From Client Briefs to SRS Documents – what you need to consider

Given the intricacies of the software and mobile app development business, it’s not hard for one faulty component to render an entire system unusable. What’s more, pretty much any software or IT related tool is at risk for such malfunction, let alone just software and mobile apps.

So where do the bugs occur, and what can you do to rectify it? Yes, troubleshooting is an integral part of building and maintaining a successful software product, but it’s prudent to nip things in the bud (definitely problems that can be controlled from the beginning, at the very least).

Preventing, and if not, mitigating glitches from the get-go is far more productive both for you and your team, not to forget highly reassuring, budget-friendly and a time-saver in the process. Therefore, it begs all of us to ask the question:

How can you ensure that future problems are alleviated for your software/IT project?

The wrong deliverables constitute a majority of the problems that business owners face. Since the final result fails to meet expectations, it leads to frustration and more often than not, the passage of blame to the software company that executed the project.

As for the software company per se? An unsuccessful outcome coupled with an unsatisfied customer creates a sense of confusion as to where things went wrong, and how they can be resolved. However, a completed project can make troubleshooting far more difficult, than if it had been identified and fixed in its infancy, when the project was still undergoing development.

The disappointment felt by both the client and the agency share a similar source: miscommunication, and misunderstanding. Developing any software product is a highly complex process; even the simplest of systems are vastly complicated. Articulating the functionalities of a software or app that you have envisioned is something that is immensely challenging, especially since it has the likelihood to change in the process. Therefore, deficiencies in communication are highly probable, and subsequently, highly prevalent too amongst software projects of any nature.

So what can you do to prevent the communication gap? As commonplace as they are, communication issues that arise in due course of project management can be eliminated if requirements and objectives are explained clearly.

A Requirement Brief is the breakthrough for enabling smooth communication and better understanding. The key is to know how to prepare one, so that every member involved in the project, be they from the client’s side or the agency’s side, is enlightened on every aspect. As opposed to creating one Requirement Brief that acts as the master document, it’s ideal to create two – one each from the client and agency, in succession.

Since the client is the first source of information for what needs to be developed, the first Requirement Brief out of the two begins from here.

The Client Brief

As the client, you need to ensure that you are giving your development agency all the information they need to create the right software product for your requirements. After all, their objective is to fulfill your objective, and that can only be made possible if they precisely know what you want from your customers.

You can ideally break your brief down to the following stages:

(i) Where you are at currently

Specify your prevailing case scenario, in language that is simple and easy to understand. This helps the agency get an idea of your existing system, and how much improvement is required to reach a required standard or leverage your brand to the position you desire.

(ii) The problems you face

What business pains do you intend to solve? Is it poor customer retention, or do your users find it cumbersome to engage with your brand via digital? Elaborate on all the shortcomings your business faces in this section, so your agency can try and understand what could be done to resolve them.

To make things more comprehensive, you can also include statistics that give an idea about your current situation, as well as the targets you wish to achieve. This way, your problems are quantified and can therefore receive equally quantified solutions. Additionally, this can also serve as KPIs to determine whether the product has been successful, in the long-term.

(iii) What you aspire for your brand through a successful software product

Pin all your objectives here, so that your agency understands exactly how they need to formulate your software product to meet these goals. As mentioned above, elaborating the severity of your business pains through reliable statistics can lead to effective solutions. Data-driven decision-making is at the forefront of presenting intelligent and intuitive systems – something your software product can embrace too.

On the flipside, is there a thing or two that you just wouldn’t want manifesting via your software product? It could be anything from spam to an overly complex interface. These are only examples after all, and depending on your individual business requirements, what you find undesirable may vary. As you are the best advocate for your brand, you would know best – and mentioning these specifics over your Requirement Brief is much recommended, contrary to popular opinion.

Who should prepare the Client Brief?

While C-Suite Executives are definitely well equipped to elaborate on the many needs of a new software product, anybody else working closely towards brand building, such as brand managers, are also ideal for the task. Other persons of competence include Marketing, PR and Communications Officers, as individuals working in these departments are subject matter experts on what the brand presents to its consumer base.

Are there any tips to consider, for writing an efficient Client Brief?

Try to keep your brand as the focal point, by elaborating on where it currently stands and where you aim to take it. There is no need to state how things must be done – this is something your agency should worry about.

