How do you track existing requirements over time?

Posted by CaptainAwesomePants on Programmers See other posts from Programmers or by CaptainAwesomePants
Published on 2012-03-20T00:47:05Z Indexed on 2012/03/20 5:39 UTC
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I'm a software engineer working on a complex, ongoing website. It has a lot of moving parts and a small team of UI designers and business folks adding new features and tweaking old ones. Over the last year or so, we've added hundreds of interesting little edge cases. Planning, implementing, and testing them is not a problem.

The problem comes later, when we want to refactor or add another new feature. Nobody remembers half of the old features and edge cases from a year ago. When we want to add a new change, we notice that code does all sorts of things in there, and we're not entirely sure which things are intentional requirements and which are meaningless side effects. Did someone last year request that the login token was supposed to only be valid for 30 minutes, or did some programmers just pick a sensible default? Can we change it?

Back when the product was first envisioned, we created some documentation describing how the site worked. Since then we created a few additional documents describing new features, but nobody ever goes back and updates those documents when new features are requested, so the only authoritative documentation is the code itself. But the code provides no justification, no reason for its actions: only the how, never the why.

What do other long-running teams do to keep track of what the requirements were and why?

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