Every great eCommerce website starts out in life as a project specification document.
Producing a project specification that’s rock-solid is hard work and, frankly, not a lot of fun. It takes time, a lot of discussions and no small amount of research to draw up a set of instructions that will result in the e-commerce website that the client needs.
This document has to unite all the people working on the project: developers, designers, CRO and SEO experts, copywriters, testers, and of course, clients.
With all of the different elements a website can have, there are no two same documents. However, after all these years in website development, we at Best Response Media created our project management backbone, a detailed website specification that we adjust for every single project we undertake.
This isn’t some holy stone tablet, it’s something we’ve tweaked over the years – something that’s continually evolving with every project.
When creating your own project specification template, try to keep several things in mind.Tips to write a project specification document
1. Collaboration is key
One of the reasons creating a project specification is always tricky, is that a project specification has to unite a lot of disparate groups.
It’s not a task you can complete on your own, but one in which collaboration is essential. Once it’s finished, your project specification should communicate a shared vision.
A lot of people will be involved in your eCommerce website project, so getting everyone involved in the process from the outset will ensure each group remains on the same page.
That said, too many cooks can spoil the broth: the process needs to be controlled, and it needs to be clear who has decision-making authority. Collaboration tools like Confluence, Asana and Jira are essential to keeping everything running smoothly, especially if some groups are located remotely.
2. Set clear goals and write them down
A great way to start the project specification is to come up with some very basic targets. Decide on your goals, write them down, and make sure everyone on your team knows what they are. This is a good starting point from which to branch out, as your objectives will always be central to each later decision you make.
You can start to set clear goals firstly by hashing out your more general objectives:
What will this website do for your business?
How does it fit into your wider strategy?
How will you know if you’ve succeeded?
Zoom in and devise some measurable KPIs. This could be website traffic, newsletter sign-ups and of course, the big one, conversion rates.
3. List details functional requirements
The functional requirements section is the real meat of your project specification and it’s likely to make up the bulk of its length. This is where you lay out how the site will work and your different requirements for each kind of page. W
hen doing this, consider how different groups will need to use your website- not just customers, but also internal users: content writers, customer support teams etc.
As well as page functions, you’ll need to plan out system integrations, any unusual analytics data you want the site to record and relay, and your localisation requirements. We recommend the MoSCoW method (Must, Should, Could, Won’t) as a way to layout your priorities. While it’s better to have too much detail than not enough, it is possible to go overboard – functions that are fairly standard for all eCommerce sites may not need to be listed, instead, it’s most important to highlight the areas where breaking the mould.
4. List non-functional requirements
With your functional requirements in place, you’ll then need to lend your efforts to list the non-functional requirements.
Where functional requirements specify the functions and tasks your website will perform, the non-functional requirements describe how your e-commerce site performs those functions.
This can include all kinds of different properties of your website, such as the specifics of hosting, accessibility, security and performance. Consider how much traffic your website should support, how manageable and easy to repair it will be, and other concerns of this ilk.
Once this section is complete, you should be left with a full description of how your website will operate. If you have any requirements remaining that aren’t now listed, something’s gone wrong.
5. Be precise when writing
You can’t spell project specification without specifics. Your project specification won’t be effective if you don’t take pains to ensure the highest level of precision possible. Lay out your requirements in full and don’t cut corners, to ensure that developers are left with very few uncertainties. Failing to be specific can lead to nasty surprises in the worst-case scenario. At best, it will slow down the web design process as time is wasted on clarifying questions.
6. Make everything traceable
In the process of creating your project specification, you’ll undergo many discussions with many different team members. The finished product will be the culmination of 1000 tiny joint decisions. But even the best-laid plans are subject to change, especially once development begins and new information comes to light.
Ensuring everything remains traceable is, therefore, a must to prevent problems down the road. It should always be possible to find the origins of each function and understand the connectedness of each requirement. Otherwise, it will be much harder to make any necessary tweaks or adaptions later. Techniques like a traceability matrix are a huge asset for keeping track of everything.
7. Make it readable and accessible
Your project specification should be easily interpreted by each group that needs to follow your instructions. So you need to keep it clear and easily accessible. This isn’t hard – just read through the whole thing once you’re ready and make sure you’re using clear, simple language throughout, and avoiding jargon-laden sentences. Where additional clarification is needed, employing clear examples can be a great help.
Tom Carter is Project Lead at Best Response Media