The Devil is in the details (but only if you read them)

, Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

I don’t feel too bold in saying that a specification (know in the industry as a “spec”) is the foundation of any web application, large or small. It informs user flow, technical design, QA, and, if done in conjunction with the wireframing process, creative design. Add to the mix third-party app integrations and analytics tracking, and you’ve got a document that needs to be all things to all people. That’s an awful lot of pressure to put on one little document. And because of that pressure, this little document tends to be not-so-little.

Specs for large web builds can get into the hundreds of pages. And yet they always seem to get a speedy sign-off. Why? Because a full spec is not exactly light reading – it’s more likely to be perused. But if it’s not closely followed, there can be kinks in development further on down the road.

We at Beaconfire use a tool, Axure, for, among many things, creating specs. What I like best about Axure is its ability to visualize and compartmentalize information. Take, for example, a contact us form. A contact us form may have several fields that are required, need validation, or have size limits. Suddenly, a simple Contact Form can be 2-5 pages of spec space.

In Axure, I can create a specifications with as many categories and labels as needed. When exported, I can adjust which labels and categories show. So, for the client, I can create a basic spec: what is this, are the fields required, and are there any open questions. I can even present it visually, or produce a more detailed Word Document specification.

For my developers, I can give them the same visual, only followed by a table with detailed information for development: required fields, validation, integration information, and Analytics tracking information.

That’s detail only a Functional Analyst could love. But, from this point, your developers will have all the information they need to proceed, and you have a solid basis for a QA test plan.

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