The Importance of a Requirements Document for Software Projects

When embarking on a software development, mobile app or website project, it’s tempting to dive right into design and implementation without taking the time to thoroughly plan out what you need and want your end result to be. Whether you are about to have a website, mobile app or web app developed, skipping the requirements phase can be a costly mistake.

The Requirements Document

The purpose of writing a requirements document is to capture all the ideas, features, and functionality that you want your software application to have. While it’s common for people to have lots of ideas in their heads, getting them down on paper helps to formalize what you’re trying to build. This process of writing it down helps to identify issues that you might not have thought about. It also helps to ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page.

Throughout my time helping clients develop websites and apps, I have seen dozens of clients realize that not all the stakeholders involved in the project were aligned on what they wanted and needed the software to do. The process of developing the requirements document is a great exercise for ensuring everyone has clear expectations.

A Waterfall Approach to Software Development

The standard waterfall approach to software development involves establishing requirements and then moving on to design, implementation, QA, and deployment. If you find an issue in the requirements phase, it might cost you 1x to fix it. But if you find the same issue in the design phase, it might cost you 10x to fix. And if you find it in the implementation phase, it could cost you 100x to fix. By taking the time to write out your requirements, you can identify potential problems early on in the development process. This is crucial because the earlier you find an issue, the cheaper it is to resolve.

For example, let’s say you decide to support Facebook and Twitter logins in your software, but you forget to check if Twitter has a library for user accounts. If you don’t catch this issue until the implementation phase, you might have to redesign your entire codebase. But if you catch it in the requirements phase, you can simply remove the requirement and move on.

What’s Included in a Requirements Document

A software development requirements document typically includes several key components that provide a clear understanding of the software’s objectives, features, and functionality. At 14 Oranges, we guide all of our clients through the process of developing their requirements document–in fact, I actually think the process of creating it is just as important as the finished document.

As we go through the process, you and your team will learn more about what is most important, less important and not important at all regarding your website or mobile app. Our 14 Oranges team will be able to ask you questions to ensure we take the right approach to development. We can help you weigh the pros and cons of various potential options and help you determine what features and elements will help you meet the objectives you’re looking to achieve through the project.

If you’ve never managed a software development project like a website or mobile app build before, you might be panicking, thinking, “I don’t know what to include in a requirements document!”

But, it’s nothing to panic about. We provide our clients with a framework and help them as they fill it out. Here are some of the most common components of a requirements document:

  • Introduction or Overview: This section provides an overview of the software development project, including its purpose and goals.
  • Stakeholders: This section identifies the stakeholders who will be involved in the project, including the development team, management, and end-users.
  • Glossary: This section outlines the key terminology for various elements of the software. For example, if you were creating a mobile app for teaching basic math concepts, the glossary might include “student”, “supervisor”, and “modules” and provide a definition for each term.
  • Scope: This section defines the boundaries of the project, outlining what is included and what is not included.
  • General requirements: This section outlines the high-level requirements of the software. For example, it may state that the mobile app must be available on iOS versions 14, 15, and 16.
  • Category requirements. You should have one section per group of requirements that are related in nature. For example, you could have a section called Sign-up, Sign-in, and Sign-out Requirements that would outline how users create an account and sing in and out of the software. Will users use their email to sign up for example or will they use an employee ID number, for example? If we go back to our basic math mobile app example, we could have a section focused on the requirements related to the learning module and then a section focused on the requirements related to the user profile. So on.
  • Other requirements: This section can be a bit of a miscellaneous section where you would group requirements that may not warrant their own section.

It’s important to ensure all the requirements are measurable. For example, instead of including a requirement that the mobile app be fast, it’s better to state, “The mobile app must load in X seconds” and then decide what X means to you to be considered “fast”.

Creating a Requirements Document Saves Time and Money

Taking the time to write out your requirements can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. By identifying potential issues early on, you can avoid costly mistakes and ensure that your software is built to meet your needs.

If you are thinking of having a website, mobile app or web app developed for your business and are wondering what should be included in your Requirements Document, contact the 14 Oranges team to learn more.

Sylvain Marcotte is CEO and President of 14 Oranges.

This Key Document Will Save You Time and Money