How to Write Specs for a Software Developer

You’ve heard the scary stats and figures surrounding IT and tech projects. You know that on average, the typical tech project sees a 45 percent cost overrun, while taking 7 percent longer than expected. And at the end of the day, the average project delivers 56 percent less value than originally anticipated.

Perhaps you’ve also heard of those more disastrous projects. The one in six IT projects that sees an average cost overrun of 200 percent or more, along with delays of more than 70 percent. And you can’t forget the 17 percent of large IT projects (defined as projects with a budget of $15 million or more that) threaten a company’s very existence!

These stats are underscored by one more fact: 78% of those surveyed by Wrike said they felt that “their project requirements are usually or always out of sync with the business.” And this is all rooted in one major problem: poor project specs.

Your specs will set the tone for your entire project. In cases where you need to bring in additional resources, these specs become even more important. In short, if you don’t know what specifications you’ll be working from, it becomes exponentially more difficult to find talent with the right skills and capabilities. As with many things in life, if your input is poor quality in this case poor project specs, then it’s likely that your output the actual finished project is also going to be poor.

So that begs the question: What constitutes well-written specs? And how should you not go about writing project specifications? And how do those specs impact your hiring process?

A Common (But Faulty) Approach for Writing Specs for Software Developers

One very typical approach to spec writing involves using the specs for a similar project as a starting point. Then, the specs are modified to accommodate the new project. This technique is highly flawed. It can result in vague or inaccurate specs that just don’t suit the new project. It’s easy to miss or forget about a critical aspect of development if you don’t take the time to perform a comprehensive, in-depth analysis.

The challenges are compounded from this point forward, as those specs are used to determine which resources will be required. Do you need a team of 5 or 25? What skills are needed to complete this project? Can you handle this endeavor in-house? Will you need to call in additional resources by hiring new staff? Will you need temporary team members to assist? Whether you opt for new hires or call in a supplemental team to work on-site on a temporary basis, you’ll need some precise bits of information, like:

  • What skills are required to get the job done?
  • How many people with a particular skill will be needed?
  • Which phase(s) of the project will each person work on?

This is where your specs come into play. The tech project’s budget and timeframe will be developed using those specifications as a basis, so it’s critical that you get them right from the start. Otherwise, you’re apt to find yourself in a no-win scenario where you lack the time, budget or resources that you need to achieve your objective.

How Do You Write Good Specs for Software Developers?

A good set of project specs requires a lot of thought and consideration–and this isn’t a task that can be left to your project manager. Your tech leaders must be involved in the process, as they’ll have the knowledge required to create the detailed, accurate specifications you need to hire the right person. The process is rather dynamic and there’s no single right approach. But great specs tend to arise from the following steps:

  1. Create a detailed description of your objective. For example, if you’re building an app, detail the features and functions that the finalized application will include. This is vital for your hiring process because you need to ensure you hire the right developer for the type of software you’re seeking.
  2. Outline the steps you’ll need to complete in order to achieve that objective. Once you’ve identified your destination, you must plan your route, the path or steps that you’ll take to reach that objective. This will give you a better idea of cost/budget and these measures are critical for getting to step three, a step that’s essential for the hiring process.
  3. Identify the phases of the project. Once you’ve identified the steps you’ll complete to achieve your goal, you can separate those steps into distinct phases to provide an accurate idea of scope and timeframe. This is important for hiring, as you’ll need to understand what skill level and time commitment is required.

Only when you’ve addressed these points can you move ahead to determine your budget, then hire and assemble your development team. Each project is unique, so it’s very important that you acknowledge this by starting fresh in your specification development process. Reusing and modifying specs is often attempted as a time-saver, but when all is said and done, it often results in time and cost expenditures far greater than if the specs had been developed from the ground up. Quite simply, detailed specs are one of the most important factors for preventing time and budget overruns.

At iTech, we specialize in IT and tech staffing services, but we cannot proceed without well-crafted specs. Those project specifications serve as the basis of your project and as the basis of our staffing process. We encourage our clients to set the stage for success with the creation of a detailed, in-depth project outline.

Based in Texas, iTech works with clients across the United States and beyond.

Contact iTech today to discover how temporary software developer staffing services can give your company the competitive edge it needs to succeed.

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