IT projects such as the introduction of new software are frequently quite complex. Many projects fail due to insufficient preparation, unclear requirements or goals that are not defined. Requirements specifications and functional specifications are often used to counteract this.
This article will discuss what exactly these specifications are, what the purpose of a requirements specification is, the distinction between requirements and functional specifications, which components should be included in the requirements specification, and what you have to consider when creating requirements specifications so that your software project will succeed.
Frequently, requirements and functional specifications are confused with one another, or even worse, these terms are used as synonyms. Of course they are closely related since, in both cases, the concern is the basic conditions and requirements for a software project that is to be implemented. Both help to structure the project. However, there are several crucial differences, which is why these terms can be distinguished clearly from one another.
What are requirements specifications?
The crucial difference between requirements and functional specifications is the perspective: The client (company, natural person, etc.) who wants to introduce a software solution creates the requirements specification. The requirements specification includes all project specifications and requirements of the software, as well as of the potential supplier or contractor. This includes the description of desired functions, properties, services, and interfaces for the software solution. The contractor has to provide or develop this set of requirements, Processes that the solution must implement are also described in the requirements specification.
Functional specification: Definition
The counterpart to the requirements specification is the functional specification. This is created by the software provider based on the requirements specification and describes how the aspects that the potential customer has documented in the requirements specification should be implemented. This includes both organizational specifications, such as the budget and schedule, as well as technical requirements.
The requirements specification describes the “what” of the project, and the functional specification describes the “how.”
Furthermore, the requirements specification is the basis on which the contractor can make the client a detailed offer, for this is how he can realistically estimate the project work and services expected of him.
Creating a requirements specification is a lot of work, which is why many people in charge of projects initially shy away from them. However, the time and effort invested generally pays off because a requirements specification represents critical preparation for your project and contributes to making it a success. In addition, there are other benefits:
Furthermore, it allows you to establish a legal basis for the course of the project since the functional specification is legally binding for both the client and the contractor.
But how do you create a requirements specification for a software project? What content must be included and what is superfluous? The following content must be part of a requirements specification:
Definition of goals
Every software project must have a clear goal. Therefore, describe in the requirements specification what overarching goal you want to achieve by using the software. If, for example, you would like to introduce a document management system, the goal might be to implement the associated work processes digitally and simplify them or ensure greater transparency. The definition of the goal provides the client and contractor with orientation and simplifies the process of prioritizing requirements.
Consider how to define your goals in the requirements specification according to the SMART principle. They should be
The basic conditions of the project include, for example, the project budget and the schedule according to which the new software solution should be introduced. Important milestones and the desired project conclusion can be recorded in the requirements specification. And the individual project phases can also be added, with the time allotted for each one. These include, for example:
Describe the current state that should be optimized with the introduction of the software. Also document your current IT environment into which the new solution should be embedded. In the case of our example of a requirements specification for a DMS, this includes the systems used that are relevant for the document management system, such as:
This part of the requirements specification should also include a brief company description, which offers the solution provider the opportunity to get an overview of your company and be able to classify it better, especially if there are industry-specific aspects.
Specific requirements & interfaces
In the requirements specification, you should also describe the requirements, services, and interfaces that are necessary to achieve the target state. These also include technical prerequisites that the software must fulfill and legal requirements that must be considered. In our DMS example, these are the GDPR and GoBD (archiving principles specified by the German tax authorities).
You won’t have the right answers to all questions in the project right at the start. Frequently it is necessary to discuss particular issues with the solution provider. You should therefore be sure to collect all issues requiring clarification and open questions in your requirements specification so that they are not forgotten and can be discussed with the provider at the appropriate time.
Incorporate the stakeholders
Generally a lot of people from the company are involved in an extensive project such as the introduction of new software. The people can include the management level that provides the project budget, the IT department, which will do most of the work required to introduce and support the new solution, and the data protection officer.
Make sure that these stakeholders are incorporated during the creation of the requirements specification in order to ensure that the flow of information is smooth.
Plan enough time
A requirements specification is a large document which unfortunately can’t be created in the blink of an eye. Instead, it requires the expertise of various specialized departments at the company in order to record all the important information completely. That’s why you need to plan in sufficient time to create the requirements specification.
Formulate requirements clearly
To prevent misunderstandings and further inquiries, the requirements should be formulated as clearly and simply as possible. Try to record as seamlessly as you can what the software has to do, and make sure that it is possible to check whether the requirements were fulfilled successfully.
Depending on the software planned, the implementation of the project can take some weeks. So that you aren’t running behind from the start, plan in sufficient time for the pre-planning, implementation, and any necessary correction loops.
Use a requirements specification template
Creating a detailed requirements specification is a complex task. Especially if you have never done this before, it can be a challenge to compile what belongs in the requirements specification completely and in a structured fashion. Using a template can greatly simplify the creation of a requirements specification.