The importance of Wireframes and Specification Documents

As part of our quotation process for larger web based systems and sites we, like most decent developers, make use of Wireframes and Specification Documents (Spec Docs) after delivering our initial ball-park quote, to plan the entire system before delivering an in-depth quotation. After all, the five P’s taught us that “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance” and we tend to believe that. However, clients do not always understand WHY they need wireframes and a spec doc, and especially WHY they need to pay for these items. Hopefully this post will help clarify those WHY’s and turn them into AYE’s.

So Why?

If your project was a house, the spec doc and wireframes would be the blueprints. You wouldn’t walk up to a construction firm, throw them a wad of cash and tell them to build you a home. In much the same way a client cannot walk up to a developer and expect them to magically create their dream site. This is where the spec doc and wireframes come in.

Spec docs come in many flavors, but we’ve learnt from experience that more is always better. Just starting out we created spec docs that left a lot of room for interpretation. This is where our old friend Scope Creep reared his ugly head and endless battles over features that were implied but never specified ensued. This also resulted in under- and over-quoting. Sticking with the construction metaphor, a construction company can’t accurately determine the cost of building your dream home if they don’t know what they should build. With a proper in-depth spec doc the client can go to any other development studio and get an in-depth quote without any hassle.

Just like a spec doc gives a developer the details of WHAT should be on the site, the wireframes show WHERE everything should go and HOW it fits together. This also allows the client to look at the structure and functionality without being distracted by the bells-and-whistles and pretty pictures that the designer has created. It’s important that the clients understand the difference between the functionality and the design. A good design won’t improve bad functionality. Using the construction metaphor: If your house looks nice from the outside but you forgot to add the plumbing you might have some issues trying to have it installed later.

Quoting using an in-depth spec docs and wireframes will result in more accurate figures, meaning less under- or over-quoting and less chance of missing deadlines. The spec doc and wireframes can also be used as a constant reference point during development to ensure that no features are left out and that there are no unrealistic expectations concerning extra functionality.

But Why Pay?

Creating and finalizing a spec doc and wireframes can take anything from a couple of days to a week or two, depending on the project size. Developers, just like their clients, need to eat and pay their rent.

Just like you would pay the architect you contract to draw up the blueprints for your home before you contract a construction company to build it, so the developers need to be paid for their planning documentation. Documentation which the client can then take and have developed by any other developer.

In Conclusion

Hopefully this post has cleared up why spec docs and wireframes are so important for planning, for both the client and the developers. Remember: PPPPP – “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

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