The need for project specs

Advertising agencies operating without a project specification risk generating a gap between what a client thinks is going to happen and the reality of what the technology involved can support coupled with the budget at hand. When you begin to use project specifications you will see this gap closing with every web project. With a detailed project specification the client knows exactly what he is going to get ahead of time. (Some agencies actually make clients sign the project specification which serves as a form of binding contract.)

Unfortunately, many trad ad agencies typically still have some poorly-defined line item in their schedules for “client testing,” and it is usually some ridiculously large amount of time such as two to four weeks. If a web project is handled correctly there is no need for this. When a client is made to spend hours, days or perhaps even weeks planning with the agency, then sign off on a project spec, then sign off on a wireframe, then sign off on a design concept, the client knows exactly what they are going to get, down to the pixel. There is no disappointment. There is no need for “testing” on the client’s end. Most importantly this eliminates the opening for non-stakeholders on the client’s end to get involved and sidetrack your agency’s hard work.

Project specifications should be free. Countless times I have seen situations where what the client contact thought he was communicating and what the agency thought they were hearing didn’t match. Technical plannning is the cheapest thing an agency can do with their interactive projects since it generally requires one person. Unless the project, and hence the specification, is gigantic and requires more than a few days of planning, project specs should be free as they save the agency many man-hours and the agency always produces a better project.

Project specifications also bring in more money in that they lay the groundwork for additional work: If it isn’t in the scope document, then it is out of scope, and therefore an add-on. Before the use of a project specification advertising agencies would have been forced to throw in all sorts of work for free until the client was satisfied or motivated by other factors to end the project. Put simply, project specifications provide a definition of success.

Project specifications require training and experience. There is a sort of ability to forecast problems that comes from years of writing code. Writing a technical project specification is not something which can be performed by non-tech staff. This is where even a PMP certified project manager is not sufficient. You need a web manager… someone who comes from a technical background and is deeply interested in project management.