Posts Tagged ‘Non-functional requirement’


December 26, 2014 Leave a comment

At the first level of decomposition, a software requirement can be classified as either “functional” or “non-functional“. A functional requirement (FR) specifies a value-added behavior/capability/property that the software system must exhibit during runtime in order for it to be deemed acceptable by its customers and users. A non-functional requirement (NFR) specifies how well one or more behaviors/capabilities/properties must perform.

Req Breakdown

Unlike FRs, which are nominally local, fine-grained, and verifiable early in the project, NFRs are typically global, coarse-grained, and unverifiable until a considerable portion of the system has been developed. Also, unlike FRs, NFRs often have cold, hard-to-meet, numbers associated with them:

  • The system shall provide a response to any user request under a full peak load of 1000 requests per second within 100 milliseconds. (throughput, latency NFRs)
  • The system shall be available for use 99.9999 percent of the time. (availability NFR)
  • The system shall transition from the not-ready to ready within 5 seconds. (Domain-specific Performance NFR)
  • The system shall be repairable by a trained technician within 10 minutes of the detection and localization of a critical fault. (Maintainability NFR)
  • The system shall be capable of simultaneously tracking 1000 targets in a clutter-dominated environment. (Domain-specific Performance NFR)
  • The system shall detect an air-breathing target with radar cross-section of 1 sq. meter at a range of 200 miles with a probability of 90 percent. (Domain-specific Performance NFR)
  • The system shall produce range estimates within 5 meters of the true target position. (Domain-specific Performance NFR)
  • The system shall provide TCP/IP, HTTP, CORBA, and DDS protocol support for interfacing with external systems. (Interoperability NFR)

During front-end system conception, NFRs are notoriously underspecified – if they’re formally specified at all. And yet, unlike many functional requirements, the failure to satisfy a single NFR can torpedo the whole effort and cause much downstream, career-ending, mischief after a considerable investment has been sunk into the development effort.

Since extra cross-cutting functionality (and extra hardware) must often be integrated into a system architecture (from the start) to satisfy one or more explicit/implicit NFRs, the term “non-functional requirement” is often a misnomer. Thus, as the SEI folks have stated, “Quality Attribute Requirement” (QAR) is a much more fitting term to specify the “how-well-a-system-must-perform” traits:


As the figure below illustrates, the “QARization” of a system can substantially increase its design and development costs. In addition, since the value added from weaving in any extra QAR software and hardware is mostly hidden under the covers to users and only becomes visible when the system gets stressed during operation, QARs are often (purposely?) neglected by financial sponsors, customers, users, AND developers. Stakeholders typically want the benefits without having to formally specify the details or having to pay the development and testing costs.

Before And After QAR

It’s sad, but like Rodney Dangerfield, QARs get no respect.

Unobservable, Uncontrollable

September 11, 2013 4 comments

Piggybacking on yesterday’s BS post, let’s explore (and make stuff up about) a couple of important control system “ilities“: observability and controllability.

First, let’s look at a fully functional control system:

Intact CS

As long as the (commands -> actions -> CQs -> perceptions) loop of “consciousness” remains intact, the system’s decision maker(s) enjoy the luxury of being able to “control the means of production“. Whether this execution of control is effective or ineffective is in the eye of the beholder.

As the figure below illustrates, the capability of decision-makers to control and/or observe the functioning of the production system can be foiled by slicing through its loop of “consciousness” at numerous points in the system.

observe control

From the perspective of the production system, simply ignoring or misinterpreting the non-physical actions imposed on it by the actuators will severely degrade the decision maker’s ability to control the system. By withholding or distorting the state of the important “controlled quantities” crucial for effective decision making, the production system can thwart the ability of the decision maker(s) to observe and assess whether the goal is being sought after.

In systems where the functions of the components are performed by human beings, observability and controllability get compromised all the time. The level at which these “ilities” are purposefully degraded is closely related to how fair and just the decision makers are perceived to be in the minds of the system’s sensors, actuators, and (especially the) producers.

Scrummin’ For The Ilities

August 30, 2013 2 comments

Whoo hoo! The product owner has funded our project and we’ve spring-loaded our backlog with user stories. We’re off struttin’ and scrummin’ our way to success:

US Backlog

But wait! Where are the “ilities” and the other non-functional product requirements? They’re not in your backlog?

ilities backlog

Uh, we don’t do “ilities“. It’s not agile, it’s BDUF (Big Design Up Front). We no need no stinkin’ arkitects cuz we’re all arkitects. Don’t worry. These “ilities” thingies will gloriously emerge from the future as we implement our user stories and deliver working increments every two weeks – until they stop working.

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