Specification writing


Overview of ‘Creating effective specifications’

High quality specifications are of paramount importance in achieving the right technical performance and value for money. This long-established training programme has been developed to help those involved in producing specifications to create high quality documents in an organised and effective way. It provides a sound foundation for those new to the topic whilst at the same time offering new insights to those with more experience.

The programme emphasises the need for a clear definition of requirements combined with the ability to communicate those requirements effectively to third parties. A structured method of preparing specifications is provided, and a range of practical techniques is presented, to enable participants to put the principles into practice. The commercial and contractual role of specifications is also addressed.

Training objectives

The objectives of this specification writing workshop are to:
  • Provide a clear understanding of the role and purpose of specifications
  • Present a framework for organising and producing specifications
  • Define the key steps involved in creating effective specifications
  • Demonstrate methods for assisting in defining requirements
  • Provide tools and techniques for scoping and structuring specifications
  • Show the role of specifications in managing variations and changes to scope
  • Present methods to assist the writing and editing of specifications
  • Review how specifications should be issued and controlled


The workshop is designed for approximately 12 – 15 participants who are, or will be, involved in writing or contributing to the preparation and management of specifications.


A thoroughly practical two-day specification writing course involving exercises, three case studies, formal tutorials and trainer-facilitated discussions. The tutorials cover the key principles and practical methods for writing specifications while the case study sessions illustrate how the principles can be applied. The programme is highly participative and sessions may be adapted accordingly.

Special features

To facilitate the knowledge transfer and performance improvement process, we recommend that the programme sponsor both introduce the course and be present for the final session.

The expert trainer

John is a highly qualified (BSc, MSc, CEng, MIMechE, MAPM, MInstP) independent consultant specialising in project and change management and training. He established his consultancy practice in 1990, following 20 years of industrial management experience, and now offers a portfolio of proven training programmes and consultancy services, with a particular specialism in specification writing. He is an associate with Loughborough Business School and a senior consultant and course director with a number of well-known training organisations. His training programmes have been accredited by internationally recognised project management associations and professional institutions.

John works with a broad spectrum of clients from most sectors and disciplines of industry, commerce and education and has helped design and implement major training initiatives with global leaders in Engineering, Aerospace, Pharmaceuticals, Construction, Power, Defence and IS/IT. He is currently engaged in designing new training programmes, delivering successfully established ones, facilitating project workshops and supporting corporate management improvement programmes. Whilst his work is centred in the UK, he frequently conducts assignments in Europe, the USA, Middle East and Asia.

Before setting up his consultancy and training business, John gained a broad range of management experience with Ilford Imaging, a multi-national manufacturer of photographic products and equipment. Starting as a development engineer, he held technical and team leadership roles before being appointed Head of Engineering Development in 1980. In this role he was responsible for co-ordinating engineering development programmes within the Ilford Group, managing a diverse portfolio of engineering development projects and supporting a major business restructuring programme. His role subsequently grew to include management of some key corporate projects, the co-ordination of international technology transfer activities and involvement in strategic business development studies.

Prior to joining Ilford Limited, John worked at the R&D Centre of Associated Engineering whilst studying for an honours degree in Applied Physics at Coventry University. He went on to conduct post-graduate research in cryogenics at Oxford University for which he was awarded an MSc in Engineering Science. John is a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, The Institute of Physics and The Association of Project Management.

A highly experienced, popular and professional trainer on specification writing, John’s courses are always much appreciated by the participants, as the following comments show:

‘I really liked the practical exercises’

‘There was certainly a lot to think about’

‘John’s experience was excellent’

‘The group was encouraged to interact very well’

‘A very useful course’

‘A very worthwhile, productive and enjoyable two days’

Course outline – Creating effective specifications

  1. Introduction
    • Why this specification writing programme has been developed
    • Review of participants’ needs and objectives
  2. Creating effective specifications
    • The role of specifications in communicating requirements
    • The costs, benefits and qualities of effective specifications
    • Understanding the differences between verbal and written communication
    • The five key steps of ‘POWER’ writing: prepare-organise-write-edit-release
    • Exercise: qualities of an effective specification
  3. Step 1: Preparing to write – defining readership and purpose; the specification and the contract
    • Designing the specifications required; applying BS 7373
    • Defining the purpose, readership and title of each document
    • Effective procedures for writing, issuing and controlling specifications
    • The roles and responsibilities of the key players
    • Understanding contracts; the contractual role of the specification
    • Integrating and balancing the technical and commercial requirements
    • Writing specifications to achieve the appropriate contract risk strategy
    • Deciding how to specify: when to use functional and technical specifications
    • The role of specifications in managing variations and changes to scope
  4. Case study 1
    • Teams review a typical project scenario and identify the implications for the specification
    • Feedback and discussion
  5. Step 2: Organising the specification content
    • Defining the need and establishing user requirements
    • Deciding what issues the specification should cover
    • Scoping techniques: scope maps, check lists, structured brainstorming
    • Clarifying priorities: separating needs and desires
    • Dealing with requirements that are difficult to quantify
    • Useful techniques: cost benefit analysis, QFD, Pareto analysis
  6. Case study 2
    • Teams apply the scoping techniques to develop the outline contents for a specification
    • Feedback and discussion
  1. Step 2: Organising the specification content (cont)
    • Deciding what goes where; typical contents and layout for a specification
    • The three main segments: introductory, key and supporting
    • Creating and using model forms: the sections and sub-sections
    • Detailed contents of each sub-section
    • Tools and techniques for outlining and structuring specifications
  2. Case study 3
    • Teams develop the detailed specification contents using a model form
    • Feedback and discussion
  3. Step 3: Writing the specification
    • The challenges of written communication
    • Identifying and understanding the readers needs
    • Choosing and using the right words; dealing with jargon
    • Problem words; will, shall, must, etc; building a glossary
    • Using sentence structure and punctuation to best effect
    • Understanding the impact of style, format and appearance
    • Avoiding common causes of ambiguity
    • Being concise and ensuring clarity
    • Choosing and using graphics to best effect
    • Exercises and examples
  4. Step 4: Editing the specification
    • Why editing is difficult; how to develop a personal editing strategy
    • Key areas to review: structure, content, accuracy, clarity, style and grammar
    • Editing tools and techniques
  5. Step 5: Releasing and controlling the specification
    • Key requirements for document issue and control
    • Final formatting and publication issues; document approval
    • Requirements management: managing revisions and changes
  6. Course review and action planning
    • What actions should be implemented to improve specifications?
    • Conclusion

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