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Delivering Successful Projects: Using Functional Specifications To Collect User Requirements

Large scale failure of IT projects are often big news and research from Forbes has shown that over 50% of IT projects have failed in the past 50 years. Additionally, it has been found that 80% of product features that are developed are never used (WRAL, 2022). Common reasons why IT projects fail include not being able to fully understand the needs of the end users,  therefore not being able to fully capture and translate the requirements. Another reason is the collection of incomplete user requirements. Defining requirements is considered one of the most important tasks in software development for a successful project outcome. If done correctly software development projects’ success rate would likely be much higher. So how can this be achieved?

In the planning stage, the creation of a functional specification is vital (alongside other important documents). A functional specification is usually crafted in the planning stage by Business Analysts who understand the user requirements thoroughly and translate this into precise requirements of what the system must do. This documentation is then handed to all the stakeholders involved in the project.

So, what are the benefits of producing this documentation and how does it lead to the success of projects?

1. All user requirements are identified in the functional specification

The creation of the functional specification involves defining the expected system behaviour in detail, according to the needs of the end users.

This means that any missing requirements can be identified and defined before the development starts which will ultimately result in the development of a product which meets the needs of the end users.

2. Clear communication across teams and roles

Clearly defined requirements act as a clear line of communication to keep all developers, QA testers and stakeholders on the same page. This helps to avoid any confusion which may arise otherwise. 

Everyone will have access to the same documentation as a reference point for the work being completed.

3. Improved project planning

Projects become more predictable as clearly defined requirements allow the team to estimate the development time, the cost and to assign resources more accurately. Managers can then predict key milestones and expected ‘live’ dates more effectively.

4. Time and resources saved

Once development starts it will be more rapid and focused, as the developers will know exactly what the product should do, what its features and functionality are.

This will result in less meetings and instead stakeholders can rely on more asynchronous communication to stay aligned.

Functional specification is a vital piece of documentation for all stakeholders, to ensure that the software development project is a success. Enough time should always be allocated to this planning stage so that it is not rushed, so that all the end users’ needs can be identified and translated, and to ensure the project can be planned and delivered effectively.

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