Positive Omission statements
I started writing this as an offshoot from a series of articles that I am putting together and it doesnít fit with what I am writing, so rather than throw it away, I thought I would post it here. It isnít long enough for a full blown article but, you may say, is too long for a post. If you get bored, stop reading!
One of the things that frustrates me about reading and reviewing documents is that I donít know how the document was put together. By this, I mean what did the author do to create the document? Did the author take the template, remove the guidance notes and then start writing? Did the author take the template, read the guidance notes and apply those notes to the document? Did the author take a previous document of the same type and modify it to reflect their project? Did the author start with a blank screen, write the words and then apply them to a template? Do something else altogether?
How the document is created is important to me, as it helps me to focus my limited review time on the areas that are likely to have the serious defects. I want to know what is NOT in the document as much as what is.
A template, by its very nature, will have a long list of sections to be filled in, some of these will not be appropriate for the project. Most people delete those sections. This gives two problems:
1) I, as the reviewer, do not know why they deleted them (if, indeed, I notice that they have been deleted.)
2) If someone then modifies that document, or uses it as the basis for their new document, they may not realise that a section has been removed that might be relevant to them.
This latter has an additional problem in that any guidance notes in the template will have been removed, and the new author may not know what should be in there.
I have, for some years now, encouraged the use of Positive Omission statements within documents. A Positive Omission statement is put in where a section of the document is not useful/appropriate for this project. Rather than just delete the section, a short explanation of why that section is not necessary is put in. The benefits of such a statement are:
- I know that the section been deliberately ďomittedĒ rather than just forgotten. This saves me time as a reviewer because a) I donít have to think about why it might be omitted and b) I donít have to write a defect report stating it has been omitted.
- I can review the reasons for omission. I might disagree, other reviewers might disagree. There might be something the author has missed and the section should be completed.
- I have a better understanding of how the document was put together and the thought processes that went into it. If someone has thought about what should and should not be included, I have a higher level of confidence in the document.
- I have a higher level of confidence in my review. I am less concerned that I might have missed something important, I need to spend less time looking for what is missing.
Reviews/Inspections take time, they eat effort and they eat elapsed time. I have found that by using Positive Omission statements, reviews are more effective and more efficient. The effort involved by the author is more than outweighed by the reduced effort by the reviewers. The end result is a better quality document.