Obviously it’s good to have a plan when you build something. I don’t need to talk about why that’s necessary here — many people much smarter than me have done that already (google: “specifying software projects”, or something similar). I’d like to talk about a somewhat narrower niche: the role of the project spec document in closing a deal, and how to generate one quickly as to not lose your first-mover advantage.
As a freelancer trying to close a potential project, you’re always in the position of being asked by a client:
how long will this take?
how long will it cost?
how will it be built?
In these situations, I often like to answer these questions in the form of a project spec / development plan document which I can send over to the client. This works much better to convince the client of your professionalism than a simple quote on IM or email — a glossy multi-page PDF is going to make you really stand out from the competition.
Here’s an example of one (for a project that never went ahead):
A full project spec document can take quite a while to generate from scratch though. In order to optimize the process, I’ve developed a Google Doc template that I can use to quickly generate the full proposal doc. It’s basically a “fill in $PROJECT_NAME here” exercise, with lots of generic text that can apply to a lot of different clients, and spaces for “concept pictures” that you can find on Google Images.
This means I can generate a pretty good looking project spec in an hour or so, which I feel is a reasonable amount of time to put in to a project if you’re not sure if it’s not going to go ahead or not. If it’s a particularly important project, I’ll customise it a bit more, but even the base level is usually fairly effective.
(Obviously once the project is confirmed and started, I work with the client to generate a much more detailed and complete project plan… but that’s not what this post is about 😃)