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.
Types of Software Development Clients
Custom software development has to be a collaborative process between client and developer, no matter what size the client is. There are three general types of software development clients, and each is responsible for participating and communicating fully from beginning to end of the project.
This is the smallest type of client software developers usually see, and they’ve just received sufficient investor funding to build their ideal software solution.
Generally, these are companies with revenues of 5 million to 100 million dollars per year.
This largest type of client tends to be the giants in their industries. For them, custom software is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean they can be hands-off about a development project.
Requirements Gathering Process for Software Development Services
As a software development firm, we can add significant value to the future project when it comes to functionality, splitting a solution into specific releases that would reduce the time-to-market value, suggesting eliminating certain features for the sake of leaner yet more cost-effective application. However, we are not the visionaries, nor can we determine the primary direction of an application. That’s up to our clients. That’s why the critical role of product owner 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.
On the other hand, 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.
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.
We use a multitude of methods to gather requirements from our clients:
- 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 combine all of this information with the expertise we’ve gained while creating similar projects and our industry-specific experience, which help us to determine the right path in designing the "blueprint" of the application.
Requirement Gathering in Action
The foundation of any software application is a detailed and accurate set of specifications that are created before development begins. This 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. Here’s what that collaborative approach to gathering requirements would look like for a project like this.
- First, we determine how courses were organized before being transferred into the online form. This helps to determine details like the number of groups and students, the enrollment process, the set of subjects and types of interactions, forms of control, and other 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 now and in the future.
- Then, we want to know which specific features the university needs, 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 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:
- 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 functionalities that are necessary but not necessarily visible. These may include security, reliability, performance, flexibility, reusability, scalability, low cost, storage, accessibility, and so on. In the case of healthcare custom software, for example, 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.