Quality Attribute Workshops: Guidance on how long they take

Jun 10, 2009 | George Fairbanks

I searched around and could not find information on how long a
Quality Attribute

(QAW) should take. My guess was between 1 and 3 days, depending on
the project size, state of the design, and number of stakeholders.

The risk-centric approach I propose isn’t exactly what the Software
Engineering Institute proposes. They tend to be more bureaucratic and
methodical, which makes sense if you’re developing projects like the
electric grid, a fighter jet, or even just software that controls the
brakes in your car. The QAW, however, is one of their lighter-weight
techniques, especially compared to things like the ATAM. My work
assumes you know what the risks are, so the QAW is a nice compliment
in that it describes how to solicit and prioritize quality attributes
from a diverse group of stakeholders.

I asked Tony
, one of the
authors of the QAW, for advice on its duration. Here’s his reply:

Well… as always the answer depends.

First off, I am assuming that you are talking about the latest version
of QAW that we wrote about in the SEI tech report.
We were charted to invent/reinvent a method for getting quality
attribute requirements before any design activities as part of early
requirements report. In this report we intentionally omitted a time
frame. As one of the primary designers of the method (primarily Mario
Barbacci and myself developed the method) – I was adamant about
creating a scalable method that could meet lots of situations – or
that could be instantiated for a variety of situations. The method is
designed to be done in as least one full day and I have conducted a
number of them in one day, however it can scale to multiple days. Here
are two primary extremes that are common:

1) Situation: One set of stakeholders, one location for the
QAW,… big project: Its often impractical to do a one day QAW,.. in
these situations I will break the workshop into two parts – usually
over two days. On the first day (morning-noon) is focus on steps 1-4;
in the afternoon I try to consolidate information by completing steps
5-7. On the second day, I like to focus most of the day on step 8 and
refine the top scenarios. You can spend A LOT of time on step 8. I
always conclude (last 90 minutes or so) by reviewing any action items
and next steps.

2) Situation: Many stakeholders, many locations: What I have done is
conduct multiple one or two day QAWs and then I will consolidate the
results in a final summarized report that I will turn over to some
sponsoring stakeholder.

Its rare for a single QAW to ever exceed 2 days – I find that it is
usually counter productive even on the largest of systems I have
worked on.


George Fairbanks is a software developer, designer, and architect living in New York city


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