Product Requirements: Do You Know What You Need?
This month, I give the writing reins to my partner and co-founder of Pegmatis, Ronald Cassar, BA(Hons). Ron is a seasoned software development leader with a breadth of experience and an outstanding record of success in building exceptional work teams to tackle complex, mission-critical challenges. Over his career, he has been an employee of or a consultant for, Siemens, Flextronics, Hewlett-Packard and Xerox. At Pegmatis Inc we work with a team of highly experienced software, hardware, and manufacturing professionals who are proud to have produced some award-winning products, many of which you may have in your own homes.
A reoccurring issue that we see at Pegmatis when a customer engages us to develop a new product is that the customer often has not thought through the product base requirements. This situation happens more often than not when the customer is new to product development.
When someone attempts to develop a product without a thorough understanding of the base requirements, the consequences can be disastrous. Studies have shown that requirement errors can be very costly, and in the worst case, can even lead to third-party liabilities.
What are “product base requirements”?
When I speak of “requirements”, I’m talking about two very separate and distinct types: business (base) requirements and solution requirements. Think of it this way: a base requirement is a product need, and a solution requirement is a response designed to satisfy that need or a part of that need.
Before attempting a product solution, it is critical that the problem-space a product is intended to address is thoughtfully and thoroughly explored to expose all essential base requirements. These base requirements must be cataloged. Once cataloged, each base requirement may then be cross-referenced within any solution proposal. This will ensure that the proposed solution is addressing all of the essential product needs.
Here’s an example
Let’s use a scalpel design to illustrate these concepts. Scalpel designers will often use stainless steel to construct a scalpel. When someone new to the field wishes to design a scalpel, they might consider the use of stainless steel to be a “requirement,” which is not correct. The use of stainless steel is a “solution requirement” and not a “base requirement”.
Examples of some base requirements might include: the scalpel shall be constructed from a material that must maintain a very sharp edge; must be resistant to sterilization processes; and will not break during medical procedures. Of course, an engineering organization would document these base requirements so that they would be quantifiable and testable, but this is a topic for another discussion. If the base requirements were sufficiently complete, stainless steel might likely be adequate to construct the scalpel. However, a deeper investigation of the product needs might find that the particular scalpel is being designed for use during MRI procedures. Therefore, this new base requirement would make the use of stainless steel inadequate given the magnetic interaction between stainless steel and MRI technology.
A completed catalog of base requirements is needed by any development organization to formulate a solution. It may be difficult for those new to product development to comprehend the entire scope of a completed set of based requirements. It is also often difficult for the untrained individual to maintain a separation of needs versus solutions. However, any real effort to progress in the creation of this document should be applauded and will always serve a product development effort well. At the very least, it will provide a solid foundation for a collaborative effort to create the document. Any competent product development organization would fill in the gaps and steer the effort to completion.
Once created, a base requirements catalog will become an invaluable asset for the lifecycle of your product:
- it will serve to communicate to all involved “what” the product needs to do;
- when solution or design modifications are proposed, they may be tested against the base requirements before they are accepted and implemented;
- it will be critical in the quality validation steps of the product development process;
- it will become the immovable goalpost by which you can determine whether or not your development organization has delivered;
- it should become a living document that is revisioned and tracked with the releases of your product, allowing you and others to track how your product has evolved.
Any company or individual who may be developing a product having safety requirements must pay special attention to ensure they have captured the base requirements for their product. In these situations, requirements must be documented and must be traceable as verified, particularly if the intent is to gain approval with standards bodies such as the FDA.
Gaining approval with standards bodies may certainly be a necessary goal. But in reality, what we all really want are products that are delivered on time, on budget, and products that work properly and safely. A critical step to achieving this is to ensure that your product base requirements are captured properly.
Following are some essential areas of concern that you should explore for your product base requirements. A thorough exploration and understanding of each of the following areas before approaching a product development organization would be a significant step forward to ensure that your product is developed cost-effectively and that the outcome of the development effort will serve your intended needs.
A designer and a development firm will consider the following about your product, in order to begin to form your “product requirements.” Here’s a partial list of questions that we ask.
- Performance & responsiveness
- Support & Maintenance,
- Costs / Pricing limitations
- Expected Product volumes
- Timelines or Seasonal Market Demands
I hope to have illustrated the complexity of the initial product design issues that we need to consider when approaching a new project. Yes, the process is complex, but it is also exciting to take a deep dive into the requirements and examine how your product will be used. It is satisfying to see a new product come to be. For more information on how we can help, see www.pegmatis.com or consult with us.
Pegmatis began as a Fortune 500 company’s elite design center working with their top-tier customers from design ideation, cost-driven design architecture up to launching scores of high-volume products into the market. Chances are you have used or worked with a product that we have designed. We have developed high-tech products from smartphones and connected streaming devices to ultra-high-end audio and medical products. As of 2016, Pegmatis has been operating under its own banner and has continued to provide high-fidelity design and manufacturing services to customers, leveraging our network for mass production. Same Dream Team, but add an elite software team, and you have Pegmatis. Truly a complete end-to-end design partner in hardware, software, or both.