Finished product specifications are critical documents that every manufacturing business should have in place, regularly review, and maintain. They are central to ensuring product profitability, quality, legality, and food safety.
Successful businesses will have a well-controlled, comprehensive collection of live and archived product specifications that are properly maintained and understood by key employees. Often such documents are incomplete, missing, or outdated. In such cases, businesses are put at risk. Having well-constructed and maintained finished product specifications won’t create a great business – but you’ll never create a great business without them.
Fundamentally, a specification is the documented roadmap of how to produce your finished products consistently, legally, and safely – from the materials that are consumed, to the processes employed and the standards applied.
Finished specifications are critical in order to :
Specifications are normally generated as part of the development of a new product as the gold standard document that captures how the product should be made, packaged, and handled.
Though they may be initiated by a single person, they should be constructed and signed off by a multidisciplinary team with each member taking responsibility and ownership for a different subject area.
Their final sign-off will usually be a key stage in the eventual handover from “development” to “manufacturing”. Many businesses operate a 60, 90 or 120 day “specification review” that forms the transition of ownership and responsibility for a product’s performance from NPD to the manufacturing team.
Their format should be consistent across all specifications in place across the business; a common framework can be developed and adopted across all products manufactured. Product specifications should have supporting materials specifications (ingredients, packaging, process aids) in place.
They are regularly reviewed and updated – normally annually as a minimum, but also when there are significant changes to processes, methods or materials.
Final documents should remain confidential and controlled due to the sensitive and critical content they contain.
The more time and effort put into building a specification, the greater its value.
Key team members should be identified, with the team typically comprising members from the NPD team (who launched it), the Manufacturing team (who make it), the Quality and Technical team (who control it), the Marketing team (who ask for it), the Specifications team (who look after the final document) and Materials experts (who input into the use of materials).
The initial specification is usually constructed by the person who brings the product to market – normally the lead development technologist working on its launch. It is critical that your business has a process that clearly identifies whose responsibility it is to generate the initial document and the subsequent process owner.
A finished product specification should bring together the following information:
A written description of the quality and sensory characteristics of the products should be captured which describes the visual and organoleptic quality of the product e.g. “The biscuit has a light golden colour and a crisp initial bite, half coated with a glossy dark chocolate …”
Product assessment frequency and method should be documented.
Product assessment classed as :
Red product (Product out of spec; Unacceptable product/immediate action required)
Amber product (Product in spec but requires quality improvement - Acceptable product)
Green product (Product in spec - Good product)
Unwrapped product: flavour, texture, colour, appearance, size, surface defects, coverage
Wrapped product: date coding accuracy and clarity, primary sealing, carton integrity
Relevant supporting documents should be referenced e.g. standard operating procedures, site HACCP documents, cross site allergen controls, microbiological standards, specific handling procedures (e.g. hot weather handling procedures), crisis management or business continuity processes.
Final approval and sign-off of the finished document should be completed from the manufacturing site Quality / Technical Manager, the site Manufacturing Manager and the relevant Product Development Manager.
Individual sections from a finalised specification document can be distributed to specific areas of the business – for example, manufacturing sections can be extracted to be included in standard operating procedures. If this occurs, robust document control is essential, with such actions being captured within the master specification document so revisions can be accurately controlled.
Amendments after each review can be captured as addenda which are similarly signed off. Each specification should be treated as be highly confidential, with onward communication and sharing being carefully controlled. Remember, a well-crafted specification not only enables you to make your products but could help your competitors to do the same.
Document version control is critical. All specifications should be dated, formally approved, and referenced.
Historically, specifications would have been paper documents stored in physical folders. Most manufacturers will now use a cloud-based system to store their critical business documentation. Not only does this improve edit and version control, it also allows document sharing to be carefully controlled to those that absolutely need the information to perform their role.
Common pitfalls include:
Specifications are initiated but are never completed – documents must be completed to an agreed framework, within an agreed time of the product’s creation.
Specifications are written once but never reviewed – specifications are living documents and must be regularly reviewed, updated, and communicated. Without this, they will quickly become outdated, irrelevant, and ignored.
Specifications are written by one person – one person can’t know all the detail around the ingredients, packaging, process, or standards referenced in a specification; a multi-disciplinary team must input into the document’s creation and adoption.
Performance data represents what the author wants, not what the process can achieve – processes must be optimised and should be analysed using Six Sigma process capability tools to develop and document understanding of a plant’s true performance capability.
Specifications cannot be easily located, searched, and interrogated – once you’ve developed a series of documents, they must be able to be easily accessed and reviewed.
In summary, product specifications are critical in ensuring you can manufacture a consistently great product, that is safe and profitable, throughout the life of your business.