Wednesday 6 July 2022
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Writing a Software Requirements Document for Success

Writing a Software Requirements Document for Success

Organizations implement new applications to meet certain needs or to solve problems they are experiencing. The answers for these difficulties can be answered by the functionalities of software they choose to create. To ensure you are creating the right software application for your situation involves aligning requirements with the needs of the organization. Step one is to create a  well defined software requirements document to guide your organization to successfully overcoming challenges.


Overcoming Challenges Requires Brainstorming

The challenges you face can come from anywhere. At first glance, problems might seem simple even though they are more complex below the surface. For example, accounting clerks might be slow in inputting data. You might decide to hire more staff to try to solve your data input problem.  Then you find out it is not the clerk that is the bottleneck it is the functionality of the software, so you might buy a new application only to find that the same bottleneck exists and it is connected to other workflow issues.  This is when you decide that building a software application from the bottom up may be the right course of action, but how? 

This may be the right time to bring all of the stakeholders in for a brainstorming session.  This is the best and most complete way to understand the first step in defining what you will need to ensure that your applications do the work you need.  Requirements documents begin with brainstorming. This requirements gathering should also be done if you seeing an off the shelf product.  For this reason, creating a well defined Software Requirements Document is crucial before you even think about vetting any new software option.

Documenting requirements can be difficult because organizations often are unable to articulate their needs. Thus, the requirements gathering process must include open ended questions that allows users to thoroughly explain their processes. Having the users perform a “show and tell” of their processes is often useful, because documentation of even the smallest of details may have a direct or indirect impact on the issue which adds to the thoroughness of the requirements. This process also helps to ensure accuracy.   

Outlining the Requirements

Compiling the input you gathered during the brainstorming session will allow you to organize the information and prioritize it. This organized document will make it easy to create the framework of your software development product requirements document. This is not the time for you to polish the document, it will be very rough and enough information to get to the point of each requirement.  The key will be to ensure that each point flows logically to the next.

It is inevitable that there will be points that do not fit the flow of your document, this is the time to ask if the task is right for that workflow or if it should be removed or better fits with another part.

Test-ability is a Cornerstone

Also, requirements documentation must follow the solution from the issue to the result in precise details. This means that you need to identify the issue you want to resolve. When you vet software vendors, they must tell you the steps they’ll take to resolve your issues. And, these steps must be added to your requirements document before it is finalized. This technique makes the documentation traceable.  A test script is an example of a traceable document because test scripts identify specific tasks, itemize each step of the resolution and clearly shows if the business need for the task was met.

Software implementation is time consuming and expensive. Such projects hog resources at all levels of an organization, including staffing level and a hefty financial outlay. A clearly defined requirements document helps internal staff come up to speed on testing because it shows exactly what needs to be tested. And, the document can help external consultants because it identifies the processes, thus making consultants aware of quirks that might impact implementation.  

Documenting requirements is not an easy task. The gatherer must be able to speak and actively listen to internal staff who are often busy or have other agendas that conflict with the software implementation.  Further, the gatherer needs to know when to push to get more detailed responses. And when the gatherer documents findings, they must weed out unnecessary information while keeping extremely specific data.


After Gathering and Outlining, Writing is Next

Clearly, writing up detailed requirements after the initial brainstorming is an integral step in software development and implementation process. It must be done well and must be conducted by someone who is knowledgeable in software implementations. They must possess strong interviewing skills and they must be able to discern all requirements that will lead to a successful resolution of the organization’s challenges.

Although you may think that this writing process for this part of the document will take up most of the time, that is not likely.  If you have created a very thorough outline you have most of the work completed.  You know exactly what you want your document to have in it, now you just have to put it in sentence form.  The outline was the first step to putting the project into logical form, writing is the next step.

The more simple the wording the better, and sometimes words may not be as valuable as a picture, graphic or diagram.  Now-a-days a graphic is worth a thousand words. 

Now that you know exactly what you want your document to say, you just have to say it.

Review with a Critical Eye

Now is the time to edit, proof and critically review the document. Many times the draft is good, but after a full review and edit, it is far better.  The last thing you want is for the stakeholders to read you document with grammatical errors and typos making them feel as though you had not taken this project seriously, it may reduce the likelihood of your moving to the development phase of the project.  

Once the first draft is complete, you must go over every written word and graphic with the most critical review. This is the time to reduce the wordiness of the document, paring down the text so it is more concise. 


Stakeholder Review and Consent

Don’t cut any corners on this part of the process, take you time and make it work to ensure you are including the most relevant parts of the project.  The extra sets of eyes is paramount to a successful requirements document gathering, potentially avoiding any disasters in the making.

It is a delicate balance between your stakeholders providing the feedback that you need to strengthen your software requirements document and the time crunch you are likely under to get your project going and completed. Whatever the process you use to get the needed feedback, under no circumstances should you go into a email circle with many versions of the document. It will not be easy to keep version control and may lead to potential risks if all the necessary security is not taken.  

For this reason and many other reasons, time, money, and stress to name a few, it is crucial that you conduct a requirements documentation project well in advance of selecting, developing and implementing a new software solution.

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