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Get Your Project on Track with a Speclet

Lab Zero is a development and design agency in San Francisco

We like to talk about trends we're seeing and tricks we're learning so we can make you cool products.

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Your team is heads-down implementing a new feature, and you hit a bump in the road. The checkbox, ‘Apply to All’, at the bottom of the form is hard to implement. The team already built all the other form elements on the page with little effort. The way they see it, if they just leave the checkbox out, they’ve implemented 90% of the functionality in half the time. What they don’t know is that this checkbox is a “magic checkbox” which would save the customer filling out the form multiple times.

Without a clear description of the problem you’re trying to solve, it’s possible to focus entirely on building the prescribed solution--without actually solving the problem.

Enter the Speclet

At Lab Zero, we use a lightweight document we call a speclet to align, inform and support the team solving the problem.

A speclet is a one-page document with

  • a description of what today looks and feels like for affected individuals

  • the outcomes which signal an effective solution

  • who has a stake in the solution

  • what’s out of scope

The speclet helps us start with Why instead of What.

How to write a Speclet

Starting couldn’t be more simple: write down what you observe happening today, including the problem (or opportunity). Then write what measurable difference you would see if you solved that problem (or seized that opportunity).

An annotated example:

Download the example speclet.

As you write...

Keep it short

Think of this as the length of an elevator pitch. It’s not your wiki, charter, or backlog. Ruthlessly edit down to the core that everyone must know about the opportunity for the project to stay on track.

Speclets are one page. If your problem statement seems too large to capture in roughly a page, consider writing one speclet as a high-level summary and then describing each component in a separate child speclet.

Be honest and concrete

Get to the root of the problem with the most basic statement you can make. Don’t write anything that you do not know to be true. Goals based on questionable assumptions will be challenged.

Writing this document is an iterative process. The first draft of your speclet is almost always full of incomplete sentences, holes, and question marks. We find that honest writing helps establish personal accountability to understand and describe what’s actually going on. Highlighting these gaps helps you generate a list of questions that you’ll answer as you discover more.

Make it measurable

We recommend using Objectives and Key Results in the Desired Outcomes section. Making clear statements helps you to avoid pitfalls like misaligned goals and expectations. Expose potentially contentious issues or candidates for feature creep before the work begins and you’ll thank yourself later.

It's okay for goals to shift while you're working. You may find that some objectives conflict with each other, and others are just not achievable. This is a great signal to formally review learnings with your team and stakeholders to make the necessary course corrections.

Steer clear of solutions

Focusing on the problem space will ensure this document remains relevant throughout the development process. Your understanding of the problem (and the solution) will evolve through discovery.

How To Use Your Speclet

First, writing the speclet helps to clarify your own thinking about the problem.

Second, you iterate on the speclet while you validate the problem statement and key results with your community.

Third, align the team on the objectives and key results during the kickoff of the project. Get a baseline for your measurable objectives, and set the expectation that you may still need to make course corrections along the way.

From time to time, evaluate and confirm that your work is meeting the highest priority objectives.

Can We Help You?

If you’re wondering what’s stopping you from delivering value and seeing results with every sprint cycle, then maybe it’s time to talk to us. Each of our clients is unique, and at Lab Zero we notice the subtle differences; we bring along just enough tools and process to move your business forward.

Also...

Please use our example speclet, and let us know how it works for you.

Read more about The Art of the OKR.

Cover photo by Tim Graf on Unsplash

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