New Database Project? To Ensure Success, Start Here
Without writing a carefully crafted job description, you would not consider hiring a staff member or contractor for your organization. The same approach is needed when launching your database development project. Write a requirements document, sometimes called a “software requirements specification,” before
beginning your project. Your database developer will rely on this to create your database, so ensure it has everything needed to guarantee success. A solid requirements document is the first step to ensuring the success of your project.
What do you need your database to do? Perhaps you want to store a list of donors and their contact information. Do you need to record when and how they donate? The dates and the amounts? What is their preferred contact method and their spouse’s name? If so, write that down. Describe the information you want to store about volunteers, grantors, board members, and staff. Databases are all about the details, so be as specific as possible. What about your core mission? What information would you like on tap, and how should it be displayed? Do you want photos, graphs, or dashboards of some kind?
Think about your own needs and those of any stakeholders in your organization. Consider board members, volunteers, donors, and sponsors – anyone with a share in your organization’s mission and vision. What do they need to know to stay informed? How do you measure success? What information will inform your choices, plans, and spending decisions?
Plan, Write, Discuss
“A solid requirements document is the first step to ensuring the success of your project.”
After finalizing what needs to be stored in the database, it's essential to consider the desired outputs. This includes reports, forms, and lists you'd like the database to generate. Consider if you require information to be summarized by month, quarter, or year or if you must report on activities by customers, investors, or other funding sources. It's important to communicate these requirements to your database developer in advance, as some outputs can only be obtained if the input information is designed to facilitate it.
Finally, consider the automation you’ll need. Automations go above and beyond merely storing or printing out data. They are the magic ingredient that gives your database the extra power only a computer can provide. By automation, I mean:
Buttons that generate an email message or perform some other task.
Something that activates the comparison, sorting, or categorization of information.
Number crunching, averaging, or trend analysis.
A workflow triggered by something and then continued until finished.
All database projects should begin with a solidly constructed requirements document. Like a set of building plans for a house, it will provide a framework for the architecture of the database. A good developer will ask questions and build on your initial document until everything is clearly defined. Only then will they begin to create a plan to construct your vital asset: your database.