Software documentation is a critical activity in the design and implementation of IT projects. Yes, maybe loathed by many, but still quite important. Skip it entirely for your IT project, and you guarantee problems down the road.
Whether an advocate of the agile approach that focuses on a not too detailed elaboration or a waterfall kind of developer who believes in the need for extensive documentation, both methods require a form of documentation. More so, the same applies irrespective of the size of the project.
Research shows that most developers, especially the up-and-coming ones, are not as enthusiastic when it comes to documenting IT projects. They would rather dive right into writing the code. This is mainly because the process is skill intensive and time-consuming.
But did you know effective communication of key project concepts and requirements is the most common factor differentiating successful IT projects from the not so successful one?
Proper documentation not only details the software functionalities but also ensures you, as a developer, do not miss out on crucial requirements from the client. On the other hand, poor documentation is likely to reduce your efficiency in every phase of the project.
Let’s look at the 5 main reasons why software documentation and specification are critical to the success of the overall IT project.
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Ensuring There Is a Defined Set of Business Goals and Expectations
As a developer, understanding why a client wants an IT project done is as important as knowing what the client’s expected deliverables are. This is mainly captured in the business and functional requirement documents. Besides, having a clear outline of the need for the project ensures;
- The scope of work is clearly defined, which ensures the implementation team doesn’t waste their efforts on requirements that don’t propel them towards the project goal.
- With the project’s bigger picture in view, the developers can easily verify if they’re in-project decisions are aligned to the business need.
Research shows that 37% of software IT projects failures are a result of poor business requirement documentation. Take, for instance, NASA attempted launch of the Mars Climate Orbiter on Mars’ orbit in 1999. Poor requirement management led to an error when designing the navigation software.
A misunderstanding between metric and imperial units led to the software’s incompatibility with the attitude control system. NASA eventually lost the orbiter.
An overall IT project plan should have a detailed description of the project’s functionality and specifications. The business requirements should be broad but also detail-oriented. More so, with the growing popularity of the agile approach of documentation, the relevance of requirement specifications has never been this important.
Preserves the History of the IT Project Which Is Vital for System Support
Documentation is written proof that something was done in a particular project phase. This comes in handy, especially to maintainers tasked with bringing the software’s documentation up-to-date. Moreover, in case of issues during software implementation in the production environment, developers can always go back to the effective SRS document examples and their templates.
Besides, the SRS documents provide criteria for what an IT system should do and not do. Therefore, the troubleshooting support team can easily countercheck if their solution is in line with what was agreed upon at that phase.
Moreover, with the history of certain system configurations, problem-solving for the maintenance team couldn’t get any easier. Additionally, adequate documentation ensures that any changes made to the original programs are well reflected too.
On the other hand, end users can easily identify the way around problems they encounter while using the software hence enabling speedy resolutions. For instance, the team can have a troubleshooting document that has a FAQ section divided into common types of errors, module causing the error, and the risk level associated with the error.
Besides, the users can verify that the developers have submitted the project to the detail as requested.
Saves Time by Facilitating Efficient Communication
With proper documentation, a developer will not need to explain how a project works every time there is a new member of the team. The ‘how it works’ of software is well captured in the main product documentation. In the case of new developers, this should help them to adapt faster to the working environment while also speeding up their learning curve.
Besides, documenting software requirements also comes in handy when the users are spread across several departments. With each of the members associated with the project having access to the documentation, there are minimal cases of misinformation and ambiguity, mainly related to verbal communication.
The 3 main questions when documenting a software should be:
- What does the software do? This can be broken down into individual sections of code.
- How does it perform the described function?
- How can a user use it?
Answering the above questions ensures everyone gets on the same page faster, especially if development teams are spread across the globe.
Makes it Easy for Developers During Application Installation and When Preparing User Guides
A software product cannot be considered as ‘user-friendly’ if it doesn’t have any accompanying high-quality user documentation. A user guide contains information on what a product is and how it works.
Preparing the user guide can be quite straightforward if you already have software requirements and other design documents. These documents will be resourceful when a developer builds the FAQ sections and training manuals for the user.
Besides, installation documents can come in handy when developers want to set up a new software environment. The database information can contain details on application server versions, software libraries, among others.
The clearly defined steps and details in these documents ensure that any member of the development team can easily make the new environment compatible with the software.
In addition, as a developer, having high-quality user documentation will improve customer support experience, which increases your chances of retention and referrals.
Detailed Documentation Makes It Easier to Schedule a Project
Take a case where a development team is assigned to improve a product’s administrative and data export/import functionality. Without documenting the assignment and consulting on the user’s requirements, the team goes right into coding and develop the functionalities as asked by the client.
However, upon presenting the upgraded product, the users claim that there is a need for modification on the functionality. This leads to another 2 weeks of re-working the solution and rewriting the existing code while trying to beat the set deadline. It not only delays the release of the software but also increases their chances of cutting corners to meet the deadline. The eventuality is obviously; an unhappy client.
To avoid this, the developers ought to have utilized a description from the user detailing how the requests, administrative and data transfers, are tied to the product. Besides, they should have asked questions such as which end users will have access to the import/export functionality or administrative features.
With every aspect documented and any issues discussed with the user team, the chances for scheduling the project accordingly and completing it on time are much higher. It also reduces the risk of re-work and delays resulting from not being on the same page with the client.
Documents in IT projects are key to the success of the overall project. Without proper documentation, especially on software requirements, there is increased ambiguity between what is expected by the user and how the developer interprets it. This likely leads to a loss of time and money.
While documentation in IT projects can be tedious, these 5 points show that, when done correctly, it is worth the effort.
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