When The Joel Test first appeared, one of the biggest sore points readers reported had to do with writing specs. It seems that specs are like flossing: everybody knows they should be writing them, but nobody does.
This week, I'll be talking in depth about functional specifications: what they are, why you should write them, how you should write them, and so on. We'll start today with Part One: Why Bother?
So... what's a spec?
When you design a product, inside and out, the most important thing is to nail down the user experience. What are the screens, how do they work, what do they do.
Part two of my four-part series on writing functional specifications is now available.
If you subscribe to my low-volume email list, I'll send you an email as soon as the next parts are posted.
Most companies don't even have the concept of program manager. I think that's too bad. In my time, the groups at Microsoft with strong program managers had very successful products: Excel, Windows 95, and Access come to mind. But other groups (such as MSN 1.0 and Windows NT 1.0) were run by developers who generally ignored the program managers (who weren't very good anyway, and probably deserved to be ignored), and their products were not as successful.
Program managers are the people who write the specs, so as part three in my four-part series on writing specs, I talk about who they are, what they do, and how to hire them.
Silicon Alley stocks aren't doing too well.
|Priceline||104 1/4||6 25/32||-93%|
|24/7 Media||65 1/4||6||-91%|
|Razorfish||56 15/16||5 15/32||-90%|
|TheStreet.com||22 3/16||3 1/2||-84%|
|EarthWeb||55 5/16||9 1/2||-83%|
|Doubleclick||135 1/4||24 11/16||-82%|
|about.com||105 13/16||22 7/8||-78%|
and I have a cold. Sorry for the delay in posting part 4 of Painless Specs.
Every once in a while some venture capitalist feels a need to give you some money. Usually it's because he has a nasty business idea and he needs to bribe people to play along for a while.
For example, when Drugstore.com started up, they offered everyone $10 worth of free stuff. I used my $10 on Mach 3 razor blades, which last forever in the closet and are small and easy to store.
Now UrbanFetch is going out of business, and they're dumping all their inventory at bargain basement prices. This time I bought about $70 worth of Mach 3 razor blades, which last forever in the closet and are easy to store.
The thing about Mach 3 razor blades is that they're quite expensive, and never on sale. But when you find a stupid venture capitalist trying to give you stuff, if you can get him to give you Mach 3 razor blades, that's basically as good as cash (in small quantities).
Razor blades. The currency of the New Economy.
The biggest complaint you'll hear from teams that do write specs is that "nobody reads them." When nobody reads specs, the people who write them tend to get a little bit cynical. It's like the old Dilbert cartoon in which engineers use stacks of 4-inch thick specs to build extensions to their cubicles. At your typical big, bureaucratic company, everybody spends months and months writing boring specs. Once the spec is done, it goes up on the shelf, never to be taken down again, and the product is implemented from scratch without any regard to what the spec said, because nobody read the spec, because it was so dang mind-numbing. The very process of writing the spec might have been a good exercise, because it forced everyone, at least, to think over the issues. But the fact that the spec was shelved (unread and unloved) when it was completed makes people feel like it was all a bunch of work for naught.
Getting people to read your specs is the topic of the fourth and final part of my series on functional specifications.
Did you know Joel on Software is the #1 response when you search for "Joel" on Google?
Among other things, I finally beat out Billy Joel, the minor prophet, and that cute child actor from "Sixth Sense".
Who linked to Joel?
Somebody must be linking to this site; my readership is up dramatically since yesterday. Who can it be?
Aha. A link in The Motley Fool. That explains it.
Nortel's Loss is Fog Creek's Gain
The Enigma Browser
Is this a complete fraud, or merely misleading?
These guys have written a 'web browser' which they say is only 33K. But it's really nothing than a little program which embeds the Microsoft Internet Explorer control. So they're using all of Internet Explorer, basically, and pretending that they don't have any "bloat". The joke is, Internet Explorer itself is nothing but a 59K program that embeds the Internet Explorer control. Wooooo, they saved 26K. I am so excited.
The author is quoted as saying "The Internet Explorer and Netscape models are clunky and inefficient. They seldom take the most efficient path to accomplish things, and they prefer to use RAM over code optimization and CPU utilization."
When you look closely at Enigma, you still need Internet Explorer, you're still using Internet Explorer, but you don't get any of the features.
Now look a little closer. Enigma is written in Visual Basic. So it needs the Visual Basic runtime, which not many people have. That's another 1.32 Meg right there. Oh, and... oops! there are a whole bunch of other components it needs, too.
Come on, this is lame. I can't believe nobody at Dr. Dobbs Journal caught them on this lie.
1112 posts over 14 years. Everything I’ve ever published is right here.
There’s a software company in New York City dedicated to doing things the right way and proving that it can be done profitably and successfully.