What Should be Included in a Project Specification?
A well-written project specification is an integral part of the software development process. It helps everyone in the team stay on the same page and understand what the product is about and how it is intended to function. The biggest question is what exactly one should include in a project specification so that it brings value instead of confusion.
What is a project specification?
A project specification can be called a project’s blueprint as it describes what the project is about, how the product is intended to function and look, what features it should have, and how the users will interact with the product. Even though a project specification describes the technical aspects of the product, the intended users of this document are not limited to developers only - they also include internal and external stakeholders such as QA engineers, product owners, and any other people involved in the development process.
Why do we need to write a project specification?
This is the most popular question that clients tend to ask so it’s really important to explain how a good project specification contributes to the project’s success.
Since the project specification lists down all the product features and describes the intended design, it gives the team a clear view and understanding of how the final product should look and function. Think of it as a written guide on what should be done. In this way, everyone understands their roles and scope of work. As well, the listing of all product features helps project managers create an accurate backlog and efficiently manage it.
One more benefit of a well-written project specification is that it helps a customer and a development team stay on the same page. Because the document is available to all the parties involved, everyone can access it at any time and get a clear view of the project’s phases and requirements. And if a new person joins the project, they can immediately catch up on work by going through the specification.
Therefore, if we sum up, a project specification helps the team understand what needs to be done and helps everyone stay informed about the future scope of work. But what are the essential components of a good project specification? SoftTeco BA department lists them down below.
This is an introductory part of a project specification that contains the following sections:
- The challenge (what caused the client to start the project?)
- Project background (work that has already been completed)
- The solution (how the project solves the challenge)
The main goal of this section is to inform the readers about the project and give them an overview of its intended application. As well, this part of the project specification often contains a glossary, describes the intended audience for the specification, lists user types, and provides other relevant information.
It is important to remember that the project specification should be written in a clear manner and be easily understandable for all the readers. All changes to the project specification should be well documented and traceable through change date, version number and contributor. Despite being written by technical professionals, it should be easily understood both by the developers and the client. An informative project description section offers a clear and detailed overview of the project without overloading the reader with unnecessary technical terms.
Application architecture & components description
This section provides readers with a general overview and understanding of the system: how it is intended to function, what modules and components it contains, etc. For example, this section may include requirements for a specific database type, integration with certain payment systems, communications with external services and devices. The listing of all external services that the product is integrated with is important in order for the team to think about the most suitable and efficient integration methods.
Another important aspect discussed in this section is the architecture type that is planned to be used. It is crucial to define the right architecture type from the start as it navigates all further work. The choice of the architecture type will later define the possible future modifications, the way the system components interact with each other, and the way the system will behave. As well, software architecture contributes to a better understanding of the product’s functioning and helps developers plan their work correspondingly.
List of all functional requirements
Here, the author describes all user scenarios, meaning, all the interactions between a user and a system. This section lists down all the functionality of the product and all the actions triggered by the user. Depending on the project scope, size, and goals, this section may include:
- User stories
- Use cases
- User scenarios
- User paths
The writing of user stories and use cases is really important. Both user stories and use cases help understand the possible behavior of the users and predict all the possible ways of their interaction with the product. Note that a user story and a use case are two different things - you can read more about their differences in our previous blog post. The choice of the right tool will depend on the project and its complexity and size: for example, complex projects with extensive functionality will require both use cases and user stories while for simpler projects, user stories will be enough.
This section may also feature a general diagram for all the user paths and later in the document, the author might include diagrams for separate user stories. The availability of these diagrams will help better comprehend user scenarios and clarify any questions or issues the team members may encounter.
Design mockups or wireframes
This point relates to the one above. A project specification should contain the basic structure of all the screens of the product, UI elements for every screen, user functionality, and design mockups or wireframes.
Visual representation of the intended functionality helps developers better understand how to design and connect product components. It might also happen that a good visual representation of a future product can help developers find a better solution in terms of UI and avoid possible mistakes and remodeling. A large part of the efforts of putting together a project specification goes into creation of these visuals. However, it is one of the most important components for understanding a project’s functionality and scope.
The quality of the final product depends on its adherence to industry standards such as security or performance standards. Therefore, a project specification must include technical requirements, such as:
- Security requirements
- Data storage requirements
- Performance requirements
- Availability requirements
- Robustness requirements
Please note that technical requirements will be different for every project, depending on its scope, complexity, and domain. While some projects demand all of these requirements to be included, other projects will require a completely different structure and different requirements.
Technical requirements are also called non-functional requirements. They help oversee the correspondence of the project to the set quality standards and ensure flawless performance upon the product launch. Let’s briefly review each of these requirements.
Security requirements are aimed at keeping the product secure by safeguarding access to it and protecting it from both external and internal threats. Software product security is based on three principles which are integrity, availability, and confidentiality. Software security requirements cover such areas as:
- Authentication and authorization,
- Password management,
- Network security,
- Data security,
- Code integrity,
- Data validation,
- Validation testing.
In order to cover all needed areas and ensure that the product is reliably protected, one needs to answer such questions as what exactly needs to be secure, against whom is the product secured, who or what should provide the product’s safety, etc. As well, list down the risk categories (i.e. fraud or denial of service) and state their possible impact. This will help you prioritize the preventative measures and understand what exactly needs to be implemented in terms of security.
Data storage requirements
Secure data storage is another critical thing to pay attention to. This encompasses a set of requirements towards proper data collection, processing, and storage. Such requirements are necessary in order to ensure that the sensitive data is securely stored and cannot be stolen, substituted, or damaged.
To ensure proper data management and storage, IT companies are requested to follow certain data storage regulations. The most common ones are:
- GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)
- HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)
- PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)
- CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act)
All these regulations cater for the data to be processed in an appropriate manner without breaching or violating it.
In addition to listing the regulations to be compliant with, the project specification also describes what data storage practices will be followed.
Performance of a software product directly impacts the users’ behavior and perception of this product. If the product takes too much time to respond, cannot handle high loads, or displays errors, users will simply look for an alternative solution.
To ensure seamless performance, specify the following:
- Response time
Depending on the project’s scope and complexity, there will be different performance requirements. For example, a multi user application will require stating both the number of users per machine and the total number of users expected.
Availability and robustness
Availability requirements are aimed at specifying when the software product will be available for use and on what conditions. As well, these requirements specify when the product will be under maintenance so that other requirements do not conflict with this one.
As for robustness, these requirements specify the product’s behavior under such conditions as stress, invalid inputs, and similar issues. The product should perform equally well under any possible stressful conditions so the requirements describe the actions to take to ensure that.
The process of writing a project specification consumes quite a lot of time but in the end, it serves as a valuable asset to all team members. It is important to keep the specification updated throughout the development process so any new member of the team can easily understand the project concept from the start.
Diana PleshkunView all articles by this author.