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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 Workshop (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 Lattanze, 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.

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