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Or, writing it all down.

Program specifications fulfil the same role as engineering drawings and circuit diagrams: they help organize things so that nothing gets overlooked or left out, and they help communicate to the other people involved about what's going on; just as importantly, they serve later on down the line when maintenance needs to be done. So, during the design of the program, make sure you write it all down.

No-one would start cutting and welding, or wiring up anything beyond a throw-away mock-up, without the proper drawings being made and signed off on. Programming is no different.

Each section and sub-section should have a one-page description of what it does and how it relates to other sections and sub-sections. If necessary, it should then have a larger document describing details; but that one-page description should be written so that it's enough for someone trying to get the overall idea of the system.

Write down what the morning startup (or shift handover) will look like to the operator. What about recovery from various kinds of snags and stops? Can the operator clear a blockage and resume automatic mode? How? What about going to lunch - will the operator log out, shut down the machine? (These are called "use cases".)

Talk to the other people involved with the building of the machine to make sure you haven't overlooked anything. Will your program mesh well with the mechanics, hydraulics, pneumatics, electrics and electronics? Will it make sense to the operators, and the maintenance people?

This is the best time to ensure that nothing has been overlooked - things like callibration and resumption from manual modes often affect large parts of the program, and if they're not planned-for at this stage they'll be difficult to add later.

If you're programming for another company, make this one of the earlier deliverables ("Functional Specification") and sign off on it with the client. This makes it clear exactly what you're planning to deliver, and what the client expects you to deliver.


$Date: 2004/12/28 05:32:12 $