The Product Development Process - Step 2 - Requirements

The Product Development ProcessThis is a series of short articles as an overview and a simple guide, for how new products come to market. This article is Step 2, New Product Requirements for The Product Development Process.

Step 2  —  Defining Product Requirements

New Product Requirements and Engineering Specification
New Product Requirements /
Engineering Specification

After the "Bright Idea", our next step is to make a "List" of the new product requirements, attributes, and goals.  The "List" (known by many names) is a Product Requirements Document or Otherwise Known As, the Engineering Specification. (To avoid repetition, we will use these names sort of interchangeably in this article.)

Are those titles too sophisticated?  Well, just know it is a necessary document as a guide for the design and engineering processes.  Referring back to these product requirements will keep you on track and out of the weeds.

Below, is a collection of things to consider for product requirements.  It's long, I know, but plow through. This is important.  While not all items will apply to every product, consider each one. Cross of the ones that don't apply, and work with the rest.

Note:  A definitive list of requirements is not necessary to begin the process because the list will refine as you go.  However, the better the engineering specification is at the beginning, the easier it is to complete the next few steps – hopefully without backing up and wasting both time and money.

The Best Use Of This List

Copy these questions, and write an answer for every one.  Additionally, write down everything else that pops in your mind while you are doing it.  The more complete your list, the more it will help later.

After making the list of product requirements, format the information into an organized specification.  Group similar things together. Compile and format the new document in a way that works to locate the information when you need it.  Just realize the new document will grow over time as you learn more, so build it in a way that it can expand.  You will refer back to it often.

Considerations for Product Definition

  1. Who will USE the product?  (Is it the end customer?)  Who will BUY the product (the "real" or "buying" customer)?  Notice the very important difference.  Sometimes they are the same; sometimes not.
    For example, think of a widget made for a hotel.  The "buying" customer is the hotel purchasing agent.  The end user may be the staff, or it may be the hotel guest.  It does not matter what the staff wants if you can't convince the purchasing agent to buy it.

    On your product requirements document, list the customer(s), all of them, and where they fit in the process.  This is important for success in both design and marketing.

  2. What are the customer product requirements?  Consider life span, product function, strength, rigidity, flexibility, product look, feel and performance.  Consider complementary products and how their changes affect your product.
    A widget made for use in a car, for instance, may not work in all cars and its usefulness may diminish with the next model year.

    List everything you can think of.  Write paragraphs if needed to explain what the customer will expect.

  3. How much will the product cost?  It is important to know how much a customer will pay for the product because you must produce it for much less.  Typically, a product on the shelf is manufactured for 1/4 to 1/6 of the price you pay because of mark-up and margins of all the people that handle it.When making the product requirements list, set a specific cost goal - like less than $5.  It is not enough to say "make it as cheap as possible."  State the specific cost goal.  (The goal may change as you learn more, but it must remain specific.)
    One important note with respect to cost:  Cost and price are two different things, and a good business plan will make the most of price without regard to cost.  The discussion above is specifically to make sure your cost (& appropriate markups) align with your customer's desire to purchase.
  4. How many widgets do you expect to sell? And, in what time frame?  The quantity drastically affects both the cost of the product, and the processes to make it.
    Quantity is King with respect to cost.  Almost always, the more you make, the cheaper each one is.
  5. How will the product be sold?  At Walmart?  Or through a distributor?  In Magazines?  Or via TV advertisement?  Is it complete for the customer?  Or will the customer assemble it?  How is it packaged?  All these things affect both the cost and the design in many ways. List each of these items in your products requirements document.  Every answer is important.
  6. What is the timing?  Some products are time sensitive.
    A toy, for instance, is sold and shipped in the summer, to be on the shelf in October to sell for Christmas.  Seasonal items have a specific busy time, as well as a limited shelf time.  List it all.
  7. What is the expected life of the product?  Will this product sell successfully for many years?  Or will it sell like wildfire for just one season?You may not be able to answer these questions all right now, but eventually you will need to consider all the influx and market surges, and have a plan to handle them.
  8. How is the item marketed?  Items to consider include:  Presentation, Weight, Packaging, Shipping, Colors, Sizes, etc..
  9. Usability - often forgotten - includes how the product interacts with those who use it.  There is a whole field of Human Factors / Industrial Design that deals with how products interface with humans.  This is worth giving a lot of thought.  List what you know, and where more information is needed.  In the design process the interaction is very important.
    You have probably purchased things that fail the "Intuitive Test" (my words for "Can I figure out how it works?").  Those are the things people complain about, and you don't want that.  This is big for software and website design, but it is also important for gadgets, toys, and anything else a human interacts with.
  10. What is the expected use? - and perhaps more important, what is the expected misuse or abuse?  How can the product be made to accommodate all of these expected and unexpected situations?
    A good / bad example is a letter opener.  Yes, they open envelopes, but do they also open packages?  Or do they open sealed bags?  Do they poke your sister in the eye?  Or can they cut small fingers? How well does it fly?  Think about everything, and document your thoughts.
  11. What product safety issues are relevant?  Are there safety concerns with misuse?  How about abuse?  Are there things you can reasonably do to avoid safety concerns?  There are limits to what is expected with respect to safety.  However, you need to be aware, and document what / how these are mitigated.
  12. In what ways can the product to fail?  And, more important, what are the consequences?
    This area of study is FMEA or Failure Mode and Effects Analysis.  All potential failure modes MUST be considered carefully - and documented - especially in our demented, sue-happy society.

