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Author Vadim
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Terms of Reference

Why you need terms of reference? By whom it should be made? What TOR consist of?

Terms of reference (TOR) are a document, content of which describes the main provisions; contains a detailed description of functions and work options of the implemented system in the company. Without terms of reference, the cooperation is very difficult, and in some cases not feasible.

Terms of reference are written by professionals, who relate directly to the implementation or further use of the system. 
When TOR is written by employees of the client company, they often have a formal character and do not meet great depth, because employees do not have great knowledge on the implemented product. Usually, such terms of reference contain a description of the required functionality and provide guidance on key aspects of implementation.


  • Nobody knows the specifics of this business better than the client.
  • During making the terms of reference, the client begins to see the weaknesses of this project.
  • Making the terms of reference, the client will better understand the capabilities of the product and its usefulness and, therefore, it will be easier to carry out implementation.
  • The implementation process will start from the beginning of writing the terms of reference.


  • Not knowing the structure of the product, the customer may want something that in practice is difficult to implement or even not possible to implement.
  • Often, the timing of this option is greatly overestimated, because the responsible employee is forced to dedicate time to the process and there is not always enough time.

Not rarely occurs that customers ask the executive company to develop terms of reference under their specificity. 
But ask yourself - does the studio on outsource know business goals and measurable indicators of the business better than its owner? Obviously not, and therefore the right TOR should be written by customer’s representatives, not performers. It’s absurd when the performer puts himself to the task, then comes up with ways of its assessment, and in the end, he puts himself the final mark for the work done. 

Based on personal experience the best solution to this issue is always in the middle. It’s important for both parties to participate in the writing of terms of reference in roughly equal proportions:

  • The executor knows all the functionality of the product and can write the most detailed terms of reference based on the features of the implemented system. 
  • Also, no one knows the specifics of business processes and other important elements of the company better than the customer himself.

During the teamwork, many issues are checked until the time of development. Employees better relate to the implemented product, because of a sense of their involvement in its development.

Let us consider what should include the terms of reference:

  1. Name – the full and short names, symbols of developed software;
  2. Purpose – for what, in what area and for which purpose is developed;
  3. Functions – a list and description of functions of the developed software
  4. Structure – description of the architecture and components of the developed software;
  5. User’s interface – in the modern world required;
  6. Reliability, safety, operating conditions and other relevant requirements;
  7. The stages and steps of development – what and in what sequence is developed;
  8. The procedure of control and acceptance and how the delivery of software to the customer will take place.

If you consider all the above points in TOR, the project completion process will be easier and promptly.