Software design documents (SDD) are a standard in the gaming industry, but many software startups may not see their utility, especially in Agile environments.
In these cases, software design documents seem counterproductive, taking valuable time and human resources away from doing rather than ideating. Unfortunately, this faulty line of thinking can have serious repercussions for a startup’s success.
Most startups simply start writing code directly with engineers without first documenting what the software is supposed to achieve. This is a dangerous path, however, as many assumptions are drawn while coding, and there’s no way to refer to any document that details features and functionality as the product gets more and more complex.
This mistake can be costly, wasting time and resources with differing interpretations, last-minute amendments, implementation disagreements and code rewrites. While developing a software design document requires a bit of time upfront, it saves an exponential amount of time on the back end.
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Multiple use cases
The main point of an SDD is to describe the project and engage in a bit of rubber ducking. This technique allows developers to gain better insights and new perspectives on their projects by explaining their ideas out loud to a rubber duck.
These documents are also good for ensuring continuity if a key person leaves the project. Replacement staff can jump right in without having to figure out what’s going on or who’s responsible. And if the software idea gets shelved, future developers can refer to the SDD and continue the project at a later date, picking up right where it was left off with the original ideas intact.
Alternatively, if a startup is designing software for their clients, these documents can serve as an effective way for the company to keep customers in the loop without technical details or jargon that they don’t understand.
SDDs also serve as the basis for user manuals for once the software is up and running.
Components of an effective software design document
SDDs can run from three to 10 pages depending on the organization and the project. In general, a good software design document includes:
- A description of the application
- The purpose, use cases and scope of the software
- Special requirements (e.g., browser specifications, third-party integration, languages, etc.)
- Front-end, back-end and database elements
- Workflow and responsible parties
- Implementation details
- Any unfavorable consequences or side effects of the application
- Failure planning
- SDDs shouldn’t be highly detailed as doing so increases the risk of getting lost in the weeds and may cause developers to lose sight of the bigger picture.
In addition, not every project needs a full software design document. Single-page writeups that summarize the above info can be just as effective for smaller projects that generally take less than a week to complete.
SDDs are integral to your startup’s success
Good software design documents go hand in hand with successful projects. Why? Because these documents ensure that the project is done right.
Creating software design documents requires developers to think through every aspect of a project in order to describe it properly, helping them work out kinks and fill overlooked gaps. They also help developers find alternatives and workarounds that can save time or money.
In addition, the software design documents can be used to not only describe what the solution is but why certain technical decisions should be made. If, for instance, stakeholders know that a particularly tricky bit of code was used because it’s superior when it comes to integrating with a key third-party app, they may be less inclined to replace it with a more simple alternative.
Plus, software design documents are a team effort so everyone who plays a part has a say, leading to a more comprehensive, cohesive project. An effective software design document keeps programmers, developers, project managers, and other stakeholders on the same page, facilitating clearer communication and collaboration.
The importance of a business analyst
Creation of a software design document isn’t the final step, however. Engaging the expertise of a business analyst can help ensure the continued success of a software undertaking.
Before the project starts, a business analyst can review and refine the software design document to verify that all requirements are met and that the document is comprehensive. Once things are underway, a business analyst can help longer projects continue to adhere to the software design document and keep it up to date throughout product iterations. Once the project is over, a BA ensures that the solutions continue to meet the needs and goals of the organization.
Having an in-house business analyst is ideal, but startups that don’t have the volume or resources to maintain a full-time business analyst can outsource the work to an external website development company on a per-project basis.