    The preferred way to do FMEA is to list every possible failure mode, then what would result, then give a severity of the effect. For instance, the effect of color fading is probably not to much, unless it is a sign warning of danger.  You get the idea.  List everything.

  13. This discussion on product safety leads to additional questions like - What kinds of Product Liability Insurance will you need?  Take some time and think through these issues.
  14. What are the hard points of the "Bright Idea"?  Identify the points that cannot change?  Also, what areas can change (if you need) to better meet other, more important requirements?  Product Design and Engineering is "The arts of trade-offs".  Give a little here, take a little there, all as a balance in optimizing the product requirements.
    For example, gold is the best electrical conductor, but the price of gold usually does not fit in cost requirements.  The trade-off is to use a different material that also conducts well, but costs much less.
  15. Will the product have a warranty?  If so, what will it cover?  And how will you handle claims?
  16. Are there governmental regulations or certification requirements?  This will depend on the product and how (or where) it is sold.  The industry may dictate this.  Consider certifications like CE or UL (or some other).  OR, certain standards like ANSI.  Look carefully into what or who governs the use of the products in your market.
  17. Are there legal concerns like patent infringement, or intellectual liability issues?
    Note:  If you see that your product will have legal concerns, address them up front, and carefully document what you do about it.  Get professional help where necessary.  Inventors often look at Patents, but forget to look at Risks or Exposure.  Don't let it stop you, just do the homework.
  18. Will the product have social concerns like disposability or recyclability?
  19. Give thought to manufacturing issues like cost, time, material, size, weight, complexity, manufacturing location, etc..  Government regulations may limit these choices - like material properties.  (These issues are addressed in depth in the design process, but a good feel for what is expected up front is helpful and should be in your engineering specification.)
  20. Where will the product be made?  Though this question really should not be answered prior to looking at things like "how many" and "what processes", please identify how you feel about ON SHORE and OFF SHORE manufacturing.  Knowing how you feel about different areas of the world such as Mexico, Indonesia or China is important.
    Note:  There is a trend in recent years (especially in the USA) to farm out all sorts of manufacturing to low cost producers of the world such as Mexico or China.  Some companies do this quite successfully, others struggle.  It is our experience that manufacturing overseas requires a lot of hand-holding and the extra costs to do so are very often forgotten.  More about this in Step 6 – Production later.

The Requirements  (our Speaker Example):

In our example of stereo speakers, the product requirements list has these (and many others):

  • Sound quality is Most important - the speakers must perform as good or better than other high-end products or it is not worth the effort.
  • Performance characteristics like frequency response, high and low end fall-off, flatness of the performance curve, efficiency, power levels, etc. are ways to quantify "Sound Quality".
  • In addition, performance characteristics drive other requirements like stiffness, porting, etc..
  • Product size, look and presentation  (This requirement changed through the design process.  At first a typical rectangular box was good, but engineering suggests something better - and form follows function - to produce a unique, and smart shape.)
  • Ease of construction - this requirement limits possibilities for construction and therefore limits the design.  The speakers must build with typically available DIY equipment and skill.
  • Complementary product - a sub-woofer - is a suggestion.

* For compactness, these are just a few key points from the Engineering Specification.

Concluding Thoughts On Product Requirements

The Engineering Specification stage of the process is often skipped or skimped early on.  It is a mistake that can result in delays, backing up, higher cost and a longer time to completion.  Make a good document, then refer back to it often to avoid redoing or missing things.

From a Product Development standpoint, defining "Product Requirements" is one of the most important steps.  It happens, one way or another, like it or not - on purpose, or by default - before the product launches.  The way you do it, and when you do it will certainly influence the final outcome.

My suggestion?  Do it early, as complete as possible, then revise when necessary.  Be purposefully.  Yes, it will take some time, yet it will streamline your processes and save headaches later.

Finally, having a proper engineering specification in hand is the best way to document your design if your intentions are to sell, license, or patent the end product.  Knowing your product requirements, and spelling them out on paper, is also a great way to show potential investors that you know what you are doing, and where you are going.

Good luck with your writing your Engineering Specification!

Continue Product DesignNext Up:  Step 3  -  Info & Planning

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