Welcome to the February 2012 issue of Precision Matters - the Precision Design Technology
Specification - Again
Why do I keep banging on about specification?
What is so important about getting specification right?
The simple answer is that specification matters and here’s why.
A specification has two purposes: one is to define the system you want for later use and the other is to communicate that definition to all who have any interest in that system, including the supplier. Both of these purposes are vitally important.
The precise definition of what you want from the system is obviously important, no matter what your application area and without regard for bespoke or package forms of solution. Hopefully, your supplier will deliver what you specified: if the specification is not complete, precise and correct, the system may not do what you want. Bluntly, a sloppy specification will lead to a sloppy system.
This precise definition will be of no use unless others can read it, understand it, and all comprehend the same meaning from it. We can use the English language to write stirring prose and wonderful emotive poetry. English, like most natural languages, is generally unsuitable for specification unless the author takes exceptional care. Many specifications, written largely in English, tend to be imprecise and ambiguous – and are largely untestable.
The Starting Point
If you wish to find and purchase a ready-made solution for your need, whether of the common or specialist type, where do you start?
Like me, you may take the “back of an envelope” and jot down a few headings that record your knowledge of the likely needs of the system. And here is the start of your specification for the new system. It won’t be anywhere near complete and there will be errors and omissions in what you have.
Discussions with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), who know most about the areas the system will support, will flesh out the specification and hopefully correct some of your initial errors and omissions.
How will you present this specification? Well, as a written document of course!
Now you have your specification and you use it to help choose a suitable short list of candidate systems within your price range. You compare the suppliers’ tick lists of features for their systems with your specification and perhaps you conclude that none of the offerings fits your need, as expressed in your specification.
The Basis for Discussions
The specification is now the basis for discussions with likely bespoke software suppliers. They will offer you a solution, which naturally they believe will fit your need. They may even offer to “prototype” a part of the system for you. [Prototyping involves creating a series of screens that show the likely arrangement of data entry, control mechanisms and reports that the system will present to a user. The prototype does not usually contain any detailed business logic or permanent data storage.]
The software supplier will present the final specification in “supplier speak” and some of this may be a long way from your original specification. How do you know what he will deliver? Well, frankly, you don’t; and this breaches one of the fundamental purposes of the specification.
A specification should enable communication between you, the user and your supplier (and other people as well). You should be convinced that the detail of the specification will give the support your business needs. In short, you want to comprehend, in detail, what you are buying.
That’s why specification is important and why I keep banging on about it.
The Newsletter Archive
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Want to reproduce this article?
Yes you can, so long as you accredit it to Robin Oldman, Precision Design Technology Ltd. and attach the following biography to the article at the bottom:
Precision Design Technology, (PDT), the IT systems experts, provides world-class consultancy and solutions for IT information systems to help its customers develop affordable, high integrity software for business. Normally high-integrity software is prohibitively expensive - PDT provides a solution at a price business can afford.
EUR ING Robin Oldman, COO at PDT, writes and blogs on behalf of the company. Robin also manages the development of the user interface for the SPECIFY4IT tool-set that bridges the gap between the client user and the system supplier. The SPECIFY4IT tool-set is capable of delivering high-integrity business software faster and more cheaply than conventional development methods.
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