Writing a Technical Specification from Scratch is Hard

Engineering work that goes well generally depends on someone developing a technical specification or scope of work. This accomplishes a number of things not least of which is defining what the outcome will ultimately be and setting expectations. Engineers become specialists in certain fields because they develop application specific knowledge and don’t have to start from scratch with every project. For instance, controls engineers frequently develop a knack for designing the operator interface screens that operators in a manufacturing facility use. Good operator interfaces are intuitive and pack all of the critical information an operator needs in as few screens as possible. Training time shrinks and production efficiency grows when the operator interface is well designed.

The engineers that are good at designing operator interfaces don’t start with A Clean Sheet of Paper on every project though. They use all of the tricks and knowledge and maybe templates and copied graphics that they used on other projects. They are able to meet the project scope or technical specification but accomplish the work more efficiently because they don’t start anew on each project.

It’s amazing how many process and performance improvement efforts or projects start from scratch. Race to the Top is in the news frequently now as state educational systems are competing for federal funds. But based on what I’ve read and heard in the news, every state has some unique plan for utilizing the funds if they win. Once again in engineering speak, the project technical specification is developed basically from scratch. There is little if any work copied from previous successful projects in the design of the new plan.

Iredell-Statesville Schools was a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner in 2008. The school system used the Baldrige Criteria in developing a plan and for analyzing how well they were carrying out the plan. They didn’t start from scratch. The Baldrige Criteria provided a framework for plan development and implementation. Better still, the best practices from all of the previous Baldrige winners are available for reuse to move one even farther down the road toward clear project scope. Why aren’t Race to the Top applicants just trying to emulate Iredell-Statesville Schools?

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