The Project Brief

Following the perusal of the Client Brief, a few preliminary one-on-one discussion sessions and an official contract sign-off, it is now time for you, as the agency to begin preparing the Project Brief. Outlining each nuance of the project and how it will be done is the foundation for establishing a successful outcome, as the development team will refer to the Project Brief for guidance time and time again, throughout the duration of the project.

In today’s global offshoring arena, many companies are outsourcing their software product development operations. The industry of software development in Sri Lanka, which is a growing market sector that services leading names around the world, is a prime example. In an environment where tasks are carried out remotely, it is especially important to ascertain stringent project guidelines.

The Project Scope

One of the most important components of the Project Brief, is the Project Scope. It is the Scope that contains the lowdown on all the tasks that need to be carried out on making the product a reality, and how each task needs to be executed.

Who should prepare the Project Scope, and the entire Brief overall? Several factors weigh in to make the Scope (and subsequently, the Brief) clear and concise. While the Client Brief is the primary point of reference which helps determine the constituents of a viable application, involving all stakeholders to pitch in with their expertise provides candid feedback on how to approach every aspect of the project. From user experience personnel to investors, this includes everyone who holds significance towards making this product a reality.

What if changes happen to the Scope, in due course of the project? There’s a high likelihood that changes in what needs to be built, and/or how, can occur. Be they major or minor, they can still cause scope creep (a significant increase in the amount of work that needs to be done in order to complete a task), as well as shifts in budgets and timelines. Therefore it is always wise to have a change management policy in place which, if adhered to, can allow either party to modify the scope lest it doesn’t fall according to what is expected in the final result. Even if this isn’t possible, officiating the changes through writing, along with explicitly stating shifts in budgets and timelines is strongly recommended so that everyone is unanimously acknowledged going forward.

Likewise, this also includes tasks that cannot be executed – transparency is key, after all.

The Software Requirement Specification (SRS)

The SRS is considered to be the standard for creating Project Briefs in the software development industry. In fact, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) has created an SRS template that could be adapted for any kind of software project – although it could be modified, depending on what’s suitable for your business requirements.

While the Project Scope is one of the most important parts of the SRS, it includes other areas of interest that help Project Managers and their respective development teams make sense of what the product requires. Here’s what SRS documents typically contain, on a fundamental level:

- Purpose

This is where the ultimate objective of your software product is stated. At a glance, anyone reading the SRS will be able to understand why this project is being executed in the first place.

- System Overview

This presents a succinct yet cohesive description of your project. It also states every system requirement, along with any factors that may influence development.

- Scope

The nuts and bolts of your Project Brief! Examples of system requirements that your Scope may contain include design and hardware specifications, as well as product and user insights. Items to mention in this section are seldom exhaustive, and like always, depend on the individual requirements of the project at hand.

- Functional Requirements

These are the functionalities that your product should perform, once a user generates a command. Sending a code via e-mail following sign-up is one such example.

- Non-Functional Requirements

Unlike Functional Requirements, Non-Functional Requirements are more oriented towards being the actions and/or characteristics which affect the overall quality of the product. For example: page load should happen in 5 seconds or less.

- Testing

Quality assurance is crucial for substantiating whether or not your product is up to par, and therefore suitable to be released for public use. Confirming whether your final product is suitable should also ideally involve user testing, and make any changes along the way if it doesn’t meet expectations. This way, you can ensure whether your product will be accepted by the masses or not.

- Implementation

Should you launch your application in one go, or introduce it gradually to your users? This is best answered depending on the nature of your product, once again; while enterprise software can be launched step-by-step, mobile apps can be introduced as beta versions if you’re looking to test the field through an MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

Summing it all up…

The Requirement Briefs that both clients and agencies create for developing a software or app directly impact the overall success of the final product. Poor communication, or lack thereof, is the major cause of development failures; be it an unusable system, or one that doesn’t meet client and/or user expectations.

Client Briefs and SRS Documents are mediums to explain the what, why, how and when of product requirements. If articulated correctly, Requirement Briefs are a means of reference for every stakeholder involved in the project, to gain guidance that’s factual, constructive and up-to-date.

Of course, there’s no single method of preparing any Requirement Brief. No two projects are identical, even within the same company; owing to the uniqueness of your project, you need to determine what should, and shouldn’t be included – as well as selecting the right person to undertake such an integral task.

While a Requirement Brief sets the standard for the nitty-gritty on what needs to be done in order to make your product a reality, it is still flexible enough to accommodate changes and notify all team members of the same – thereby making it a source of reference that is wonderfully informative and versatile.

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