Specifying requirements for a new product capability

Written October 9th, 2008 by
Categories: CEO's Blog
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How do you go about specifying the requirements for a new capability when you really don't know what you want, it hasn't been done before and the technology is foreign to you?

That's the situation we were faced with several weeks ago when we started to investigate the possibility of integrating a pdf based catalog with our b2b2dot0 service.

First things first. 

There is no sense spending the energy to specify anything if there isn't any demand for it…especially when you are as resource constrained as we are.  But it is a pretty sexy capability and would improve the "curb" appeal of our demos significantly.  Check out this sample catalog to get a sense of what I'm talking about.

The good news is that we do have demand for it.  While our initial rollout with Nordson/EFD is to their distributors and subsidiaries, our next wave rollout is going to be to their smaller (less frequent order placing) customers.  Distributors know product numbers by heart.  Smaller customers may need a little help in finding what they want.  Enter the need for an online catalog and since a significant amount of energy was already being spent designing and printing a print catalog, the thought was to repurpose that effort for the website.

Our second customer (to be named as soon as our contract is signed) also wants this capability.  So…two points define a trend in our business and the investigation begins in ernest.

Now begins the challenge.  What do you look for in an online "pageturning" catalog?  Is it something we should develop the capability to produce ourselves?  Should we partner with someone?  What features should it have…zoom, sound, search, index, bookmarks…?  What are the pros and cons of whether we host the final product or someone else does?  Are there size limitations to the number of pages a catalog can have?  What are the performance implications?  How are we going to get 4000+ links into that final flash catalog?  How are we going to maintain the catalog?  How often will it need updating?  How are we going to integrate it with our shopping cart?  How much will it cost us?  How much should we charge for it?

Holy moly!  That's a lot of questions we have to sort through, and I'm sure there are many more.  And it seems as if I'm uncovering a new company that provides this service everyday. 

Adobe is in the business with scene7.  We have neighbors in Durham, inGageinteractive that have a product.  ZMags out of Ottawa have a pretty mature service that they provide.

I must have spoken and test driven at least eight different providers of these flash catalogs. During the course of each conversation I got that much smarter.  I guess that's the Agile way.  Experiment with as many solutions as you can get your hands on, learn from each experience and eventually you'll be in the position to put together your evaluation scheme.

During this process we uncovered one key requirement that is pushing the envelope of using this technology in the industry.  A link from one of these catalogs has to pass an item number directly into our shopping cart.  Sounds simple enough, but up until now, everyone assumes that a link from their flash catalog will direct the user to a detail product page contained in a standard HTML catalog from which an "add to cart" action can be executed.  Our challenge is that we can't assume the existence of a detailed product page. 

This was a tough concept for each of the suppliers that I was speaking with to understand.  So I created this jing for their viewing pleasure.  Another great Agile concept.  Demos are worth an awful lot of words.

Anyway, we're getting close to understanding what we want.  We're building a proof of concept with the folks at epaperflip, who we hope will be our preferred supplier of these flash catalogs.  Once the prototype is built, maybe I'll write the requirements specification for what we want 🙂