In any software project, especially when outsourcing IT, it’s good to write down your idea of a software product you want to develop to keep everyone on the same page from the very beginning. Starting from very general to more specific details making such specification is a living thing rather than just a one-time operation, and this description will develop with your product. The question is what is “enough” for the very beginning and how the developing process should look. In the long term, keep it quickly up to a day without feeling that a small change requires many changes in your spec. On the other hand, keep it detailed enough to avoid unpleasant consequences in the future, related to the challenging course of cooperation and misunderstandings leading to delays in the project.
During the many years of working with different clients and operating based on outsourcing IT, we had to deal with a very variety of specifications prepared by customers, and often, this type of statement was not enough to prepare an offer, challenge their ideas or propose a value. Such situations are associated with increased time needed to start the project, allocated for research, and additional development team questions.
Therefore, I have prepared a few tips to optimize this process as much as possible, making it easier for both the client and the project team.
Does it all start with a brief?
What enormously helps in a better understanding of the idea is the brief. It contains a series of questions facilitating the extraction of information necessary to create a work plan, preparing a quote, and selecting the right specialists to cooperate with, whose knowledge and experience perfectly fits the project assumptions.
A brief can be quite extensive, and it may take you some time to fill it in, but its comprehensive completion will let the other side understand your needs, prepare for the next steps much better, and ultimately start to work on your product. Brief may also raise matters that have not been addressed so far, and it bothers me that you didn’t think about it. Below you will find elements making outsourcing IT go more smoothly and as planned.
Basic informations and business goals
It’s usually best to start with general information about the company’s product and business goals to better understand your business needs and the problems you are facing. So first, outline your idea and then start working on details so whoever reads this document can dive into the idea slowly, making sure they understand core concepts. It’s important to keep in mind the product and things around, like company background. Think about what services or products it offers, what assumptions and goals it pursues, and whether it has delegated a team that either already deals with development or is going to start implementing such activities in the future, what are your core values and what makes your product stand out among its competition. The more we know, the better – as a software development company, we can prepare better for a workshop session and gather the right team for the project, I mean here project managers, designers, developers, or subject matter experts (SMEs) who will help design or develop the project. This is essential information, which may seem mundane, but will allow us to understand the company’s structure and the people who create it. In turn, they will enable us to select specialists who will maximize developing software to help achieve specific business objectives.
When it comes to business goals, even if their detailed description may seem unnecessary, because you already have an idea of the finished product in your mind, it is worth sharing them with the rest of the team. Developers and analysts who will analyze the answers are specialists with years of experience in the industry, so leaving them information about the final product’s business goals can translate into advice and technological solutions that will directly affect the product’s success.
How to make it right?
In a perfect scenario a specification is something you have to write just once and use as a reference point throughout development – unfortunately, it’s rarely the case. The product spec is instead a living thing and it may be problematic to keep it updated – some might even say it’s not necessary because we are agile and it’s just a waste of time. It’s definitely good to have one – it’s always a compromise of what should be there to cover most of the questions that may appear during development and in the same time to keep it simple enough so maintenance and keeping it up to date with ongoing development wouldn’t be a problem. For large projects, it would be reasonable to divide it into smaller modules and prepare separate descriptions for each of them. So the people interested only in a specific module don’t have to go through all of them every time they are looking for some information. It’s also worth considering tools like Confluence or Notion to make your team’s work more comfortable and efficient. Below you’ll find some points which are worth covering when writing down a parameter for your project.
Right here we will move to information directly related to technological aspects. It’s good to start with describing the high-level architecture of the system, what services and modules the system consists of, like mobile and web client applications, backend architecture and server infrastructure, or 3rd party services the app is using (e.g., payment gateway, social media platforms, any custom software or hardware you already have, etc.). In this case, it’s best just to prepare a high-level diagram presenting the idea and a short description for each element. Further, you can go a bit deeper and describe technical aspects and architecture within specific parts of the systems, what programming language, frameworks, and libraries they are using, patterns they follow, etc. If you are not a technical person and you don’t have someone who could prepare this on your side, don’t worry – we will help you to design and pick the best solutions for your product. At the very beginning, it’s enough to know the basic concepts and platforms the app is dedicated for so we can gather a dedicated team for the project.
Other guidelines/legal issues
Specifying and completing the brief is when all the development team guidelines are revealed, such as the target markets. What languages should we design the product for, or are there any particular guidelines to follow, such as cultural or religious issues important for the target group?
At first glance, this information may not seem to be related entirely to the technical specification, but it might be necessary when designing the product.
