4 min read

1. How to build a successful website specification

1. How to build a successful website specification

What is a spec and why do I need one?

Commissioning a website for your business can be hard. We’re going to look at what goes wrong, common problems and how to avoid falling into these pitfalls.

We’ll outline an elegant process you can use to put together a solid plan for any project. Specifically, we'll look at website design and build, but these principles apply universally to projects.

When commissioning a website it’s best to put together a specification of requirements. A document which lists what the project needs. The strength of this document is critical to a successful project.

When writing this document we should keep in mind we are not the experts. We are unconsciously ignorant about the subject. That is to say we don’t know what we don’t know.

We are not the experts. We are writing a guide for someone who is.

We won't have the breadth and depth of understanding our suppliers will have. Suppliers who will have done this many times already. We come loaded with assumptions and biases. This document is about determining our criteria.

The first step is to look at how we can identify what we need and be mindful of our biases. By describing the end result,  the goal of the project, rather than the route to take, we allow the supplier to propose their expert opinion without second guessing their decision.

Projects can fail from fuzzy goals. From unclear requirements. Even if you have expertise, a goal-focused specification will maximise chances of a succesful project.

Commissioning a website is not straight-forward. There are layers of technology all working on top of each other. There are many plates spinning. Many ways to do the same thing and many factors that need to be considered.

There's no two ways about it. It’s hard to keep track of it all without it come crashing down.

I’ve spoken to countless business owners who have had projects stall mid-way through. They’ve lost time, money and found the whole process very stressful.

This complex task needs a thorough plan to keep you on track.

Failure is often because the plan didn't exist or wasn't up to the job. A specification sets out this plan. It’s a guide you can use to fulfil your business goals.

It’s a collaborative document that helps you achieve your goals. You can share it with others in your team: your project managers, designers, developers, content editors and business partners. It ensures everyone knows what the objectives are and how you aim to achieve them.

A good specification says this is what we have and this is where we want to be.

It’s transparent and concise but also flexible to allow new ideas to arise that can help you reach your goals.

It shouldn't be exhaustive and it shouldn't be prescriptive. It would be impossible for a specification to include everything . You cannot account for every click and every edge-case. We also want to take advantage of our suppliers insight rather than use our assumptions.

So we will look at the importance of defining the goals, the intentions, from which you can use to put together the best team for the job.

A good spec will attract a good team - a bad spec (or no spec!) will put off a lot of quality suppliers.

We’re going to look at the steps you can take after you’ve made the decision to build a website. We will look at the questions you need to ask yourself about your business to identify your requirements. We will then put this together into a document you can provide potential suppliers who can help you achieve your goals.

We will help you put together a solid plan for you to build a website with.

Perhaps you are in this position at the moment, perhaps it’s a process you’ve been through a number of times already. In either case, by the end of this guide you will have a clear idea of how to put together a solid specification to give your suppliers.

Or if you are a supplier reading this, you will learn about what makes a specification work. How you can give more accurate estimates, set expectations and have happy clients.

Why a Specification?

We call this document a Specification. Some call it simply a spec, a brief and others a tender. The one thing you can be assured of in the technical world is that there will be all manner of acronyms and jargon to accompany any document.

I call it a Specification - think of it as a blueprint to build from.

We’ll be creating this blueprint for your business, not just your website. A website is an interface between your customers and your company. If there is a disconnect then your business will falter.

We’ll deep dive into your business to discover and determine your business needs and translate them into tangible goals for your website.

If I was to condense a succesful blueprint to it’s essentials I would say we need to:

  1. Set our expectations correctly at the start
  2. Determine our goals
  3. Create a plan to reach our goals

In this guide we’re going to walk you through how you can do these items.

We’re going to consider what your business requirements are.

We’re going to expose common misconceptions and help set your expectations.

We’re going to talk budgets.

We’re going to give concrete examples you can use when talking to designers, developers and agencies.

We’ll put together a plan so you can get the project completed and ready for your needs.

But first, let’s talk about building a house.