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Project Specification. What is It and What Should It Contain?

Do you have an idea for an application or website? Do you want to implement it, but wonder how to start creating it with a team of designers and developers? The specification, meaning in short the scope of the project, plays an important role in this process. With this post, we'll help you understand the importance of building a specification for your team, and how a well-thought-out document of this type helps with getting the work on a project started.

What is a project specification?

How does creating a project from scratch look like? In the beginning, there's usually an idea. However, it's only an overview of the scope of work on the project. In order to hand over a project for implementation to designers and developers, it's necessary to define what exactly is to be done. A document with such content is called a project specification.

A specification is most often a text file in which all the expected elements of the project are listed: the subpages or views, functionalities, formal requirements and implementation time. In a good specification, we should carefully list everything that the client expects when commissioning the project.

Product design specification

A project specification can be divided into parts. The first one is the design (UI) and user experience (UX) specification. It's the part of the entire specification relating to, for example:

  • appearance of the designed product,
  • number and type of the subpages (views),
  • information on the users or personas,
  • accuracy of the wireframes and prototypes,
  • information architecture,
  • visual expectations,
  • color preferences,
  • preferences regarding the photos, icons, and illustrations,
  • expectations resulting from the client's corporate identity,
  • individual responsive versions.

There may also be other issues related to the appearance of the website here.

Technical specification

The second part of a project specification is the one concerning the issues related to the technical aspect of the project. Therefore, it takes into account the issues related to the programming, implementation and support works. To put it simply, these are the things that the client expects from the developers and people involved in implementing the designed project. This type of a specification may include the information such as:

  • expected functions of the system (e.g., CMS),
  • SEO parameters,
  • page load time,
  • project creation and implementation schedule,
  • needs of the responsive versions,
  • issues related to the constant technical maintenance of the website within the appropriate standard.

Requirement vs specification

What's the difference? A requirement is something that's needed to be done, and a specification is an exact description of how to do it, or in other words – it's extensive information about the requirements. A specification includes many factors that a given requirement must address in order to be met.

Example

Requirement: The page should contain a newsletter subscription form.

Design specification:

  • The form should be visible near the menu.
  • It should contain the first name and email fields, as well as the checkboxes confirming marketing consents.
  • After registering an email, a confirmation message in the form of a pop-up window should appear.
  • The form should be based on the color schemes of the company's brand book.

Technical specification:

  • The form should be synchronized with a newsletter system (e.g., Mailchimp).
  • The number of subscribers should be visible in the CMS panel.
  • The newsletter-related emails shouldn't be flagged as spam.

Benefits of having a specification

Having a specification, the software development team is able to understand the idea of the client and learn the scope of the expected works. A project specification document makes it easy to draw up an accurate valuation and estimate the time needed to complete the project. Having a complete specification, the team can start a substantive discussion on the works offhand, and sometimes even begin the preliminary works.

A specification at the stage of project valuation allows the client to know the costs of individual elements of the project because the contractor is able to divide their valuation into individual parts of the scope of works. Such an approach facilitates budget planning and project planning over time.

A project specification enables planning and distributing tasks within the team. An important role of a specification is also that it becomes a part of the contract between the client and the company. The more thorough and precise the specification, the lower the risk of an understatement or misinterpretation of the client's expectations regarding the scope of the works to be performed.

What to do when the client doesn't have a project specification ready?

Creating a specification should be the clients' task, as they understand their needs best and know what they want. However, they don't always come with a complete project specification. In many cases, the clients only have an idea or an outline. Not all clients had experiences with IT companies in the past, so they don't know that it's good to draw up such a specification. Often, the customers are also unaware that something obvious to them may not be so for developers and designers.

It's not a problem! Together with the dedicated software development team, we help the clients create a specification so that the project is feasible. Depending on the size of the project, we speak with the client at several meetings or at longer (several days long) workshops and discuss what should be included in the specification. Our experience and knowledge allow the clients to develop a comprehensive document with a project specification.

Specification vs the MVP idea

Creating a specification allows you to choose its most important parts which can be included in the MVP (Minimum Viable Product), that is the product version containing only the key functionalities. The launch of a project doesn't always depend on the implementation of the entire range of its specification. The MVP version is by definition a stripped-down content of the full project, which brings value to the clients after the launch. The conclusions from a working MVP version often affect the corrections or changes in a specification, allowing the scope to be adjusted to the updated expectations and needs.

Specification may evolve

The approved specification isn't set in stone. There's nothing wrong with changing the specification during the course of the project. The implementation of projects often takes many months, so the client's expectations may change during this time.

A variable specification is good when working on projects in the Scrum system, where the works are planned based on sprints (weekly or biweekly). Scrum in combination with Time & Material (a method in which the client pays for the actually carried out work) brings the best results. In such an approach, an initial specification is a good starting point and a signpost for the further works, but the customer and the team aren't bound by it and assume its variability.

Project specification – the summary

A complete specification brings many advantages. It facilitates the work valuation and time estimation, thanks to which the client can quickly learn the cost of the project and start a substantive discussion with the contractors. A carefully prepared project specification is a good start for getting to know the offers of many specialists, because most of them will ask for this document. Creating a specification allows the client to think about their project and create its concrete vision.