An effective programme outcome specification process assembles a mixture of elements. It aims to front load, insofar as it is possible, bringing this information together and sharing this knowledge with all those involved. The specification it creates must be
- Persistent, not a transitory communication that is valid at the time but lost thereafter and cannot be reused a year later
- Accessible, all must have equal visibility and access to the information and
- Maintainable, able to be updated in an effective controlled way if things change.
This requires a structured information management approach and a disciplined preparation and maintenance process. It also needs recognition that this needs to be a planned appropriately led and staffed activity. It is not simply a one-off ‘write a spec’ activity in a plan.
A ‘starter for ten’ foundation specification could contain the following elements:
- Scope and vision - What is to be achieved and what will the solution look like to the people who are too benefit from the system? Read our note on definition of a programme scope and vision.
- Quality criteria - How “good” is the experience of interacting with or operating within the solution? How maintainable is it? How flexible is it? This explanation of the role of quality criteria will shed light on how to address this.
- Conceptual baseline - So how is it to be done? What are the key features and risks? How will elements be configured to work together to achieve the vision? How will core technical challenges be approached? A Conceptual Baseline ensures these questions do not come back to haunt the programme.
- Fundamental Requirements - Ultimately what must the impact of the solution be to be judged a success? What must it do to be judged correct and to have this impact? The need to achieve high quality requirements definition must be recognised.
- Essential Technical and Quality of Service Criteria - How well must the solution work to achieve the quality criteria and to not compromise the vision? Getting technical and quality of service requirements right is key to success in all but the most trivial of cases.