17 Steps for Defining Software Project Requirements

17 Steps for Defining Software Project Requirements

Your company needs to build some software.

It might be a groundbreaking, innovative new product for your target demographics so your company can generate more revenue.

Might be the foundation of your internal communications, allowing your company to work more efficiently.

Whatever it is, you won’t be able to build it unless you have a solid mental idea of what the software is, how it’s going to work, and what it’s going to achieve. Even the best software developers in the world aren’t mind readers.

Accordingly, the first step of any software project is defining your requirements.

But what exactly are software project requirements and how do you define them?

What Are Software Project Requirements?

What Are Software Project Requirements?

First, what exactly are software project requirements?

Different development companies may have different templates and standards for how they treat software project requirements, but they always serve the same purpose: to formally outline the goals and objectives of this software project.

The easiest way to think about this is that software project requirements outline the “5 Ws” of your intended piece of software:

  • What is this software going to do?
  • Who is going to use this software?
  • Why are they going to use this software?
  • Where and how are they going to use this software?
  • When are they going to use this software?

Of these five questions, the first is arguably the most important and the most complex. Most software projects attempt to achieve multiple objectives simultaneously, and depending on the nature of your project, you may need to spend significant time and resources building it out.

Why Is It Necessary to Formally Define Your Software Project Requirements?

Why Is It Necessary to Formally Define Your Software Project Requirements?

Why do you need to go through the motions of formally defining your software project requirements?

There are several motivations:

  • Define your objectives. This is an opportunity to think critically about what you’re trying to achieve with your software project and clearly define your objectives. You might be surprised to learn just how many people have a “vision” for a new piece of software without truly thinking through. They may have an idea for an app that’s similar to one already on the market, but they don’t really know who their audience is, how the app is going to be different, or what it needs to be built.
  • Get accurate estimates. With formally defined software project requirements, you can meet with different teams of developers and get more accurate estimates for how long the project is going to take and how much the project is going to cost. If you only have a loose idea of what you’re trying to build, or if your requirements change too much, those estimates are practically worthless.
  • Have productive conversations with partners. In line with this, having a set of clear standards and objectives for your software development project means you’ll have more productive conversations with your partners, including your team of developers. Your developers will know exactly what they’re building and why they’re building it, which means you’ll end up with a better product. This can also minimize the risks of miscommunication and time waste.
  • Evaluate the finished product. Finally, establishing formal requirements for your software project means you’ll have an objective standard by which you can judge the finished product. When your software development team is done, you can test the product, evaluate whether it meets all of your core objectives, and (hopefully) give it your final stamp of approval.

Steps for Defining Software Project Requirements

At first glance, you may have thought that 17 steps for defining software project requirements was excessive. But these steps were broken down intentionally to be as small and manageable as possible.

There are many steps to complete here, but each step shouldn’t take much time.

1. List the stakeholders

First, take the time to list all the stakeholders who are relevant to this software development project. Who are the investors and business owners at the helm here? Who are the people that are going to use this product most or benefit from it most? Depending on the nature of your business and the scope of this project, you might only have one or two stakeholders, or you might have a few dozen. If you have more stakeholders than that, consider trimming your list to only the most important and relevant stakeholders; “too many cooks in the kitchen” can complicate your decision making and future steps.

2. Meet with stakeholders and hold an initial discussion

Once you know who your stakeholders are, you can hold an initial discussion with them. Chances are, you’ve already talked about the general idea of what you want to build, but now is the time to start formally defining your requirements. You should probably plan to spend at least a couple of hours talking things over if you don’t have any formal requirements yet in place.

3. Identify and analyze the audience

After that, work with your stakeholders to identify and analyze the core audience that’s going to be using your product. Is this app meant for the general public? If so, what are the target demographics you’re trying to reach? Is this app meant to be exclusively internal? If so, which departments and employees are going to be using it the most? Take your time better understanding the needs and wants of this audience so you can develop a product that serves them effectively.

4. Define the main purpose of the platform

If you had to reduce the objectives and functionality of this piece of software to a single sentence, what would it be? For example, “Twitter is a free-to-use social media site where users post truncated pieces of content known as ‘tweets’ to their followers.” Don’t worry too much about specificity or comprehensiveness at this phase. Instead, prioritize conciseness; this will help you focus on the most important elements of what you’re building.

5. Outline the general scope of the software project

At this point, you’ll be ready to outline the general scope of this software project. What are the biggest features that you need to include in this platform? How do you envision it working? Does it need to integrate or work well with other platforms? How is it going to be different than other pieces of similar software that are already on the market? You don’t need to go into full detail here, but in the span of a few pages, even an outsider should be able to have a reasonable idea of what your software is trying to achieve.

