly crucial for safety-critical and certain other types of dependable software. However, the choice of notation is often constrained by the training, skills and preferences of the document's authors and readers.

A number of quality indicators have been developed which can be used to relate the quality of software requirements specification to other project variables such as cost, acceptance, performance, schedule, reproducibility, etc. Quality indicators for individual software requirements specification statements include imperatives, directives, weak phrases, options, and continuances. Indicators for the entire software requirements specification document include size, readability, specification, depth, and text structure.

Source: Hung Vo,
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Last modified: Tuesday, June 22, 2021, 12:43 PM