Functional vs. Technical Specifications (+ Examples)


This is about functional vs. technical specifications.

You’ll learn:

  • What a functional specification is
  • What a technical specification is
  • The difference between functional and technical specifications
  • Lots more

So if you want to debunk this 101 of ERP project management, this article is for you!

Let’s get started!

What Is the Difference Between Functional and Technical Specifications?

Let’s face it—business endeavors rarely run well without a plan. 

Preparing to write software for a product is no different. 

So, it’s critical to understand the difference between functional vs. technical specifications.

You want your application  to be successful, right? 

According to Wikipedia, one of the biggest advantages of writing functional and technical specifications is that it encourages a team to agree on a strategy for a program, including stakeholders—but the difference between functional and technical specifications go beyond that.

What are Functional Specifications?

Functional specifications are all about user experience. They dictate how easy it is for users to navigate a product. And thus, how inclined they are to continue using it.

In other words, when comparing functional vs. technical specifications (called “specs” for short), functional specs deal with programming appearance and ease of use.

You might be wondering: what goes into functional spec programming? Below are some examples.

  • Menus
  • Dialogs
  • Screens
  • Features

Functional specs don’t take into consideration the process of designing a program, only how the design should look.

What does this mean for you? 

A lot of writing.

What are Technical Specifications?

Technical specifications are all about the internal mechanisms of a program. They involve detailed software coding and ensure your functional specs operate smoothly. 

What are some examples of functional specifications, you wonder? Here are a few:

  • Data structures
  • Programming languages
  • Frameworks
  • Database models

What’s the bottom line here? 

Successful technical specifications require detail and time. Just like with functional specs, they need an in-depth written plan. 

If you’re not a software engineer, these writeups may sound intimidating to you. But don’t worry. By the time you finish this article, you’ll understand everything you need to know about functional vs. technical specifications.

Functional vs. Technical Specifications

The fundamental difference between functional and technical specifications is that functional specs are for user experience, and technical specs are for internal programming. 

In other words, functional specifications are about what you want from your software development, and technical specifications are about how you get there.

When looking at functional vs. technical specification writeups, it’s easier for a layperson to understand the concept behind functional specs: 

We all use the internet; understanding what a positive user experience looks like is what makes or breaks web browsing.

While there are plenty of differences between functional and technical specifications, let’s put their differences aside for a moment. These two specifications complement each other. 

And so, they share several items in common:

  • They lay the groundwork for setting up software and business for success.
  • Writing functional and technical specifications save time by preventing software development errors.  
  • They make a company identify and resolve difficult decisions in advance.
  • Both are best written and approved by a team versus an individual.

Now, let’s take a closer look at what functional and technical specifications entail.

Functional and Technical Specifications: What are the Advantages?

You may not want to read this, but here we go: writing functional and technical specifications is hard work.

Nonetheless, it’s important; well written functional and technical specifications will maximize a program or product’s chances of success. 

Advantages of functional specifications include:

  • Confirming what you want your software developers to create.
  • Inform your test group of how they should conduct their tests.
  • Ensure your stakeholders are on board.

Advantages of technical specifications include:

  • Confirming how you want your software developers to build your product.
  • Avoid errors such as a lack of compatibility and issues with algorithms.
  • Ensure that external interfaces remain stable. 

Despite the advantages of encouraging a product’s success, many companies don’t write specs. 

This may surprise you, but according to one study, nine out of ten start-ups and small businesses aren’t sure how to write a project specification.

What’s the Outcome of This?

Businesses often ask their software developers to jump into coding without a plan. So, it’s essential to be proactive about understanding the difference between functional vs. technical specifications to avoid this mistake.

Who writes specifications?

Ideally, functional and technical specifications are written by a group of people who aren’t directly involved with your project, so they remain objective.

Of course, they must be an expert in spec writing. They should have a clear understanding of your company’s product and goals. 

Software engineers typically write technical and functional specifications. Once the specifications are created, they usually need to be confirmed by the development team and stakeholders.

At that point, software engineers can begin developing the programming code.

With both functional and technical specification writing, hiring a detail-oriented writer is a must for success.

Functional Specification Example: What it Looks Like

Now you understand the differences between functional and technical specifications.

Ready for an example of functional specification?

Let’s say you want to put a call to action button on your website where users can click and insert their contact information. 

When writing a functional specification for this example, imagine what steps the user will take to achieve this. It could read as follows:

  1. The user clicks on the call to action button and types in their first name, last name, and email address.
  2. The system does a quick check to ensure the data entered doesn’t come up with any errors.
  3. The system sends through the form so you can follow up with the client.

In addition to detailing what the system should do, you should also note what could go wrong. 

For example, what happens if the system shows an error for the email address? How do you want the user to be informed about this? And how do you make it easy to fix the error? 

All of these details need to be included in your functional specifications document.

Technical Specification Example: What it Looks Like

Here’s the truth: functional specifications are easier for the average person to understand because user experience knowledge is organically gained from surfing the web.

But what about a technical specification example?

Wikipedia offers an example of when Unicode data is shared among two applications but are incompatible. The result is errors and the potential for lost data due to a decomposed character issue.

The Unicode issue is more complicated than described here, but this should give you the gist. 

What’s the bottom line?

Have or hire expert software developers to write your technical specifications. 

But don’t be fooled by the seemingly obvious nature of functional specification writing—you need experts for that, too.

Key Components of Functional and Technical Specifications

Now that you know writing functional and technical specifications is a detail-oriented task performed by software developers, you may be wondering how the writeup should look.

Below are the highlights of what it should include:

  • Table of contents.
  • Introduction including an overview, business context, and glossary.
  • General descriptions with system functions, objectives, and constraints.
  • Functional or technical requirements (depending on the type of specification you’re writing).
  • System architecture and high-level design.
  • Preliminary schedule.
  • Appendices.

Remember, the purpose of functional and technical specifications is for software developers to write code exactly as described in the documents.

The Editing Conundrum

It can be difficult enough to develop detailed functional and technical spec writeups. Once the first draft of your specifications is ready, this is just the start of the process.

Here’s the truth—when comparing functional vs. technical specifications, editing is crucial for the success of either.

What can happen if you bypass editing?

Let’s take a look at NASA’s mistake. It’s believed that a missing hyphen was overlooked by NASA programmers, forcing them to abort their Mariner 1 launch. 

You can imagine the money such a tiny typo cost them. While your business might not lose out as drastically as NASA, mistakes in your functional and technical specs will, at the very least, cost you money in the form of time. 

So, how many times should you edit your specifications?

Aim for at least three times. If your timeline allows, taking breaks between edits can showcase errors you missed the next time around. 

Also, make sure your functional and technical specifications teams have more than one person editing.

The Danger of Ignoring Specs

We trust you now understand the difference between functional and technical specifications in its user vs. internal program mechanisms.  

But since specs are important, why do people overlook them?

A lot of it comes down to attitude. 

Some people don’t want to take the time to write. Others feel it’s only a necessity for high revenue companies. Certain developers may even feel they can do better without spec writing. 

Reality check: they probably can’t.

Ignoring spec writing is risky. Would you plant tropical flowers in a desert and hope enough rain comes along to keep them alive? Of course not. The same goes for the software you’re developing. 

What’s the best part here? 

You have control over the success of your software development. By writing functional and technical specs, your business will have the opportunity to thrive.

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