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NFRs And QARs

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:

QAR

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.

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