Website Development – Functional Specification Document

When referring to website design or website development, a functional specification document (FSD) is essentially a statement of work that outlines the details of what will be accomplished for the specific project (usually used for website engineering or software development).  These documents can vary from high level guidelines to very detailed specifications for function and coding.  Generally, the FSD is fairly specific and covers all aspects of the website’s design, functionality, and user experience.

Why are FSD’s used?

For website design/development, an FSD is created by the Internet marketing company or web dev firm after the initial “discovery” period with the client.  Website development of course can be from scratch or the redevelopment of a current site, so these documents will be different for each project.  But they should all include the basic features:

  • Who will be working on the project
  • What the goals are for the project
  • Front end design aspects
  • Back end functionality
  • User experience
  • Timelines
  • Soft launch
  • Debugging period
  • Hard launch

A proper FSD descrides the exact functional requirements and project guidelines as desired by all stakeholders in the project.  The FSD keeps the project on target and “in scope”.  You may here Internet marketing firms or website design firms use this term often and it can be frustrating for a client.  The scope of the project is very important for outlining the timeline and budget.  Anything that is not in the FSD, but is asked for by the client during the development process may be considered “out of scope” and call for an additional investment (time, money and resources).  This is why it is so important for the client and the firm developing the site to have a very clear understanding of the project before ANY coding is done.  The FSD is an attempt to create that perfect understanding before work commences.

Who creates the FSD?

Generally, the Internet marketing company or website design firm will create it but it must be a collaborative effort.  The process should be as follows:

  • One or more detailed discovery sessions with the client
  • First draft of the FSD created by the firm
  • First draft reviewed by client and firm
  • Revisions made if necessary to functional details, timeline, and budget
  • Final draft created
  • Final review
  • All stakeholders agree and sign off on the final copy

Many times a client will have an outline prepared detailing exactly what they want for their site.  This can be a great start but it still requires just as much research on both sides to ensure what is desired fits with what will work best and be within budget.

How does an FSD affect timeline and budget?

An FSD is created in part to protect all parties involved and be a “reminder” of what was agreed upon.  Website development can be a long and stressful process for both the client and the firm and ideas can change throughout the life of the project.  For example, if the development timeline is to take 6 months and cost $75,000, keep in mind that a lot can change during that timeline.  Budgets can change, business models can change, and even the intial functional concepts can change.  The idea though is to keep revisiting the FSD if needed to see where things can be shifted/changed while still keeping the project on the given timeline and within budget.

The functional specification document is the most important aspect to any website development project for all the above reasons.  If done properly, it will prevent confusion later on during the project.  This is a process that should not be rushed.  Both the client and the Internet marketing company should treat this process with care so that everyone understands what is expected.  This is the first step in proper communication between the client and the firm.

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