Modification date: October 8, 2020

The Client’s Role in Custom Software Development

The Client’s Role in Custom Software Development

When a client hires a contract software development company to design and build custom software, the business is making a strong strategic choice to let the experts take over the heavy lifting of application development, but that doesn’t mean the client is off the hook altogether. The client’s input and participation are a crucial part of the process. After all, without direction from the client, the developers don’t know what to build. Each hour the engineers spend building must be in service of developing the software according to the client’s wishes, so the client’s team must be able and willing to make requirements as clear, comprehensive, consistent, prioritized, modifiable, and as correct as possible.

The client’s participation and input will reduce the possibility of confusion and the need for redoing work that doesn’t match the vision, ultimately optimizing the app development cost and speeding the time to deployment.

At Syberry, we know it isn’t always easy for our clients to articulate what they need right off the bat, so we use an agile approach to custom software development that makes it easy to ensure everyone is on the same page and that, if the project does get off track, it’s relatively easy to course correct. And it starts with gathering requirements.

Requirements Gathering Process for Software Development Services

We use a multitude of methods to gather requirements from our clients, which starts with exploring the idea of the future application, comparing it to the competition solutions, exploring the existing documentation, such as a project’s outline or specifications that the customer may have. We use the expertise that we gained while creating similar projects or industry-specific experience, which help us to determine the right path in designing the "blueprint" of the application.

We want to know as much as we can about our clients and their objectives so we can help them create the software that not only solves their most pressing problems but makes their businesses run better, too. This process requires heavy involvement from our clients, but the upfront time investment leads to a more efficient software development process overall.

As a software development firm, we can contribute much value in the future project, when it comes to functionality, splitting a solution into specific releases that would reduce the time-to-market value, suggest eliminating certain features for the sake of leaner yet more cost-effective application. However, we cannot invent the product and therefore act in the role of a product owner, nor can we determine the main direction where the application should evolve to fulfill its objectives.

The role of a product owner, which is typically a thing of major importance, is usually assigned to the client. We use a system of close collaboration between our engineering team and the customer’s team to discuss all critical steps of creating an application.

The foundation of any software application is the detailed and correct specification that is usually created before any software development. It is where our business analysis team and the customer will work together to define each use-case of the application, making it ready for development and implementation by the engineers.

Suppose, for example, that we are dealing with a private university transitioning from on-campus classes to online classes as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. It is a typical request now, as many organizations transform their operations into an online format, and one of the first in line are those companies that are related to education.

We determine how the process of courses was organized before being transferred into the online form. It helps us to determine the routine, such as the number of groups and students, a way of the enrollment, set of subjects and types of interaction with the teacher, forms of control, and its criteria. Based on the university’s responses to these questions, we would start to understand their needs, and we would be able to start asking more specific questions and conducting analyses to guide us in designing and building the custom learning management system (LMS) that will meet their education goals yet keeping the system open for future expanding.

Next, we want to know which specific features the university needs and how many students they expect to be enrolled in courses during the specific term, and anything else that will dictate the functionality or parameters of the program.

Throughout the process, we ask the university to frame their needs in terms of so-called SMART requirements — requirements that are specific, measurable, advantageous, realistic, and testable — to help ensure our team and theirs are in agreement on goals, success metrics, and timelines.

Types of Features

What are we looking for as we work to nail down the requirements? There are two main types of requirements as far as a custom software development company is concerned: nonfunctional and functional. Functional requirements are the features and functions that the user can see in the final product. They create the core functionality of the product, and they include operations users perform with the expectation of a specific output. Nonfunctional requirements are the qualities users don’t necessarily see but that the client needs the product to have. These may include security, reliability, performance, flexibility, reusability, scalability, low cost, storage, accessibility, and so on. In the case of healthcare custom software, HIPAA compliance dictates specific rules of information security, user rights differentiation, and quick records retrieval would be among the essential qualities.

Because most clients are bound by cost and the speed at which they would like to get the product up and running, requirements are typically prioritized into four categories:

  • "Must have" requirements are those that the product cannot operate without,
  • "Should haves" are preferable features that expand its functions and are subject to debate among the client’s management,
  • "Could haves" are of less importance, good-to-have additions,
  • "Wish list" requirements would be fun or innovative additions, but they are unrelated to the product’s core objective.

While a business might expect to hire a custom software developer and then sit back and wait until the application of their dreams is up and running, the reality is that designing and developing custom software to bring a client’s vision to life is a highly collaborative process. Without direction from the clients, the software developers are flying blind, and it’s highly unlikely the resulting product will be exactly what the client wants. It’s to nobody’s benefit when the client is unhappy, and the work has to be redone. But when the client’s team is available and engaged throughout the project — especially during the requirement gathering phase, the process is much more likely to go smoothly, with a resulting product to be the one that the client wanted.

Publication date: June 8, 2020

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