When an inventor, entrepreneur, or company has a great product idea, they typically start out by constructing a prototype to prove the idea is feasible.
While this might seem like the logical first step, it should actually be the second step taken. The first step should be to document the product features and functionality so that there are product goals for the team to pursue. Without first defining and communicating the product features, the product team will be moving forward blindly while wasting time and money.
Leardon Solutions follows a rigorous Product Development Lifecycle and commercialization process shown in the figure below to ensure all products achieve their product development goals and objectives. The first phase of this process, the Definition Phase, is sometimes thought to be the most important phase because it sets the stage for the success of the product. Without properly completing this phase, the team will be working without any objectives or goals for the product. A detailed list of the activities and deliverables that should be accomplished in the Definition Phase can be found in the Product Development Lifecycle presentation.
To summarize, the goal in the Definition Phase is to do exactly what the title states: define the product thoroughly. An organization’s worst enemy in product development is vagueness and ambiguity. The engineers and designers need specifications and guidelines to properly complete their objectives and this phase provides the list of clear, concise, and measureable specifications. The two most important documents, the Product Requirements and Engineering Specifications, are described below.
Product Requirements: The Product Requirements, also known as Product Data Sheet or User Needs, is a list of performance, functional, and interface requirements that are focused on the customer’s point of view. One way to compile a complete list of these requirements is to get the cross-functional product team together for a meeting and answer the following questions:
How will the product perform and what are the functional characteristics?
Will the product interface with other products outside of your control?
What are the industrial design requirements (the look of the product)?
What are the human factors requirements (the feel and human interaction of the product)?
Are there any installation, support, service, and maintenance requirements?
What type of qualification, regulatory, safety, and standards compliances are required?
Should the product be compatible with other products and if so what are these requirements?
What are the packaging, shipping, and labeling requirements?
This is just a short list of all the questions that will arise when compiling the Product Requirements document. Of course, compilation of this document requires ample time and research but if it is done properly, it will be one of the most useful documents of the product development process.
Engineering Specifications: The Product Requirements document provided earlier is the first step in specifying the product with respect to the customer’s point of view. While this is very helpful for the product team, it does not typically provide an engineering team with enough detail to begin designing. Therefore, the engineering team needs to take these Product Requirements and translate them into Engineering Specifications. The engineers will use this document as they move through their design and development stages.
The simple example below demonstrates how to construct the Product Requirements and Engineering Specifications.
The effort required to generate the Product Requirements and Engineering Specifications might seem too detailed for such an early stage of product development. These documents are valuable resources that will be used throughout the product development lifecycle and will save the team valuable time and money by focusing the team on the proper goals and objectives. This is definitely a step that should not be skipped.