Importance of Technical Specifications in Web and Software Development
How to Create Tech Specs
by Dr. William Sen
Anyone who has been involved in developing a website or a software knows about the difficulties of the subject. The requirements and demands of the client are one side of the coin; the other is the programming requirements. Nevertheless, almost 90% or more of the companies skip the most important steps in a web development project. The consequences couldn’t be more severe.
In this part, I’d like to talk more about the power and benefits of technical specifications in any web and software development project: however, many organizations do not know what a Tech Specs are and how they can be created. But, once you get the taste for Tech Specs, you cannot imagine a web or software project without them, no matter how big or small. For a good reason: Tech Specs are one of the strongest success factors in web or software development.
Tech Specs are located between design and coding, as illustrated in this exemplary process:
- Tech Specs
Once the design is approved by the client, many organizations make the mistake of directly going into the coding, i.e. the programming of the website or software according to the specifications of the design or mock-up. By doing so, the very important phase, Technical Specifications, is being skipped. Tech Specs specify, according to which principles and rules that the requirements set out in the design should be transferred to a code. It is a kind of functional specification that sets out page by page and element by element how a website or software should be coded.
Who creates a Technical Specification?
The creators of Tech Specs are mostly trained software engineers or software managers who are aware of all the challenges of the project throughout the process. First of all, they need to know about the client’s pain points and the discussed solutions. In addition, the software engineer must be fully conversant with UX/UI (User Expectation/User Interface) and programming. He/she has to possess the necessary technical knowledge to be able to outline all the requirements the way they can be implemented 1: 1 into code.
Working without Tech Specs
Many companies work without Tech Specs and jump from the mockup/design right into the coding process. Such approaches are often observed in organizations where there are none or suboptimal web or software development processes designed. On many occasions, these are organizations with little technical knowledge or training. Almost all organizations that do not have Tech Specs do also not have a separate development department, or lack of highly skilled professionals such as software engineers or software managers. Those who initiate web or software projects without technical specifications often have to struggle with a lot of other challenges, obstacles, and problems throughout the process. In the following, I would like to explain the importance and advantages and thus the bundled power of technical specifications.
Benefits of Tech Specs
There are a total of 7 key benefits of Tech Specs:
- Compromises in coding
If a project has no technical specifications and is handed over to the programmer right after the designing phase, there is plenty of room left for interpretation. Not only does the programmer misunderstand many things, but such a process leaves much room for complaints from the programmer as well.
The functions and elements presented in the design may prove to be too time-consuming and not at all feasible for the programmer. This can end in too many workarounds which the project team has to negotiate with the programmer in arduous ways. Because without a software engineer as the middleman who has created the technical specifications, the programmer can now declare many of the desired features as void or cumbersome. Basically, a programmer without technical specifications has an upper hand in the project. Since the design team does not always understand what is technically possible and what is not, it’s now the word of the programmer against all others.
The result of the web or software project without technical specifications will be a lot of neglected features and many workarounds. The results often are not what you have imagined. Dissatisfaction is almost inevitable. In addition, the management team puts itself in a situation where it has to explain to the client, why certain features discussed beforehand now look different or haven’t been even implemented. Without Tech Specs, it’s basically up to luck how good the programmer’s results are going to be. Tech Specs outline the requirements for detail and clarity on what results can be expected.
A web or software project with technical specifications, on the other hand, can pass requirements directly to the programmer without any compromise. The Tech Specs speak to the coder, and the coder has also no need to indicate any difficulties, since these were already considered in the Tech Specs.
- Cost savings
Ideally created Tech Specs usually take development costs into account, as well as additional licenses for software tools, APIs, and more. Although Tech Specs do not contain any numbers such as costs, they outline all technical requirements in such a way that all expected costs and expenses are comprehensible. Thus, one knows already before the transfer to the programmer team, how high the expenditure will be.
Unlike a project without Tech Specs, where the programmer can add additional cost and efforts during the coding phase. Since the programmer is basically not a project manager, such efforts can often occur arbitrarily and repeatedly. Not only is there no cost control, but such a process also leaves much room for unnecessary friction between the client, project management, and the programming team.
At first glance, the web or software development process seems easy: once the design has been done, why not hand it over to the coder? However, such a process is too short-sighted from an economic standpoint.
The time sacrificed between programmers, and the rest of the team is often underestimated. The math is easy: add up all the communication efforts from the point where you handed over the design to the programmer, and when it was completed. Only then would it become clear just how much time was spent on meetings, emails, and additional explanations. Just one question from the programmer can keep the project manager busy for several hours and even lead to more internal meetings. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that companies without communication control have not internalized the value of the processes in web or software development.
Tech Specs, are incredible communication tools. Well created Tech Specs lead hardly to any questions from the programmer team. With Tech Specs, communication is reduced, which unburdens the entire team. The creation of Tech Specs also takes much less time than the time required for communication, when there are no Tech Specs.
