How to Write a Great Software Developer Brief

Scott Batchelor

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A good brief not only sets the stage for a successful partnership, but can actually save time and money. 

If you are a client, a well-structured brief will lower the possibility of miscommunication, save time on explanations, and speed up the time it takes to go from initial contact to decision making. After all, time is money, right?

From the supplier’s perspective, a good brief can help understand the foundations of a project and it is the best starting point for leading a discussion about delivering something of real value.

Getting off on the right foot is crucial to project velocity and success. Every day we receive briefs from right across the spectrum. Some are good, some are okay, and some are “I want an app, how much will it cost?”.

Read on for our full run-down on how to write a well-considered technical brief for a technology supplier.

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What Makes a ‘Bad’ Brief?

Before exploring how to create a good brief, it's important to understand what makes a bad one, the pitfalls to avoid and what turns a supplier off.

There is a thin line between a 60-page documentation booklet and the “I want an app” brief. At surface level, it’s easy to think the comprehensive option is going to be the better of the two. It looks more professional, has more time spent on it, and usually covers the idea in much more detail.

The problem is that these documents are usually prepared by people with little technical background. This results in a highly detailed vision for a product that may not be viable, is over-developed for initial MVP, or does not recognise key technology opportunities.

For example, a brief may come through for two native iOS and Android applications, where a cross-platform, Flutter-based application may allow them to take the idea to market faster. 

The other ‘Please build me the next Deliveroo’ style brief usually occurs when someone did not have the time or desire to write down more than a couple of lines of text. They may be getting in touch with hundreds of competitors or they may not have an idea that is developed enough to provide more information.  

For many businesses, this is a red light, and you may not even get a response. If the lack of information stems from a fear of disclosing too much before NDAs are put in place, you should be transparent about this or detail as much as possible that is already public or non-sensitive.

How to Write a Good Brief

Ask ‘Why?’

From a client perspective, the ‘why’ of your project is one the most important aspects to pin down- luckily, it should be one of the easiest to explain. What makes your idea unique? How will it disrupt the market? How does it differ from solutions that currently exist?

Starting your brief with the problem that exists, and how your idea solves it is a surefire way to let a supplier know that you have considered the market viability of your project- even if it requires a more thorough analysis down the line.

It also acts as a motivational tool for the supplier agency, adding value and context to the work that they do. A good supplier does not simply act as a tool for development, but as a partner, helping you through the entire process. 

Learn More about How to Choose the Right Software Supplier

Ask ‘How?’

It's a good idea to know which platforms or mediums you’re aiming for. Are you planning to have a mobile app, web app, or maybe both? Do you have UX/UI wireframes or are you looking for this as well?

You should aim to give an idea of how you are planning to approach the problem you identified. This will help in defining a team composition and gathering information about availability. Without a general idea of direction, conversations and discovery processes can become elongated and time to market ultimately increases.

Research different technologies, their advantages and disadvantages and get a feel for which will help you solve your core problems most effectively.

It’s important to note, you don’t have to be 100% sure what specific technology you want- a good supplier will be able to assist in product strategy and suggest the best option based on experience. You should, however, have a rough idea of whether the idea works better on web or mobile.

Learn More about: Mobile Apps vs Web Apps - What Should Your Startup Build First?

Release Date

Even though it may be difficult to prepare an estimate of the development during first contact, the preferred release date will set expectations and help to verify the plans vs actual amount of time a team will have to meet them. 

It may turn out that the plan is too ambitious and, in order to keep the release date, you will need to narrow the scope even further. The MVP approach is always preferred in this scenario, so narrowing the scope to the required minimum and testing the idea against the target audience.

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What is the budget?

It is a common issue that people don’t want to reveal the extent of their budget too early into a relationship. “I don’t want to reveal my cards just yet” - remember, it’s not a poker game. If you give a realistic view of your budget, your supplier will be able to produce a realistic specification for the work they can complete within those constraints.

Most technology companies will require you to disclose a ballpark figure early into the initial contact stage in order to gauge whether there is an appetite to work with a client of your size and scope. Software development is unpredictable to some extent, so it’s difficult to say precisely how much the development of a certain application will take. If your plan is ambitious but your budget is limited, it might be good to refine it and stay realistic.

Limited budget isn’t always bad, but unrealistic expectations on top of a limited budget are. We don’t want the scenario from the picture below as much as you don’t. If you’re a startup looking for a strategic partner to help build your product and business, take a look at our Ventures offering.  

Read More: 5 Ways to Raise Funds for Your Startup

Example Brief

Why: Due to COVID-19 a lot of university applications are being made remotely. For international students, the process of applying for university and VISAs has become much more difficult and long delays are faced. In many cases, paper forms are still necessary, being shipped across the world.

What: Create a mobile application that will allow users to remotely upload and sign their documents, and manage their VISA application process. We want this to work across all devices, so we think Flutter may be the best option, but would be happy to receive further advice. 

Release date: We would like to have an MVP ready for testing by the end of summertime because Autumn marks the beginning of an increase in student applications.

Budget: We can afford to spend around X of our current budget on MVP. (The amount here would indicate that Sender has enough to build a backend service and a cross-platform mobile application with a small buffer).

Conclusion

So we have a reason, we have the means, we have the time and the budget- what’s left? In honesty, there are a lot of other details that you will run through with your supplier over the course of initial negotiations. They’re just not necessary in the earliest stages.

I could dive into things like business models, preferred tech-stack, stakeholders, type of projects and so on, but that’s not what this article is about. Instead, we’ve run-down the most important information to initially brief a supplier with. After that information is communicated and a dialogue point established, the process is collaborative, and you will be able to develop your product idea leveraging their technical expertise.



Looking for a delivery partner that will work with you to identify, create and launch innovative technology products whilst providing clear ROI and long-term competitive advantage? Read our case studies, read our Start-up Sweat Equity Criteria for Netsells Ventures, or get in touch today.

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