How To Create A Good Software Project Specification
A big lover of cats, books and American football!
Many business owners at startups and SMBs don’t know how to put together a good software project requirements specification, which leads to the delayed response from a potential service provider or even the wrong software development strategy chosen. Surprisingly, they tend to overlook the importance of a good technical requirements spec and end up paying substantial costs for making the necessary tweaks at the final development stages.
How do you create a software project spec that any 3rd party developer will be happy to receive and process?
Before we proceed with hands-on instruction, let’s define what a good software requirement specification (SRS) is and why it matters.
Before you hire software developers for your project, you probably know what you want your software to accomplish and what features you want it to have. A good SRS describes the tasks you want it to perform in utmost detail and gives your development team clear and concrete guidelines as to what specifically they should do. Should any disputes break out during the development process, a well-written SRS will give you something to fall back on. It will also serve as the source for estimating project cost and a timeline for design, deployment, and development.
In a nutshell, a good SRS should:
- Include all your requirements, as well as the demands of other stakeholders;
- Describe the functional and non-functional elements of your future software;
- List the software interactive features and how you expect them to help the end users.
So what’s a common structure of a good spec?
There’s actually an international standard for software specification requirements, established by The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association (IEEE-SA). The template includes an introduction, an overall description, specific requirements, as well as supporting information. The spec structure based on IEEE template includes performance, data and UI requirements, the outline of desired functions, features and constraints as well as release plans and priorities.
At 8allocate, we have developed our own guidelines for a great project specification, which, ideally, should answer the following questions:
- Purpose of the system being developed, its main workflow and business goals;
- Stakeholders description – who is using the system or is affected by the system;
- Use cases or user stories. Ideally, possible errors or faults should also be described, as well as the way the system should handle them [A VERY IMPORTANT PART!];
- Main algorithms or ideas to be used or developed;
- Design sketches or mockups/wireframes/blueprints / UX/UI guidelines, or references/examples;
- Quantitative information about users, transactions, amount of data, website visitors, active users;
- Technical requirements;
- Production Environment and target platforms description;
- Security and protection and data protection requirements, if applicable;
- Non-functional requirements;
- Any other relevant information.
Answering these question extensively will require time and effort, and if it’s the first time you’re trying to spec out a software project, you surely need guidelines.
What steps should you take to build a “killer” technical requirements spec?
1) Have a sample template at hand
A template is necessary to guide you through a complex technical writing process. You can use the 12 step template outlined above or any other templates available online in free sources.
2) Make sure all stakeholders provide their requirements
To simplify your task, prepare a questionnaire that would spill light on their expectations, the problems they expect the new software to solve, what data they want it to collect and what processes they want to automate. You can find a good example of such a questionnaire here.
3) Assign a technical writer to put together a specification
Although, in essence, an SRS is a product of collective thought based on the contribution of all the stakeholders, it is general practice to trust the writing job to a technical writer. This will give your SRS consistency and clarity.
At 8allocate, we help any prospective client put together the most comprehensive project specification during an interactive workshop between product owner(s) and our PMs and BAs. Do you need help with yours? Send us your request now!
The document you will eventually get will be a combination of a narrative and technical details that will guide the development team as they work on your software project. Add graphics, diagrams, charts or other visual aids that you think will be helpful.
4) Validate your SRS
Make sure your final document includes everything you wanted it to convey; most importantly, that the listed requirements match the purpose of your future software.
As simple as it may sound, writing an SRS is not an easy task. It requires considerable input from all parties involved, and will usually undergo lots of updates and improvements. Yet, writing a “killer spec” is totally worth the effort. Here’s why.
Putting together an SRS is a time-consuming task, but by facilitating the development process it, ultimately, reduces time to market. In today’s competitive environment early application release is a substantial competitive advantage.
No one likes last-minute tweaks, and when it comes to software projects, changes are also extremely difficult to implement at the last stages. The overall development costs will increase and fall on your shoulders. A well-written SRS will save you not only time but also budget.
At the final development stage, a project specification will give validation team clear guidelines as to expected software functions. This will be your solid contribution to your application usability and ensure the satisfaction of end users.
If it’s the first time you are creating a software development spec, by now, you should know how to approach this complex, but by all means rewarding task. It will take some time before you start creating technical requirement specifications like a pro, but you can rest assured the time you spend will eventually translate into the seamless production process, reasonable project costs and high software quality.