Specification Sheets: 10 Steps for a Good Project Base Plan

by Gabriella Martin

When writing project specification sheets, how we formulate requirements has a significant influence on the project’s success. Ideally, a specification sheet is already available when the project plan is drawn up, so that you’re all ready to go. 

In the following article, you can read about a few rules that help in writing  specification sheets. These rules can serve as a checklist for a specification sheet assessment. 

Rules, Tips, and Tricks

We’ve compiled the most important general rules that you should consider when writing specifications. Let’s take a look at the major topics:

  1. Making a Specifications Sheet Visual
  2. 10 Rules for Organizing Content in Your Specifications Sheet
  3. Writing Specifications with Style
  4. Sentence Patterns
  5. List of “Weak Words”
  6. List of Requirement Attributes

This article is partly based on information from the VDA volume Komponentenlastenheft – Automotive Standardstruktur.

Making a Specifications Sheet Visual

I recommend using the Twin Peaks model for creating requirements specifications and functional specifications. It’s important that your solution concept describes the desired project result in a way that is clear for all involved parties (e.g. with text, tables, diagrams, pseudo-code).

10 Rules for Organizing Content in Your Specifications Sheet

Here’s the ten rules you must follow when writing specifications sheets:

1Clearly identify requirements and separate them from contextual information.
2Give each requirement a unique identifier.
3Formulate binding requirements with “must” .
4Use the same name for the same thing throughout the specification, even if the name is repeated frequently.
5Define an acceptance criterion or verification method for each requirement from the beginning.
6Give preference to tables and graphical representations to text descriptions.
7Formulate exactly one requirement in one (sub)sentence, never several.
8Document or reference the source of a requirement as detailed as you can.
9Define potentially ambiguous terms in a glossary.
10Do not use a forward slash ( / ) without clearly indicating whether it means “and”, “or”, or both “and/or”.

Writing Specifications with Style

1Use effective sentence patterns, as shown in the examples below.
2Formulate requirements in complete sentences, not in key words.
3Use active sentences and avoid passive sentences.
4Form short sentences and avoid nested sentences.
5Avoid “weak words” (e.g. but, too, absolutely, other, extremely, also, accordingly). See a more detailed list below.
6Avoid qualitative adjectives such as “slow,” “fast,” “beautiful,” “hot,” “cold,” “cyclical,” etc.

Sentence Patterns

Use effective sentence patterns when creating specifications sheets. A good, clear example of an effective sentence is the following:

If the pressure exceeds 1 bar, then the control must open the relief valve.

Each sentence needs a condition, a subject, a requirement word, an action, and an object. Let’s break that sentence down:

  • Condition: “If the pressure exceeds 1 bar,”
  • Subject: “the control”
  • Requirement word: “must”
  • Action: “open”
  • Object: “the relief valve”

In an agile environment, we use a different sentence pattern in the form of as (a role), action, and destination. A good sentence within an agile environment is:

As an administrative user, I want to important a column of an Excel spreadsheet to use it in populating a selection list.

  • As (a role): As an administrative user.
  • Action: I want to import a column of an Excel spreadsheet
  • Destination: to use it in populating a selection list

List of “Weak Words”

The use of words from the following list leads to fuzzy ideas regarding requirements. Even though it’s fun to use these words, they make things harder to understand.

When you create your specifications sheets, you have to make sure these words and expressions do not appear in the final draft. This list was composed by Marion Dreher.

Aa bit, about, absolutely, abundant, accomplished, actually, advanced, a few, against, a little, almost, already, amazingly, and, and when, any, anyone, anything, apparently, approximately, as if, as of, as the case may be, at, at all, at best, at most, as possible, at first, at the same time, at times, a while
Bbad, barely, beautiful, best, best possible, better, but
Ccarefully, certain accustomed, certainly, circa/ca., classic, clearly, close, closely, colossal, common, conceivable, conditional, contemporary, correspondingly, currently, customarily, customary, cyclical
Ddepending on, determined, differently, difficult
Eelementally, enormously, enough, entire, equal, especially, essentially, estimated, even, exact, exceedingly, exceptionally, extensively, extraordinarily, extremely
Ffabulous, fairly, fanciful, far, fast, for, formerly, for the most part, for the time being, frequently, further
Ggood, great
Hhalfway, hard, hopefully, however, huge, hurriedly
Iimperceptibly, in case, incidental, inconsiderably, in no case, innumerable, insanely, intuitive, isolated
Lless, light, like, little, long, loud
Mmainly, many, many times, meanwhile, moderately, modern, more, more often than not, more or less, most, most likely, mostly, much, multiple
Nnever, next to, novel, now and then, numerous
Oobviously, often, operable, optimal, once, once upon a time, one, one day, other, otherwise
Ppartially, partly, perfect, perfectly, perhaps, perplexing, persistently, plausible, possible, possibly, presumably, principled, probably, promptly
Qquiet, quite
Rrare, rather, really, recent, recently, regularly, remaining
Sscarce, seemingly, self-explanatory, several, several times, short, should, simply, slow, small, so, some, somehow, something, sometimes, somewhere, somewhere from, somewhere to, soon, so to say, specifically, strongly, sweeping
Tterrible, then, thorough, tiny, too (+ adjective), to some extent, total, tremendous
Uuncommonly, under certain circumstances, understandable, unusually, usually
Vvarious, vernacular, very
Wwhole, wide

List of Requirement Attributes

Here’s a table of requirement attributes that will help you keep everything structured in your specifications sheets.

IDYesNumber or Text
Field TypeYesTitle
Ready for Review
To be Revised
Supplier’s StatementAccepted/Not Accepted
Supplier’s Comment(s)Text

Further Information

You can also check out an overview of project management methods.

Back to overview


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