It won’t work at first – and that’s OK

Steve Carkner on Product Development at Entrepreurship 101
Steve Carkner on Product Development at Entrepreurship 101

Who wants your product? What for? Who will pay for it? And where exactly do you fit in the process?

Some entrepreneurs jump right into engineering or manufacturing a product before answering these most basic questions. This leads to costly oversights, unhappy customers and wasteful servicing or recalling products that don’t work. Or, even if the product does work, it doesn’t solve the customer’s problem. In last week’s Entrepreneurship 101 talk on Product Development, Steve Carkner stressed the need for planning over hasty implementation.

Carkner is founder and CEO of Ottawa-based Panacis, a product design and manufacturing company which focuses on innovative technology products (most recently specializing in advanced power systems).

Carkner sketched out an example of a full product cycle, using what he called the “V method”–which considers steps from initial design to implementation, testing and verification, all the way to operational launch and maintenance of a product line; even customer service. He used the apparently ‘simple’ problem of how to design a consumer flashlight: for use by ‘road warriors’ who drive cars and need emergency lighting, to be sold at Walmart.

The Coles Notes version of this exercise is that everything in product development – even designing a simple flashlight – will end up being more complex than you might think! It’s important to keep track of product specifications, be strict in testing and verifications, and take the time to document your efforts.

Carkner said there are four key steps to follow:

  1. What are the customer’s requirements? Write them down in plain, non-technical language. What are you solving for the customers? What needs are you meeting?
  2. What are the functional requirements?  Jot down measurable numbers. How big should the product be to satisfy the customer? How heavy? How fast? How much memory?
  3. “Unleash” designers and engineers only after these fundamentals are addressed.
  4. Does your prototype meets the functional specifications? If you can prove it at this level, then you know you have a product!

To keep on track, Carkner says, fix mistakes at the right time. You shouldn’t redesign products on the fly every moment you spot a small bug – you could lose sight of agreed-upon specifications that way. But don’t give in to the temptation to ignore fundamental mistakes or faulty assumptions at the early stages of product development, with the excuse that ‘it’s just a prototype’. An uncritical approach to flaws in a prototype is a mountain of cash and huge amount of time waiting to be wasted—the “OH CRAP!” moments that should be avoided.

Another nugget of wisdom : “It won’t work at first.”

Literally, your first attempt won’t work. There will always be some previously unnoticed technical glitch that will need to be fixed. Don’t get discouraged.

Downloads and Resources:

Entrepreneurship 101 2010/11 – Week 7 – Product Development from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Entrepreneurship 101 – Product Development
View more presentations from MaRS Discovery District.