The hardware revolution is changing the way products are marketed, developed, launched, manufactured and sold. The major barriers to entry for startups including technical expertise, tool sets, access to prototyping, equipment and manufacturing systems are coming down. In addition, the standard development process we were taught is getting turned on its head. Products are sold and marketed before they are designed, there are no formalized approval processes or decision points, teams form and dissolve as needed, and the distance between the team and their customers has greatly shortened.
However, some product development methods are probably always going to be critical to successful products (in 10 years I may regret this statement): e.g., quality and life testing, prototyping, pilot builds, cost estimations, and design for manufacturing. The use of a specification document and its importance is touted in every product development book. It is the technical baseline that all of the teams work from. I have diagnosed many companies with quality failures stemming from not having a comprehensive specification document. Without a common understanding of the product goals, team members aren’t aligned and are designing based on their individual understanding of the product requirements.
Recently we visited one of Dragon Innovation’s customers relatively early in their development process. We asked to see their specification document to better understand their product requirements and was met with “we don’t have one.” The lack of the specification document didn’t align with the progress they were making.
To test if a company has an effective spec, I often pose the same question about the product goals to multiple people and see if everyone gives the same answer. I assumed that since the company we were visiting didn’t have a spec document that they would fail the test. However, they all had the same answer and even subtle interpretations of look and feel targets were consistent across the whole team. Interestingly, each one of them referred back to the marketing video that was used to promote the product on one of the fund-raising platforms.
After the meeting, we spent a lot of time talking about how the company could be working so well without having one of the fundamental requirements of product development. We realized after a lot of coffee that they did, it just wasn’t in the format we were used to. Much of it was in the video.
The use of the marketing videos is an integral part of every new hardware startup. It describes the product, the user, the use environment and feature sets. In addition, it is a key ingredient in market testing the product. For those companies that are crowd funded on platforms like Kickstarter, it provides feedback to the team about the saleability of the product. Ultimately it captures the promise you make to your customers. We found that the rich environment in the video is able to capture not only the features, but the use environment, users, and the expected look and feel of the product.
Interestingly, we also found the videos to be better than their text counterparts at communicating these difficult to quantify aspects of the product early in the design process . Many of look, feel, behavior environmental requirements are difficult to quantify and then difficult to read and understand. After looking at how other customers were using their videos, we discovered the videos were being used to inadvertently support many activities and decisions in the product development process.
The videos provide a rich data set that is often more easily comprehended and absorbed than a flat piece of paper with a list of numbers. The team can come to a common understanding that is validated by the customer. It can be a quick way to prototype the requirements without the pain of jumping to a detailed specification document. In addition, the use of the video prevents teams from becoming too specific too early.
At some point later in the development process, the video does need to get translated into numbers. The component specifications need to be clearly defined (camera features, sizes, accuracy, range) so you can buy the right components. In addition, the quality targets need to be quantified (life of the components, drop heights, temperature ranges, IP ratings). Using the video as a baseline teams are less likely to pull numbers out of thin air but can compare the targets to what they have promised.
The development and use of the marketing video has evolved as a key activity in the hardware development process. Like other evolutionary developments, it is proving unintended benefits and changing the way a key steps in the product development process is done. Learning to better leverage this approach will only help new startups (and older more traditional companies) more quickly define a common understanding of the product and ensure the design aligns with the right goals.
This article was co-authored by Anna Thornton, Director of Engineering & Quality/Dragon Innovation and Søren Nygaard Pedersen, PhD Candidate/Novo Nordisk and DTU.