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Hard Talk - Practices

Wondering why your software projects are always late, buggyand over budget? Well, this might come as a surprise to you, butprofessional software development involves a lot more than just writingcode. Over the course of this five-part tutorial on software developmentprocesses and practices, find out what you've been missing, and how youcan streamline your development to be more efficient and effective. Thisintroductory article discusses the analysis and documentation ofcustomer requirements.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. The Art Of Software Development (part 1): Understanding Need
  2. Word Games
  3. Hard Talk
  4. The Write Stuff
  5. When Time Is Money...
  6. Endgame
By: icarus, (c) Melonfire
Rating: starstarstarstarstar / 6
August 28, 2002

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In order to ensure that your project is a success, you need to engage your customer in each of the stages described previously, and ensure his or her active participation in the process. And since most of this customer communication takes place over email, it's very, very important that you learn, right from the word go, the importance of being able to convey your thoughts and decisions clearly and effectively in writing.

This ability to communicate is key to one of the first things you need to do when considering a Web application project: requirements analysis.

This might sound a little scary, but it's actually pretty simple. Requirements analysis is the process of understanding the customer's needs, and capturing them in a formal document. It's easily the most important phase of any project, as it gives both customer and vendor clarity on the final deliverable, and allows for a meeting of the minds on the various components of the project. A requirements document also sets the direction for the developer or development team and provides the basis for the software testing procedure.

Requirements analysis is a largely iterative process; the end result is a document outlining the broad requirements of the customer. You can begin this process by asking your customer some basic questions - these are the ones I've found to be most useful:

  • What is the vision for the product?
  • What are the business cases against which the software is to be developed?
  • What is the target market for the product? Which types of users are being targeted? Is there a profile available for each user type?
  • What are the ten most important functions or features the software must support?
  • Are there specific hardware or software constraints for the product? For example, will it run on a proprietary operating system or proprietary hardware?
  • Are there specific performance or security constraints for the product? For example, do all users have access to the same functionality within the application, or do some users have extra privileges? Is the application to be optimized for narrowband or broadband connections?
  • Are there specific user interface requirements for the product? For example, must the product interface conform to particular branding rules? Is there a specific colour scheme to be followed?
  • Name three of the proposed product's closest competitors, and list the top five features of each.
  • Are there any specific requirements to be kept in mind when designing, developing or testing the product?
  • How often do you plan to update the software?
  • Do you have a specific timeline or launch date for your product?
Based on the answers you get, further questions will arise and need to be answered; this iterative learning process should result in you obtaining a fairly clear overview of the items to be addressed in your document. This information will also play a critical role in helping you estimate the likely time and cost for the project.

 
 
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