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Investing In Requirements

Investing In Requirements

Custom software can be very expensive and scary, but investing in requirements can help you improve the likelihood of success. However, we often want to see things being built rather than simply think about them. That creates two things that fight against each other (get it done or think it through) in many projects. Thus, we must consider early work on requirements and design as an investment. We pay for it in patience, but it saves us in almost every way down the road.

Investing In Requirements Is An Easy Choice

There is so much value in thorough requirements gathering that it seems impossible for anyone to pass over this crucial step. Unfortunately, it is a common problem and one of the reasons many software projects fail. Yes, we want to see “work getting done,” but the only reason that is a problem is because we are not yet seeing the end product. I like to use the analogy of going on a road trip. You are not getting closer to the destination until you start driving. However, if you do not know where you are going or the obstacles on the way, it can be extremely costly. Those that use modern GPS maps or apps like Wayz often are redirected around problem areas and potentially save hours of drive time. That is the same with software development. We are not writing code but investing in requirements, so we have a better idea of the path ahead. That allows for proper estimates and planning.

We Can Adjust As We go

One argument we fall prey to is that we can start building the software and easily adjust as we go. While there is truth in that, and we do not need to know the whole journey in detail, we do need to plan for each stretch. That is what the Agile approach embraces. It takes a bit from both worlds and gets us on the road faster while still ensuring we are planning enough to avoid major issues. When we use the road trip analogy, it is like planning the trip but then being open to adjusting due to construction or traffic delays. However, the key is that we need to know at least some of our path before we start. In a software project, this can be done via high-level requirements and core feature definition. Be warned that is a possible approach, but it can still suffer from wrong turns and proceeding down dead ends.

Back On The Main Road

The discussion of Agile and its strengths and weaknesses is for another article. Let us return to a focus on requirements that applies to any software project. Modern software systems are highly complex. There are tools that can help us to create or generate thousands of lines of code quickly. However, that speed can be just a faster way to create a big mess. I have seen many projects stumble and fall due to this issue. The problem may seem simple, but the details are highly complex.

For example, let’s consider the simplest of problems to solve: keeping contact information for your customers so you can serve them. How hard can it be? There is a name and address and maybe a phone number or email. Oh wait, what if the customer needs a title, or is a company with multiple contacts? What if the billing contact is different from the key decision maker? Do we care if they have bought from us before, or do we track leads? Should we keep notes each time we talk to them? The list goes on and on. A simple problem can quickly become a complex maze of decisions. These can be very costly to make if we have already made a lot of progress on our software journey. Changes can require updates to code the database, the user interface, and even the partners or libraries utilized. Backing up is far more than that BEEP, BEEP, BEEP a large vehicle makes.

How Do We Get The Requirements We Need?

Custom software development is just a way to solve problems on a big scale. Thus, we can use basic problem-solving techniques to guide us in creating a list of requirements that we can be confident in. Here is a short list of questions that you can use to take your requirements definition up to another level.

  • What does this need to do?
  • What does success look like?
  • Who needs to know about task completion?
  • Where can it fail?
  • Who needs to know about a failure, or how do they need to be told?
  • Is there anything else it needs to do?
  • Can any user do it?
  • Does every user experience it the same way?
  • What did we forget?
  • No, really, what else did we forget is a part of this process. Walk through each step as thoroughly as possible.

The above question may not seem like much. However, they are easy to overlook. I have worked on dozens (probably hundreds) of software projects and still need to step back and review these questions each time. We can easily get lost down a rabbit trail and skip a step. A thorough review before building out requirements is a huge step in the right direction.

Play It Back To Me

A good way to ensure clear communication is to have someone repeat back to you what you said in their words. Do the same thing with your requirements. Walk through your problem and the proposed solution using only what is listed in the requirements. This action often brings up more requirements and details than even the last two questions listed above.

Next Steps

Feel free to schedule a time to discuss your next project with us. We are happy to help you with investing in requirements and improving the overall success rate of software projects. Our experience has taught us a lot about the pitfalls and challenges of custom software. Likewise, we have an e-book that can help you explore all the steps in building software, including a few templates. However, we ask that you share an e-mail address so we can send you a copy. We will add you to our monthly newsletter, but you can unsubscribe anytime. Your data is not shared with anyone else. Learn more about our book here.

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