As part of Scott Berkun's never-ending effort to bring better Project Management to the world, every week he sends out a scenario to the his PMClinic mailing list to get feedback, thoughts, and strategies from the community. There are some smart people on the list and the discussion is always interesting, but last week during a response to Thick vs Thin Specs really floored me. Here it is:
Is a spec a novel or a dictionary?
A novel is read cover to cover by a large audience. A dictionary is used for spot reference.
A novel can have rich interpretations. A dictionary is very precise about everything.
Readers can get invested in a novel, committed to its characters and theme. No one ever said about a dictionary, “I couldn't put it down.”
A novel engages the user about its edges, about what hasn't been said. If it's not in the dictionary, it doesn't exist, no matter how much you need it.
A novel can spark discussion by the greater community over meaning and value. A dictionary sparks discussion only for pedants and William Safire.
A novel energizes a book club, who together create additional meaning. Dictionaries exist in isolation and are used in brief solitude.
Good novels last; bad ones don't. No one ever thinks about the quality of a dictionary, just its size.
A novel has readers. A dictionary has users.
– Steven B. Levy, Head of Information Systems Microsoft Legal used with permission.
So I ask you: Which is your spec?
Is it something that sits on the shelf and gathers dust until the project is “done” and the final invoice is waiting to be paid?
Or is it an ongoing part of your project adapting, growing, and becoming more refined as your project progresses?