Tech Specs are true miracles in cost savings when it comes to communication control in web or software development.
- Legal aspects
Technical specifications are legal documents and deliverables that should also be shown to the client. They not only show the professionalism in the process but they also require client’s approval. If, for example, certain requests that have been outlined in the design are not mentioned in the technical implementation, the client now gets the opportunity to express concerns before it goes into the programming phase.
Anyone who has ever had to lead a project without technical specifications has experienced this kind of torment: After programming, the client is not 100% satisfied as the requirements haven’t fully implemented. Since programming is the costliest phase of the project, such rework can cost a fortune.
In the end, a tiresome discussion with the client is needed to explain why certain functions and features had to be different or even left out. This usually causes an internal problem as well. Should the client be charged for the reprogramming, or is this something the web or software agency should provide as it was stated in the design? All these predicaments can be avoided when technical specifications are presented to the client beforehand.
As well as wireframes and designs, technical specifications should be approved by the client. It’s the service providers’ duty to work closely with the client and to explain the contents of the technical specifications. Also, providing such transparency ultimately strengthens the relationship with the client even more.
- Higher quality
Tech Specs can be used on any programmer team no matter the size. They are also implicitly recommended for individual programmers and offshore coding teams.
Anyone who has ever worked with programmers knows that they have their own ideas and values in the entire project management. Often, they can also have a more disjoint role in the process and even throughout the company. This attitude can hardly be changed even with strict regulations and policies, and these kinds of problems seem to be unavoidable even in healthy corporate culture environments.
Fact is, programmers are and will remain a species of their own, in a world that is often incomprehensible to others. To address programmers, one must speak in their language and culture. If the communication and instructions are provided by non-experts, it leads to miscommunication, less recognition by the programmer, and as a consequence, less competent work can be expected.
Tech Specs act as middlemen. They speak to the programmer and provide instructions that the programmer understands and acknowledges. Thus, well-formulated Tech Specs make programmers better recognize the requirements set out. This then results in getting the most out of the programmer. In short, Tech Specs projects get the most out of the programmer.
- Quality control
Ultimately, Tech Specs are the perfect tool when it comes to putting the results through their paces. With Tech Specs in hand, it is easy for a project manager to identify faulty or missing elements, functions, and features. Since the entire functionalities are described point by point, in quality assurance, these points only have to be checked one after the other.
The project manager can also point out the respective places in the Tech Specs. If, for example, certain points on page 40 of the Tech Specs have not been implemented as described, an indication of the respective page of the document is sufficient. Again, immense communication and explanations are reduced.
Without Tech Specs it can be quite cumbersome to make a programming team or single coder understand what the idea, requirements and features of the software are. Usually, this starting point is one of the most exhausting processes during a software project. This first step also sets to course in regard to motivation, mood, and atmosphere of the whole project. Misunderstandings during this phase cause lots of delays and costs later during the project, on the one hand. On the other hand, if the idea and vision haven’t been explained with enthusiasm and devotion, the end results of the software might not be as good as expected. This simple psychology can vouch for every project I work with: The less devotion you put in describing the idea to your coder, the less devotion the coder will have working on this project. It’s pretty simple. Why would someone be excited about your project, if you’re not? Eventually, you’ll reap what you have sown.
Every software project manager could write a book on how important and time consuming it is to bring a coder into a fresh project the first time. Therefore, many software project managers tend to stick to the team they have been working together with for years or even decades. Even so, some coders may not possess the full requirements for this project; software project managers tend to work with coders whom they get along with, rather than looking out for new experts as the introduction phase is so burdensome. From my personal experience, I know so many people who have been working with lousy coders due to the fact that it has been easier to communicate as they have been working for them for so long.
However, a Tech Spec can take more than 80% of this burden from the software project manager. With a well lined out Tech Spec, you don’t have to be fearful of explaining the project to somebody from anew. For all you know, you can just pass the Tech Spec to 10 different coders and see which one will take the job. When a coder holds the Tech Specs in his/her hand, he/she already knows what the project is all about. The next thing you have to do is just to answer some of the questions that might have appeared – and the rest you just talk about the weather. Because by then, the Tech Specs would have taken care of the rest. It makes you not bond to one coder, and more open to bring in new coders. It’s just beautiful.
Who does not want a web or software project that manages as few obstacles, communication channels, costs and compromises as possible, and also provides an ideal result? What seems like an impossibility can be realized through technical specifications.
The ability to create Tech Specs requires years of software engineering knowledge. Mostly in small organizations like smaller web or software development agencies, Tech Specs tend not to be used.
Every web or software project at BLUE MEDIA, no matter how small, is always supervised with Tech Specs. After more than 22 years of software development, we have some knowledge in our repertoire that sets us apart from other providers.
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In this part, I'd like to talk more about the power and benefits of technical specifications in any web and software development project: however, many organizations do not know what a Tech Specs are and how they can be created.