We know our beachhead market and End User, their pain points, and how they would find, analyze and buy our product or service. Is it time to build a prototype?

One of the things I love about the MIT systematic approach to entrepreneurship is the ability to learn, grow, fail, and pivot BEFORE you spend a lot of money and fail in the real world. It’s a lot less expensive and stressful. So NO, its not yet time to build a prototype!

So far in our journey through Disciplined Entrepreneurship we’ve addressed the following steps while spending a very small amount of resources, outside sweat equity.

  • Market Segmentation
  • Beachhead Market
  • Total Addressable Market (TAM)
  • Primary Market Research and Customer Intimacy
  • End User and Persona
  • Full Life Cycle Use Case

The development of a High-Level Product Specification is part of our continuing journey of spiraling towards specificity and customer intimacy. Up until now, the research that has been conducted has been focused on the customer’s pain points, sense of urgency, and how they would go about searching for and acquiring a solution. This is the first time we share with our potential customers what “it” is that we are offering as a solution.

What is a High-Level Product Specification?

As the name implies, the high-level product specification is both high level and specific. The high level overview should provide a clear picture to the customer of what our product or service is along with enough specification on features, functions, and benefits to begin a detailed iteration process with the customer. This is typically done through the development of a visual brochure or wire frame mockup with no coding.

What are the benefits?

Our goal is to identify strengths and weaknesses of our offering and to develop a solution that the customer loves and can hardly wait to acquire. This information will help us focus our thoughts and actions when we go to develop our minimum viable business product and actually begin to spend money.

Even before iterating with the customer, development of the High Level Product Specification forces convergence on the team. This is critical to removing misunderstandings and ensuring the team understands what “it” is. If you get this wrong, everything else will be wrong.

Why not just develop a prototype?

With technological advances and the ability to develop a prototype, why not move forward and develop a prototype instead? First of all, developing a prototype will cost more time and money; two things startups are usually very short on. Second, once you develop a prototype, you are more likely to become attached to it and try to sell it as the solution. It’s critical at this stage that you are “all ears” and listening to the customer. Adopt the mindset that whatever you’ve built is only for iteration with the customer and everything can be thrown out. Developing a High Level Product Specification is usually better, faster, and cheaper than any kind of a working prototype. The real question is; how many times have you iterated with the customer? You must know your customer better than anyone else and customer intimacy is the gold!

Do’s and Don’ts of a High Level Product Specification

  • DON’T BUILD ANYTHING YET! Define it first
  • Don’t drown them in detail
  • Don’t mention price! It’s way too early.
  • Define what “it” is from the customer’s perspective, not yours
  • Focus on features, functions, and benefits gained (from the customer’s perspective)
  • Make it visualbuild a product brochure / wireframe / mockup
  • It’s a living document – test, validate, iterate, pivot and start over

Building a High Level Product Specification

  • Describe various features, explain how the features translate into functions, and describe the benefits gained from each
  • Be specific about what you are offering
  • Target towards your End User, especially your Persona
  • If you have a double sided market, provide information for both
  • Develop through the perspective of your customer

A few things to consider:

  • The High Level Product Specification is about internal alignment of your team
  • The High Level Product Specification provides a tool to spiral towards specificity and intimacy with your customer
  • A High Level Product Specification provided in draft mode, black and white, or pencil provides the perception of a work in progress
  • If your HLPS is wrong, everything coming after will be wrong

Mike McCausland-Founder-CEO

Mike McCausland

Founder and CEO, Leadership Institute For Entrepreneurs