6. Start meeting with developers

With a general scope of your software project in hand, you’ll be ready to start meeting with developers. Whether you choose to work with a software development agency, freelancers, in-house developers, or some mix of these options, it’s important to keep your partners informed and up-to-date from the very beginning. Your developers will review your project requirements and probably ask you critical questions to clarify your needs. At this stage, they may be able to point out certain features or functions that are problematic, and they may have suggestions for how you can make the software even better. It’s important to take their advice seriously, since they probably know the inner mechanics of software better than most. At the end of your discussions, your developers may be able to provide you with estimates for the cost of the project and the time it’s going to take. Don’t get too attached to this, as these estimates may change as your project requirements change.

What Is The Waterfall Approach?

7. Decide on a methodology

Waterfall and agile development methodologies are both worth considering and using, but they have unique strengths and weaknesses. In the waterfall approach, you’ll need extremely detailed and comprehensive software requirements from the outset, so your developers can build the product from start to finish with little to no outside interference. In the agile approach, you’ll only need a general outline; you can make tweaks and changes easily as the app develops. Agile tends to be faster and more flexible, especially if you’re not entirely sure what your software is going to look like at the end. If you know exactly what you want, waterfall is cheaper and more streamlined.

8. Categorize your requirements

Once you have a better idea of how your app is going to be developed, you can categorize your requirements. What are the core requirements for the software? How does it need to be built? How many users should it support? What are the requirements in terms of technical performance, security, and flexibility for the future?

9. Justify each requirement

During the brainstorming and planning phases, it’s easy for software project requirements to spiral out of control. It’s natural to be excited about the product you’re developing, but we need to rein in superfluous additions if we’re going to make our requirements as efficient and straightforward as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to spend time justifying each requirement. For each individual requirement in your documentation, ask yourself, “does this serve the main objective of the software?” and “is this truly necessary for phase one?” If the answer to either question is no, shelve the requirement for now. You can keep it on a wish list for future development if you desire.

10. Trim the list

See if you can trim the list. Most software projects are best handled with the intention of building a “minimum viable product”; in other words, the simplest possible product that can still achieve its core objectives. Unnecessary bloat in your project scope will only bog you down and increase your costs.

11. Describe each requirement as simply and clearly as possible

At this stage, it’s time to get your project requirements more organized and ready for developers to review. Make sure you describe each requirement on your list as simply and clearly as possible, using everyday terminology and direct language to make your points unambiguous.

Begin drafting your software requirements specification (SRS)

12. Begin drafting your software requirements specification (SRS)

A software requirements specification (SRS) is a formal document that contains all your requirements, properly categorized and organized, in one place. You can find an SRS template online or construct one yourself. The goal is to create a concise and digestible single source of truth (SSOT) that all developers and stakeholders can reference at all times.

13. Review and modify your SRS

First drafts are rarely perfect. Be prepared to review your SRS multiple times with different parties and make adjustments as you go along. Make sure your developers fully understand all the requirements before you agree to move forward on the project.

14. Start development

You might imagine that starting development is the last step of the process, but it’s important to realize that some of your requirements may evolve even after development begins.

15. Document your changes carefully

During the course of development, you may come up with ideas for new features, realize that some of your features are unnecessary, or otherwise recognize changes that need to be made. Don’t just spam your developers with new requests; have a direct conversation about the new changes to the requirements you’re proposing, then, if acceptable, formally update your SRS and other documents with those requirements. This will significantly reduce the possibilities of miscommunication and keep your project moving smoothly.

16. Track achievement of requirements

As the software begins to take form, you can start tracking the achievement of various requirements. Celebrate these valuable milestones!

17. Be ready to evaluate

At the end of the project, be ready to evaluate the software by verifying that it meets or exceeds expectations as outlined in the mutually agreed-upon SRS. Are you ready to go live? Or are there still unmet requirements?

Are you still in the process of defining your software project requirements?

Or do you already know what you want to build, inside and out?

Either way, we’re ready to step in and help. We have a talented team of developers on standby to help you build exactly the app you need – so contact us today for a free consultation.


Ryan is the VP of Operations for DEV.co. He brings over a decade of experience in managing custom website and software development projects for clients small and large, managing internal and external teams on meeting and exceeding client expectations--delivering projects on-time and within budget requirements. Ryan is based in El Paso, Texas.
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Ryan Nead