August 31, 2007

Can 1 page end the agony of functional specifications?

Filed under: innovation, productivity, uncategorized — bersi @ 11:24 am

Been thinking about EA deliverables lately and therefore trying to understand functional specs as part of that. I’ve never done one myself but it sounds like a field of pain that can stretch over long periods. Then I came across the idea of Jason Frieds 37 signal approach of creating a one pager for a functional spec. He says “Functional specifications? Don’t do it….We write a one page story about what the app should do. If it takes more than a page to explain it, then it’s too complex. If it’s simple and it takes more than a page to write it then we’re not writing clearly enough. This process should take no longer than a few days.” Can the solution be that ‘simple’? I doubt it as 37 signals is not the average company. But I’d like to try this out…



  1. sounds heavenly! you might find you get just a couple of questions from the developers! but thats not all bad…

    and even not as a deliverable it’s still a great way of developing an idea or a design…

    can we try it somehow – do a retrospective single page for an old site that we’ve speced?

    Comment by danielharris — September 2, 2007 @ 9:11 pm

  2. A one pager isn’t a functional specification (unless it’s a one page brochure site). A one pager is a…one pager.

    A functional specification is, as it sounds, a specification of function. This might need to be very long – doesn’t mean it needs to be a pain. Just long.

    If you’re sat with the dev team then (in a more agile world) a one pager and continued comms might suffice – but when you’re handing stuff over to another team/company/geographic location a one pager will probably just get you slapped. I reckon.


    Comment by neil — September 3, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  3. Whether or not you need a functional specification depends on the complexity and scope of the project and the approach you are taking with it (agile/non-agile/etc). A one-pager, as neil says, is not a functional spec, it is something else, and serves a different purpose.

    In some situations a Functional Spec can prove incredibly valuable – it turned out to be essential on Multimap and should have been approached/done much earlier than it was.

    Also, producing a FS is not a “field of pain”. Instead, it is an opportunity to really think through *in detail* the ins and outs of the behaviour of what you are building, and an opportunity to *really understand it*. Preparing a FS will throw up so many interesting unanswered questions that you will wonder how people ever survived without them (they didn’t).

    Yes, 37signals don’t use them. But 37signals build things with highly questionable usability and completely shocking style. They are popular because they are good at self-promotion, nothing else. Many of the things they built had extant competitors who were doing it better; just they didn’t shout loud enough to get used.

    Comment by marcus — September 6, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  4. Interesting to have a discussion about functional specs without ever having written one but here I go:
    I get Marcus point and taking time to think through all design decision and test them on consistent logic is certainly worth going through a functional spec.
    On that note I wonder what thing we can do to improve them though?

    I hear different versions of the problem with them from a) funspecs are not really read but skimmed through and mostly created to save us from the client to b) funcspecs are read in detail but still miss necessary detail.

    An obvious idea is a collaboration with developers, i.e having discussions, using a universal data dictionary, adding of use cases (light or full blown). The assumption in that is that communication is better than isolated specification. What do you think, Marcus A??

    Comment by bersi — September 10, 2007 @ 7:42 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: