Importance Of Documentation On Software Projects

When it comes software requirements elicitation, there is one key activity that should not be ignored – documentation. Though Agile approaches question the need for extensive documentation, communicating requirements without “enough” documentation can pose significant risks of missing out on key requirements or creating gaps in understanding what the system is expected to do. 

The Agile approach recommends that “just-enough” requirements be delivered when needed (just-in-time) at the level of detail required to understand and build the system. No more, no less. The Agile team focuses on elaborating only the requirements needed for the next iteration to support their implementation. The Agile BA, in collaboration with the team, thus places more focus on test criteria and examples instead of extensive models and documentation.

The critical question then becomes, how much documentation is really needed? Requirements specification documents can be as light as a combination of user stories or as extensive as a 10 to X page text-heavy document, where X can be any number. Typically, the more complex, sensitive and risky the project is, the greater the requirement for an increased level of documentation.

Requirements documentation provides relevant information about the expected functionalities and the use of the proposed software. Whether it is for a small or big project, documentation is a critical activity that can improve the quality of the final product delivered to the business. In the rest of this post, we discuss the reasons why documenting requirements and key decisions is advisable on software projects, no matter how minimal.

Clarification Of Business Goals and Requirements

When building software without documentation, developers can easily forget, get distracted and derail from the core functionality that the software solution is supposed to provide. Having documented software requirements is critical to ensuring that everyone is headed towards the same direction to accomplish the objectives of the project. If developers and stakeholders forget what has been discussed, they can always refer back to the requirements documentation, in whatever form it exists.

The requirements specification document gives an overview of what stakeholders can expect from the proposed solution. Stakeholders are often required to review and in some cases, sign off on their requirements. Their approval indicates their commitment to the definitions that have been provided in the requirements specification document.

System Support

Documenting software requirements is also important because its outcome, the requirements specification document, can be useful when troubleshooting the issues experienced after the application has been deployed to the production environment. After implementing a solution, the support team may need to make reference to “what was agreed” at the point of implementation in order to resolve contentious issues; view the system configuration or setup that was signed off on; understand the history of certain decisions that were made; or to determine if the user should follow the change request procedure to get their problem solved.

If critical project documents such as the software requirements document are centrally available, it becomes much easier for users to know what should be done when they encounter a specific problem or why the system works a certain way. This will also ensure that the operational issues reported are minimal and that issue resolution is speedy since end users will have access to the information needed for them to work effectively. Support staff may also use the requirements documentation as a reference point during issue resolution.

User Guide Preparation

If you want others to know what your product actually is and how it works, software requirements documents and accompanying design documents can come in handy when preparing user guides. They provide relevant information for building FAQ sections, training materials and user manuals. The requirement for a detailed user guide will however vary, depending on the complexity of the application in question.

Success Replication

If one software has been successfully created, how can the same success be replicated in future projects? Documentation of software requirements can be helpful, especially for those working in teams. It makes knowledge transference and requirements reuse a lot easier. For people working in remote locations also, proper documentation also makes it easier to disseminate information so that successful outcomes can be replicated.

Efficient Communication

Documenting software requirements also improves communication across all departments, especially for businesses with locations scattered across the globe. Documentation can help facilitate better interaction across several departments. It minimises the possibility of vagueness or misinformation, among other problems typically associated with verbal communication. The meaning or interpretation of words can change from one person to another. Consequently, having a common reference for interpreting requirements will reduce confusion and ambiguity.

Documentation of software requirements should not be seen as optional, but necessary. While the level of detail may vary depending on the approach adopted, be it Agile or Waterfall, it’s important to keep in mind and evaluate the reasons why documentation is needed in the first place, before one goes too far in the wrong direction.

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