From the business perspective, it’s usually good to start with market analysis. Such activities include checking if companies on the market offer solutions similar to ours or that cover and respond to our target group’s problems, what you like in their solutions, and what you don’t. The competition analysis will also allow us to discover what elements make our product unique and focus on highlighting them and making them easily accessible to potential users. It is also worth considering which of the competition’s solutions is worth enforcing and does not fully appeal to users. It’s essential for the team implementing your idea to know why the product is unique from the very beginning, They will have a better context of what they are building and what’s the main goal of the project – it’s always most difficult to understand this part and how we are different and the product is different and better from its competition.
Such a description of the market rivals allows you to design a solution that will differ from the competition and respond to users’ problems to a greater extent. If you have already done a part of the competitive analysis on your own, sharing its results in the specification will save the team much time, translating directly into the possibility of faster implementation of the project and lowering the development costs.
To implement a project that the users will use, we must first get to know them well. At the specification stage, it will be necessary to determine who the potential users of the product are or, in the case of already existing projects, who use the service. The aspects worth paying attention to when creating the target group are demographics, needs, and the context in which users will choose our solution.
The more accurate the information, the broader are the opportunities to maximize success. Therefore, it is worth considering the age of the audience at this stage, whether they are only women or men, or perhaps representatives of both sexes, and where they live. Do they more often use shopping platforms on mobile devices or computers? The answers to these questions will allow you to create a design that maximally meets the needs and also responds to the audience’s problems and challenges.
Here comes the essential part – in the first place, it will be useful to know whether the project you want to create will require only redesigning the architecture or creating a product from scratch. Apart from the business goals, it will also be useful to know your project’s critical features and the purposes it is supposed to fulfill.
An example may be to improve the so-called golden path for a quick purchase of selected products without the need to fill out necessary data, confirming agreements and account verification or a fast way to buy exciting products, ability to pick them up in a convenient spot, selected by the app based on location to increase conversion rate. As you can see, we are talking about specific assumptions that are well known to the originators and people who have broad knowledge about the domain and should also be known to the team to develop the future idea.
In the context of information about the final product and cooperation based on outsourcing IT, it will be necessary to provide the technology partner with information on its functionalities. How to determine them? It is best to step into the end user’s shoes and think about a given solution’s capabilities making me want to use it. That is why I recommend communicating about functionalities in such a way: “Users should be able to search for products by their names for easier information retrieval.” or by choosing the second way, i.e., describing user stories: “As a user, I want to be able to log into the portal using my email and after entering the password.” Such information allows the entire team to get on the same page with the functionality.
Besides, when describing needed functionalities, it will be helpful to know priorities critical to the application’s operation – and which can be submitted later – e.g., “Geolocalization and social media integration is our priority. Later we can focus on onboarding, search functionality, and additional illustrations.” A product roadmap is essential when planning tasks and their sequence concerning business goals.
Content and its specification
Where will the content published in the application, service, or website come from, and what parameters should be maintained? Such information will allow the team of developers to get to know the specifics of the materials. It will also enable knowing who is responsible for content creation and whom to contact in this matter. This type of content, which from the point of view of the client who outsources IT services may seem unimportant, can significantly improve communication between team members, thus streamlining the entire process.
The final product’s visual aspect is also crucial and might be a strong advantage among similar products. Therefore, in brief, you will also find a question about whether you already have branding that you want to use in the project, what is your preferred style – e.g., “We want the project to be minimalistic, with lots of graphics and animation, yet elegant and simple.” Here, feel free to share any inspirations that caught your attention by taking into account which elements of them you liked the most. The more precisely you describe what you like and what you don’t like. If you describe what you like and what you don’t like precisely, the more tips the designers will receive, and the more efficiently they will prepare final design proposals for you.
When you already have a visualization of the project, designs, or low-fidelity prototypes, sharing them will allow the team to estimate how much work and time will be necessary to finish your product taking into account the desired functionality of all the assumptions.
Do you want to find out more about preparing digital product specification while outsourcing?
Preparing digital product specification while outsourcing
The specification in the context of cooperation based on outsourcing IT is crucial. It lets the future team know the project’s assumptions and pre-select the development team to realize them in the best way. However, even after completing it, it may turn out that the team analyzing the answers will need clarification of some of its elements. More information will translate into creating a detailed plan of action, selecting the right team, and making the most accurate initial valuation.
In the case of projects where software development has already begun, it is worth providing the team with as much information as possible. Many key elements should be disclosed at the beginning. It is also worth focusing on the technology in which the project is implemented and the code itself. Another important aspect is to focus on determining the software’s strengths, and weaknesses: whether refactoring is needed or not, and whether the technology debt is so high that it may be difficult to continue developing the project, and the team should consider starting over. This is always a difficult and expensive decision, but in the long run, it can determine the success of the product. Here, the critical question is whether there will be a person to manage the project and what part of the project needs to be outsourced. The outsourcing process can include the entire project or, for example, just the front-end or testing.