Creating Product Specifications

Requirements Capture versus Product Specification

In our post on Requirements Capture I looked at how we can go about understanding what a product has to do, who it has to do it for, and how to assess that. The output of this process is often referred to as a Product Specification or more specifically a Product Technical Specification.

 

One way to think if this is that Requirements Capture is a pull process, where as Product Specification is often a push process.

 

I was amused to read Jama Software’s blog on this topic where they show a number of ways to go about writing the Product Specification. My favourite was their description of letting the development team write the specification.

 

Developers Write the Specifcation

Developers Write the Specification

We see a lot of this with web development where the web developers want to try a particular tool or technique so they use it for your project whether that is good for you or not. Below is a summary  of the other options and some common pitfalls.

 

Customer Supplied Specifications

If the customer is writing from a marketing perspective or a specific opportunity then you can end up with a very useful Product Specification. But if it purely a sales driven process then you often end up with the following combination:

 

  • superset of the features of all other products on the market
  • at a price 10% below the cheapest product on the market

 

This generally leads to a project doomed to fail or at the very least puts the product in a price war with a race to the bottom of the market. At the very least, it can put a straight jacket on the product and significantly reduce the likelihood of commercial success.

 

A marketing driven process will determine where in the market a product can be and at what price, for who and a clear strategy for competing with the other offerings.

 

Ask the customer

As Steve Jobs famously said, “don’t ask them, they don’t know”.  This isn’t always true, but the client often doesn’t know what is possible and part of the role of Product Developers is to give good guidance on Technology Selection to give the product an edge in the market.

 

Otherwise, you just deliver what they asked for without caring about their success. I often think this is one thing we offer. We care about the client’s success.

 

Analyse across all constraints

This is the process we try and use.  And it is well captured in this image from Jama Software.

 

Product Specification

Product Specification

 

To be successful, a product should:

 

  • be possible and affordable with available technology you can actually buy or deploy
  • solve a well defined problem in an acceptable manner
  • fit within the constraints of either the manufacturing capability, logistics capability or market channels available

 

The last point is often overlooked. I was recently asked why we couldn’t design a product that cost $20 to make, have the range of a mobile phone, be manufactured in quantities of 100 of on demand, a development budget of under $20,000 and be able to be deployed with no infrastructure costs. This is an example of a wish list that can’t be realised as it is currently expressed. However, when we looked at it from a different perspective, we were able to come up with a solution. The questions we asked were:

 

  • why do they want it?
  • who do they wanted it for?
  • what problem is it meant to solve?
  • what is solving that problem worth to the end user / buyer?
  • what is the manufactured volume versus unit price trade-off?
  • what can it really cost to develop and manufacture and still be profitable?

 

And suddenly the impossible can become possible. In this case they knew their market well. It was just an example of the customer starting with a specification rather than using the resources around them to get to a specification that could lead to commercial success.

 

And ultimately, that is where a Product Specification is meant to lead to: commercial success.

 

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Electronics Design for Green Manufacture?

Electronics Design for Green Manufacture

This is not as straight forward a topic as it might at first seem to be. And this is because there isn’t yet a unified agreement on exactly what Green Manufacture means. And like most Design Issues, you cannot do Electronics Design without clear requirements. So what are the requirements?

 

Here are some Green Manufacture requirements or targets:

  • reduce product Power Consumption
  • reduce manufacturing Power Consumption
  • add Renewable Energy options to the product
  • add Renewable Energy options to the manufacture process
  • reduce pollution or waste in the manufacture process
  • reduce energy involved in upstream or downstream processes
  • reduce pollution or waste in the upstream or downstream processes
  • increase product life
  • increase product utility
  • increase manufacturing plant utilisation

I guess you can see the dilemma. It can be hard to know which target to aim for. Am I doing the Electronics Design with the product, process, life cycle or ecosystem issues as the primary concern? And how do I balance these concerns?

 

Here is one excellent article that also discusses this topic Green Supply Line.

 

Electronics Design can be Green

One major thing we can do is reduce the product Power Consumption. We are coming out of a phase where a mains plug pack power supply was considered an ideal way to avoid compliance costs when designing new products. This has led to a proliferation of low efficiency always on powered devices. A recent look under my desk reveals the problem we have as Product Developers where every device I use is either USB Powered or mains plug pack powered.

 

So a first step is to review this whole approach to supplying power to devices. We have made steady gains in the area of Power Consumption reduction for the devices themselves. Now it is time to do a similar thing on the Power Supply side.

 

Energy Harvesting

This is a new area that hasn’t yet reached mainstream development. The idea is that you can utilise the ambient environment to get power for free. Or at least you aren’t directly requiring extra Power Generation. Hence the name, Energy Harvesting.

 

How you do it and the Electronics Design and Electronics Technology required to make it work are still being defined but there has been some interesting new progress. Some key players are:

 

Linear Technology – new Energy Harvesting Integrated Circuit

 

Enocean – are front runners in bringing Self Powered Wireless devices to the market

 

What is Energy Harvesting?

This is where we use Electronics Design and Electronics Devices to generate power from the Ambient Environment. The result is a product that doesn’t need to be plugged in and recharges itself automatically. Some of the Energy Sources that are used are:

  • Light
  • Thermal differentials
  • Vibration
  • Chemistry
  • Pressure differentials
  • Air Flow

One example of a product that does this is the Enocean Light Switch where you can just put it where you want it. And if you change your mind, just move it. Now wiring required.

 

Right now the technology is still more expensive and so take up is slow. But as it develops and the price comes down that will change.

 

We are in for some interesting times.

 

Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. For more information go to his LinkedIn profile. This post is Copyright Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.