How to write good requirements for a digital project

You are in front of a white page and you have to write down what you need from your digital agency? You want to explain your needs and wishes for your project but you are not a technical person. Where to begin?

For this post, I took the example of a startup which wants to help customers to find stores where they can buy sustainable and eco-friendly food and products. They will do this with a website or a mobile app.

These are low-level advises for smaller digital projects. They are meant for someone who writes his first set of requirements.

Start with the end!

You need to define where you want to go. What are you wishing to achieve? Which actions you need your users to do? Why do you want to build this product in the first place?

When you’ve defined the goal you have to decide how you will measure success (KPIs). This will help the agency to grasp your vision and orient them. Also, without KPIs how can you say your project is a success or a complete waste of money?

Example

Goal: Drive traffic and sales towards sustainable and eco-friendly offline stores around the world.

How to measure this?

  • Number of displays of individual store information in the app/website
  • More important: clicks on the “get directions” link
  • More important: Clicks on the phone number/email address

Note: Ideally you should find a way to measure if people really went to the stores after using your app. Any idea to do this?

For your agency

  • Explain the goal of your product/project/campaign and why
  • Define how you will measure success (or failure)

Define your personas

Think about who will use your website? Usually you will quickly think about the “end-user” as begin ONE. But in the case of this example, there are several different ones. I could be a user with a smart phone who want to see stores around him. Or the user who is planning holidays in an other city from his desktop at the office. And maybe also the store owner who want to update store details.

Examples

  • A restaurant/shop owner
  • A mobile user
  • A reviewer
  • An advertiser
  • A desktop holiday planer

For your agency

  • List the major personas (a name and a little bio can help).

Resources

Write User stories

What will your application or service do? In Agile Project Management requirements are called User Stories. The idea is to focus on the actions taken by users (and why) instead of defining technical requirements. The typical structure of a user story looks like: As a <persona> I want <what> so that <why>.

Examples

In this case, some user stories would be:

  • As a mobile user I want to search for “fair chocolate” stores around me so that I can quick go there.
  • As a content editor I want to review addresses submitted by stores so that I can publish only the approved ones.
  • As an advertiser I want to pay my monthly invoice so that my advertisements are shown.

For your agency

  • Create a list of your user stories ordered by priority

resources

Mockups, Wireframes and Sketches

It can be good to draw quickly how you think the service should look like. My advice is to do it first with a pen and paper. 95% of the time I think you should also start by designing the mobile version first. With smart phone you have more limitations. The reduced screen space will force you to focus on what is important.

Here are some tools to help in this work:

for your agency

  • Sketches of directions on how your product should look like.

Conclusion

Specially if you are not an expert in a domain you have to stay open to feedback. A good agency will challenge all the requirements you’ve patiently written down. But by being precise in what you need from the beginning, you will be able to avoid some bad surprises. Maybe if your goal is not good enough and you don’t have any way to measure success, it can be an indication your product needs some thinking.

What do you think of those advises?

Yann Graf

I am an experienced Digital Strategy Consultant based in Switzerland. After over seven year respectfully crafting and improving the digital presence of Terre des hommes, Nautilus and G-Star Raw, I am now a freelancer. Please have a look at my Portfolio