Four specification tips for new product development success

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Did you know that when we develop a new product, we can often decide if we will win or lose in the market very early in the product development by the way we set our requirement specifications? Once you have your input “customer” requirements, here are four basic tips for translating these into requirements which enable more successful product developments:

1. Make sure that each of your specification points is achievable, legally and technically possible. You might be surprised by the number of specification requirements we encounter where the basic question “can we do this?” has not been addressed. My personal favourite is a requirement I saw which requested a sub-system to have infinite life! Of course, project teams often thrive on “stretch goals” but we have found that the best approach is to get the team to stretch themselves (best done in private) while actually committing to a more achievable objective.

2. Write requirements which are specific (of course it’s implied by the term “specification”) clear and unambiguous. Don’t leave it to the poor designer to try to figure out what you had in mind when you wrote the specification, the requirement document should be self explanatory. It can be helpful to get some honest feedback from someone not directly connected with your project. Try to avoid specifications which require the designer to interpret what is meant from some knowledge they may or may not have of other requirements and objectives. Each requirement should stand alone.

3. Each specification point should be proactively measurable, that is, the requirement should express a measurable objective that the designer can work to and that can be verified during product testing, critically, prior to final product release. Specifications which talk about customer satisfaction or market revenue are generally not actionable by a designer and should be avoided. For example if we want to make a consumer product comfortable to hold, a more effective specification might specify shape measurements which are known to make that product more comfortable to hold rather than a final consumer rating for the product. It is also helpful to specify a target range for the measurable value.

4. Keep your requirement specifications “solution independent”. I know this is a tough one for people with an engineering background, where the natural tendency is often to go straight to the solution. Nevertheless, unless you have thoroughly worked through the downstream design and optimisation activities, the decision to choose a specific design solution right at the start of a project can lock in extra cost and lead to reliability problems later on. In general, the designer and project team should be given the freedom to identify the optimal solution based on all the requirements in the specification and with reference to their views on project resources and constraints. This approach is much more empowering for the team and should also result in better, more rounded decisions (with the correct multidisciplinary project team make-up).

The points we have covered above represent only a small part of what is needed for robust product development success. If you would like to find out more about a systematic, Design for Six Sigma approach which is used successfully by leading product innovators in a wide range of industries, come to our Yellow Belt Design for Six Sigma training course in Cambridge on the 28th and 29th September. Don’t delay! Bookings for this course are filling up fast! Click here for more details of the Yellow Belt DfSS Training Course. Contact us to reserve your place.