Don’t Write Detailed Specifications When Ordering Custom Software

16 Jun, 2021
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In the marketing world, a brief is a standard form of communication. Without a brief, no professional agency will start working on a serious project. Before creatives can write a script for the next big Super Bowl hit, they have to understand what the company plans to achieve – and a good brief makes it possible. Without it, the odds of producing a successful ad are a coin flip.   

Practice shows that a similar approach should be a must at partnering up with external software providers. When ordering custom IT solutions, companies should precisely explain what problem they aim to solve.  

However, it’s rarely the case. And, as a result, some cooperations end with flops.     

To help you avoid this nightmare scenario, in this blog post, we’re going to highlight the biggest issues related to ordering custom software – and will show you how to do it properly.

Don't write detailed specification

Let’s Start With What You Should Never Do  

In the early 2000s, ordering IT usually meant listing core functional requirements. Back then, developing software in accordance with a specification provided by clients was a common practice.  

And often, the outcomes were disastrous. 

There were many reasons for that. First of all, executives working at companies that don’t produce software for a living can’t know how to write specifications professionally. And even if they somehow do, it’s still easy to overlook key features or concentrate on unimportant elements. To make the documentation more reliable, some companies hired external specification writers; but this strategy was also trap-filled.   

Despite these terrible experiences, even in 2021 many companies still order software with the same approach. First, they draft a technical specification of functionalities and show it to a few software providers. Next, they plan to pick the cheapest and quickest one. Luckily, responsible software partners will answer with “nope, no way” and instead propose a more modern cooperation model. However, there will always be a company that finally says yes.  

And this can only end in two ways.  

Best case scenario, the client gets exactly what they ordered… and it’s probably not that good for several reasons. Worst case scenario – the specification isn’t feasible, and the results are even grimmer.  

But if not specification-driven, then how should your order look like?

What You Should Do: Describe Your Problems 

If you’re about to prepare a document that will kick-start your cooperation with a software house, our first advice is – don’t spend too much time on it. Unless you’re working in the public sector (and are bound by law to deliver a detailed specification), concentrate on explaining your goals, challenges, and problems.  

In short, concentrate on the WHY, and leave the HOW to the technological partner.  

If you’ve chosen your new IT supplier wisely (and we’re sure you did – it’s an important decision), your partner will know what to do. You don’t have to explain to a technological firm how to do technology. Thanks to such a cooperation model, you save time and money; you also leave the IT company some space to test various approaches. As a result, you will likely get a far better and technologically advanced solution than the one you specified in-house. 

For instance, from our experience, it sometimes happens that a client has spent a lot of time on preparing a detailed specification (even half a year!) and, as a result, expects quick effects. After all, everything that needs to be done is already laid out. Right? Well, as you know by now – not so much. These detailed specifications are often prepared by executives who do not write specifications for a living and thus are not good enough to be implemented; moreover, even if an experienced CTO is involved, a technological partner is still likely better equipped to come up with the specifics. After all, one CTO could have worked on dozens or hundreds of different projects; on the other hand, a technological outsourcing firm possesses somewhat of a hive mind, having jointly developed thousands of solutions.  

Overall, 9 out of 10 times, you will get something better if you trust the experience of your new partner.     

A Metaphor To Convince You  

If you’re still not convinced that this is the right approach, we’d like to tell you a quick story.  
Imagine you just bought a cool new apartment and need some furniture. You can get a TV sofa on your own; however, it’s a very fancy place, and your kitchen is quite uniquely shaped. As a result, no “off-the-shelf” furniture will fit. So, you need to call a local company that will design and deliver you a custom-made kitchen.  
Now, at this point, you tell the company what colours you like and where you’d love to have the dishwasher. The company shows you a few propositions, including some fresh trends that weren’t available yet when you got a kitchen 5 years ago. Finally, you pick the project you like the most, and, after a not so short wait, the kitchen will be fitted into your new apartment.  
From the perspective of this story, there are some things you definitely won’t do. For example, you won’t ask the business proprietor for his plumber’s resume. Or, you won’t tell him how to get the sink working.  
Do you see the analogy?  
Getting a custom kitchen is not so different from ordering tailored software. In both cases, it will be beneficial to trust the professionals. And, importantly, IT changes way faster than furniture design. Something that might have been the “perfect” solution 1 or 2 years ago is most likely only “okay” today. Somebody developing software daily will know these trends and will recommend you the optimal choice.  

If You’re Struggling to Write the IT Brief, Let the IT Partner Help You  

Preparing a document that has the potential to shape the future of your company can be intimidating. So, don’t let yourself get stuck. If you’re not sure what to include in the document – or maybe, you’re not able to precisely describe your business problems, goals, or challenges – a good technological partner will guide you through the process. 
For example, you can start with a vision meeting or a simple discussion. That way, you can get instant feedback and work together on detailing your situation. A responsible partner will review the idea you have and explain the consequences of doing thing A or B – what will happen if you go this or that way, both from the perspective of short-or long-term perspectives.


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