Skip to main content

What versus How

Over on the Requirements Defined message board, a guy who always seems to ask the right questions about product requirements is Marc Talbot. In a recent discussion, he questioned just how straightforward the traditional distinction between the what (requirements) and the how (design) is:

I'm Sony.

I want to entertain people (what I want to do).

I'm going to sell a new TV (how I'm going to do that).

Does that make everything related to the TV a design decision?

The What and How are very tightly coupled to the particular problem that you are choosing to solve, and making the decision on what problem to solve is the real trick.
This example very neatly illustrates how difficult it can be to distinguish between requirements and design.

Clearly, there is a huge leap between entertaining people and providing them with a television. The goal of entertaining people is so broad that Sony would want to constrain it. And it's a very important point that choosing the problems to solve determines the requirements. So the idea of entertaining people with a TV seems a reasonable constraint that falls within the realm of requirements.

Yet is it really?

"The product shall entertain its users" may be a functional requirement, but what about all of the associated nonfunctional requirements? What about all of the other problems users are trying to solve or avoid? What motivates them to watch TV instead of experiencing other forms of entertainment? Besides usability, availability, and other standard requirements, what about:

  • location - users want the entertainment at home (i.e. going to a concert or play won't cut it)
  • realism - users want realism in their entertainment (i.e. audio by itself won't cut it)
  • variety - users want to benefit from the various media that exist (i.e. being able to do things like attach a DVD player and watch DVDs is important)
Now, formulating these constraints in comprehensive and measurable terms is a challenge. It sure would be nice if we didn't have to bother gaining an in-depth understanding of why people want TVs. But it's just the sort of challenge the most talented and strategic product managers are ready to face.

Once we've fully understood and documented all of these constraints, a TV likely will be the ideal solution. But it might be a very innovative form of TV - so innovative that it would be the first in an entirely new product category. This sort of innovation starts with examining the true underlying requirements rather than assuming an established product category and its me-too feature set.

[This response is cross-posted on the message board.]

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

Stop Validating and Start Falsifying

The product management and startup worlds are buzzing about the importance of "validation". In this entry, I'll explain how this idea originated and why it's leading organizations astray. Why Validate? In lean startup circles, you constantly hear about "validated learning" and "validating" product ideas: The assumption is that you have a great product idea and seek validation from customers before expending vast resources to build and bring it to market. Indeed, it makes sense to transcend conventional approaches to making product decisions . Intuition, sales anecdotes, feature requests from customers, backward industry thinking, and spreadsheets don't form the basis for sound product decisions. Incorporating lean startup concepts , and a more scientific approach to learning markets, is undoubtedly a sounder approach. Moreover, in larger organizations, sometimes further in the product life-cycle, everyone seems to have an opinio

What Product Managers Can Learn from the Apple iPod

The Story When Apple unveiled its iPod digital music player back in October 2001, I dismissed it as a  parity product . I already owned the Cowon iAUDIO CW100 MP3 player, loaded with my favorite tunes. There was Apple, generating great hype over the iPod as if it were a breakthrough product. The idea of a portable digital music player was nothing new. The first mass-produced MP3 players came out in 1998. In late 2001, the concept may have been new to a lot of Apple customers, but it wasn't new to me. I proudly showed my MP3 player to friends when they gushed about the iPod. Thus Apple's iPod was not an innovative product in and of itself. Years later, however, I realized the significance of ecosystem of which the iPod was a part. Apple had released iTunes (with technology purchased from  SoundJam MP ) and created the iTunes Store for finding and downloading music. Unlike Napster , it was a safe and legal way of distributing and acquiring music. The prior way of playing