Strong Roots

Greg Ingersoll

Sun 24 March 2013 - 18:19:50 CDT


Your product is complex. You’ll have a big tree of requirements, and that’s ok. Just have a solid base. (That’s a big tree.)

So it’s the time of year when I spend some—ok, maybe a bit too much—time watching some interesting sports. My Wisconsin Badgers in basketball who did well in the B1G tournament but not the NCAA; the Badgers in hockey who won the WCHA tournament and are off to the NCAA; and the start of the Formula1 racing season where I’m intrigued by the personalities, and I love the technology.

But I question the advertising.

Watching the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend, there was a common ad for a motorcycle/ATV company who were touting their “driver-centered design.” Now this may be novel because their competition ignores the driver or their own previous designs did. I’m not sure. But why would anyone designing a motorcycle not center the design on the driver? The driver is fairly important in the equation. (And before you mention aerodynamics, don’t forget that a fast bike is something the driver wants.)

The same is true for any user of any product, and you need to pay attention when capturing requirements and working through the initial design and engineering of your next product. Starting with the user allows you to form a logical tree of requirements that are all rooted in things that provide value to your users or address their concerns or give them enjoyment.

Now, user requirements are certainly top-level requirements, but they are not the only things on the top line. Certainly if users don’t want your widget, you won’t sell very many. But if governments won’t let you sell it, you won’t sell very many either. You also need to consider agency requirements and fulfillment of standards—for the FCC, FDA, USDA, UL, CSA, CE, and on and on—from the start. (I’ve seen too many people try to fill out a mountain of paperwork at the end when things are already running late and running out of money.)

Finally, there is your brand. In order to compete, you need to differentiate your product from the other guy, and often the products you offer will have similar features and traits. Ask your marketing experts for specific guidelines for colors, sizes, logos, icons, labels, etc. at the start of your next project. Don’t wait until they see the prototype and ask you to change, well, everything.

So to get off on the right foot, build your top-level requirements with three categories in mind:

  • Users: if you’re not solving problems—or if you end up creating them—for your users, what’s the point?
  • Agencies: if it’s not approved, you can’t sell it.
  • Brand: your users recognize and enjoy your current products, don’t they? Keep that going.

…and branch out from there.

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