At the beginning of every engineering project, certain items of information must be known. It is this very early stage of product development that determines what material and human resources will be required to go forward with the design and ultimately produce the final product.
One of the first documents to be referenced may be a crude concept drawing on a piece of notebook paper or, depending upon the proximity of the initial inspiration, a product’s earliest genesis records may be traced back to a restaurant and a pencil drawing hastily captured on a napkin or a paper placemat. Two or more brainiacs sitting at a sushi bar discussing product ideas while one or both are drawing furiously their collaborative interpretation of what the final product would do or look like. Voila! A product is conceived.
Now, the progression of development moves to a more formal process where the initial concept or conception grows into the embryonic stage with greater individual part’s definition and higher levels of integration incorporating new and modified ideas. With each new add-on or modification, the viability of the product either increases or decreases. When the product reaches full concept viability, the first formal document is created and published to all interested parties.
This document is known as the product requirements document (PRD). The PRD lists all the various features, functions, power, size and shape, tooling, staffing, materials, financing, engineering resources, preliminary drawings, software, testing, and manufacturing requirements. The PRD becomes the defining product document of reference. Any deviation from the PRD during development must be approved before changes can be implemented.
Because the creation of the PRD is such an important part of product lifecycle management (PLM), there should be several departments contributing to the final document. Essentially, every department that will have input into the product’s development, production, storage and handling, and sale should participate in the generation and approval of the final PRD. Marketing will help define the features; Engineering will give feedback as to the viability of marketing’s wish list based upon practicality or do-ability assessments; Finance will be able to examine the product from a cash flow management perspective and; Operations will look at the impact to the manufacturing floor and resources.
Purchasing, too, will quickly evaluate the cost and availability of key components by checking with their suppliers while component engineering will assist purchasing with part sourcing from an availability assessment based upon alternate sourcing options. Depending upon the level of complicating factors like regulatory compliance, green tech, reliability, and so forth, other departments will be represented in the development of the PRD. Marketing may in fact utilize their own internal procedure for developing a Marketing Requirements Document, (MRD), in order to expedite the PRD discussions. The sales and marketing people know what the customers want and in some cases, key customers can help define the product and be participants in the PRD development.
Each department receives a final revision controlled copy of the PRD so that they can begin to reference their relevant department’s requirements section to help them determine internal schedules, allocate man-power, adjust annual or quarterly budgets, and assign key lead personnel. These key program or project leaders will meet with their own support staff while maintaining project synchronization and collaborative leadership throughout the company.
The potential for miscommunication or no communication is the biggest problem that any company faces. By having a controlling, unifying document such as the PRD, with regularly attended project leadership meetings, the New Product Introduction process, (NPI) — taking the product from engineering R&D to manufacturing operations, becomes as easy as gathering each departments documents that were required to fulfill each department’s obligation to conform to the PRD.
From the napkin drawing to the manufacturing floor, the product has been through conception, gestation, birth, and now begins its life outside of Engineering’s womb. The process of growth continues as the product matures and eventually dies. The more considered the planning upfront, the longer the useful lifetime of the product. Every new product development should incorporate the use of the PRD. It unifies the company, stabilizes the development process and it helps establish the company’s credibility and desirability with customers who have had their early input into the PRD fully realized in a product that completely met their needs.