Hans van Loenhoud
On the right track
Requirements Engineering at Dutch Railways
For quite some time, IREB has promoted a partner program for companies worldwide who value sound requirements engineering and align the qualifications of their employees to IREB’s best practices. One of the largest of these partners is the Requirements Competence Center of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS - Dutch Railways), based in Utrecht, the Netherlands. With almost half of their 180 employees CPRE certified, they certainly deserve the Gold Partner status.
For the RE Magazine, Hans van Loenhoud traveled to Utrecht (of course by train) to find out what drives Dutch Railways in that direction. Two key players of NS tell their story: Jordi Reineman, Agile coach and RE Chapter Lead, and Sven van der Zee, Senior Analyst and associate member of IREB.
Jordi, what’s your background in RE?
Seven years ago, I switched to NS after a career as a consultant at Cap Gemini. At that time, NS started to centralize its IT. Almost everything was outsourced at that time and the various business units relied on very different IT solutions. There was a strong drive for more direction in IT and a new Competence Center Requirements Engineering was founded, where I became the manager. In the next years, we gradually succeeded in our mission and recently we have decided to decentralize RE again to the teams. Nowadays, my prime role is Agile coach. At the same time I’m the chapter lead of the RE professionals in NS. I am responsible for RE training and ‘owner’ of the common RE processes within NS. We are very active in developing our professionals: e.g., we had internal conferences with Ivar Jacobson and Gojko Adzic, and developed our own workshop on specification by example. We have a very vivid RE community in which we share (agile) RE best practices with each other.
And how about you, Sven?
I’ve been working in requirements engineering for more than twenty years, the last four years at NS. Before that, I worked as a consultant, trainer and coach at CIBIT Academy. I switched to NS for a more direct and lasting relationship with the business and the end users. In my department RTSO, I support Agile and DevOps teams that work on travel information and train IT, and coordinate the development of their RE competences. In that role, I’m providing practical help to Jordi with the development of a part of the Requirements Competence Center within NS. I organize regular sessions within RTSO, where we aim at T-shaped professionals with strong RE skills, as they are urgently needed in business critical initiatives.
Why did NS ever start with professional requirements engineering?
In the ‘old days’, NS heavily relied on external consultants for requirements engineering matters. This led to a situation where information on requirements work was fragmented, scattered and poorly documented, impeding development and maintenance. We needed a common language, a common benchmark and found it in the IREB body of knowledge. IREB provides a good foundation for the RE domain and allows us to select and hire professionals with evincible skills.
How did you implement the IREB way of working?
In the beginning, we primarily aimed at the analyst functions and offered them the CPRE Foundation Level training. After the FL, many of them followed Advanced Level courses, where we found the Elicitation and Consolidation training very valuable.
In 2018, NS began a broad transition towards Agile, with the aim of having all development teams working agile in 2020. This Agile transition leads to broadening our target group: RE competences become (even more) relevant for Product Owners, architects, testers, etc. Requirements are no longer fully specified upfront by an analyst, but elaborated in teams through continuous refinement. In most teams, the requirements engineering role isn’t a full time job anymore and we see requirement engineers in teams broadening their skill-set to facilitating, coaching, creating common understanding and test activities. This role provides vision, priorities, conflict resolution and stakeholder management. Requirements engineering is no longer expected to be strictly neutral but rather, as part of the development team, to give direction and offer solutions and as product owner to have a product vision.
In this context and from our point of view today the current Foundation Level is providing less value to our team members, as it is too deep and lacks Agile principles. We need something more lightweight, more aiming at shared understanding and collaboration in teams. Therefore we developed our own Agile RE Manifesto and an ‘RE Cookbook’, that explains how to apply RE techniques in an Agile context.
What results did you get?
First of all, we see a better alignment with the business. IT has a better understanding of the business needs and the business has a better understanding on the capabilities of IT. This leads to a clear view on the added business value of our IT systems. Professional requirements engineering helps us to deliver the right solutions in realizing business goals.
At the same time, it enabled us to develop an active community of professional analysts, that have a strong reputation both inside and outside of NS. We are quite active in networking and sharing our experiences with other organizations and at external conferences. This results in a positive professional profile that helps us in finding and recruiting new colleagues. Also, it enables us to keep in contact with new developments in the fields of business analysis and requirements engineering.
How do you look at the future?
Well, our future will be Agile, very Agile and even more Agile. This means change: continuous adjustment to our changing environment. In our future, we no longer look for individual professional analysts with strong requirements engineering skills; we strive to spread the requirements engineering competencies throughout our teams.
We expect IREB to follow this change, even to lead it. We hope to find more agility in the IREB syllabi, for instance regarding Agile principles on documentation. And we are anxious to learn more about agile techniques like Specification by Example. The new Advanced Level RE@Agile syllabus is a good step in this direction. An update of the Foundation Level, incorporating Agile principles, would help even more!
Thank you very much, both of you! Some famous last words?
IREB, don’t stand still! Adapt the existing certifications to recent changes in the field. If IREB doesn’t continually follow the developments in industry, we fear that the CPRE will become less and less relevant in practice. Pick up the pace of industry in a more agile way in order to help us maximize the added value for our customers and realize the goals of our business! We will be more than happy to support that – as we did in the past.
Hans van Loenhoud MSc is a consultant and teacher at Taraxacum in the Netherlands. He has been working in software development for more than 35 years, starting as a Cobol programmer and later on specialized in test and quality management.
In this role, he has been teaching various ISTQB test courses and has been chair of TestNet, the Dutch association of professional software testers. In recent years, he joined IREB to build a bridge between software testing and requirements engineering. He gives various Business Analysis, Requirements Engineering and Software Testing trainings. Hans is also a lecturer at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences for these topics and participates in the IREB advanced level Elicitation working group.