In this article of 5 BABOK Approaches to Help Your Hardware Project Succeed, join our Chief Business Development Officer Vadim Myadelets as he analyzes the fundamental ideas of the book and the most effective ways to apply them to the operations of your project.

The last edition of “A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge” (BABOK) starts off with the statement: “The primary purpose of the BABOK® Guide is to define the profession of business analysis and provide a set of commonly accepted practices”. The authors talk about the areas of knowledge, tasks, competencies, methods, and approaches for various types of viewpoints within business analysis in the enterprise.

This makes using BABOK approaches in hardware projects beneficial. In this article, we will specifically look into methods such as:

  • Benchmarking and Market Analysis; 
  • Prioritization;
  • Non-Functional Requirements Analysis;
  • Estimation;
  • Prototyping.

These methods are ones that we frequently use. In this article, you will discover a few ideas for using them in your own projects as well.

Cover of BABOK v3 (source: amazon.ca)

Benchmarking and market analysis

Benchmarking and market analysis are conducted to improve organizational operations, increase customer satisfaction, and increase value to stakeholders, according to BABOK.

  • We follow the principle exactly, substituting organizational operations for device design only. 
  • It frequently happens that we discover analogous gadgets or products that are better than the Customer’s one. Make sure to look at their power, power consumption, weight, and price requirements.
  • Make sure to check the main device’s function for alternate products. This can offer useful information regarding possible usage scenarios. For instance, you might want to introduce a brand-new fitness bracelet whose primary purpose is to precisely assess your heart rate. For that, you have a unique proprietary sensor and data processing algorithms. Even the athlete himself can check their heart rate by putting a finger on the wrist, which might serve as a substitute for your goods. What circumstances will your product prevail in the competition? There will always be circumstances where it won’t. Thinking through these scenarios can affect the user segment and the set of auxiliary functions. This already involves adjustments to cost projections, design assumptions, market, and batch volume.
  • We make extensive use of forums and marketplace reviews. When a competitor's products or alternatives are discussed and criticized, we acquire invaluable knowledge about the biggest defects and pitfalls we should stay clear of. If users complain that a rival’s fitness bracelet requires regular charging , this could be your chance to stand apart or perform just as well.
  • We choose commercially available solutions that can be utilized to integrate the required functionality and the product’s structure. This is where development starts from scratch. We can either make use of these fixes or aim to outperform them. You can find suppliers of large assemblies, such as screens, chargers, standard cases, silicone bracelets, communication modules. If you can assemble your device using these components, this is a good way to start. By not reinventing the wheel, you are saving resources and employing tried-and-true technologies.
  • Keep an eye on Kickstarter, Aliexpress, and Amazon if you’re creating a consumer product. That’s where you might find out that your product is not exceptional.The truth is that people lived before you and I did, and they had brilliant ideas as well. It’s possible that you haven’t heard about their goods yet because of poor marketing back then. Before beginning development, you should consider whether a competitor’s product is already available on the market. It takes 2-3 years to bring a hardware product into mass production and start sales. Xiaomi will manage to introduce a few updated versions of the MiBand during that period.
  • Consider your device’s main structural components and their respective functional requirements. Type them into a search engine together. Look at Chinese suppliers' websites. This way you will be able to find versions of the components in the BOM, but what's more helpful are the technical details, such as weight, size, power consumption, and price.This can highlight the discrepancies between your assumptions and needs for the product and the actual market scenario. For instance, there are no heaters that are the appropriate size and power consumption. Either they are enormous or the power is insufficient. You can either find a solution to this conundrum and create a brand-new heater, or you can go on to the following strategy, which is prioritization.

Prioritization

Prioritization provides a framework for business analysts to facilitate stakeholder decisions and to understand the relative importance of business analysis information.

There are numerous practices, or methodologies to help you prioritize the functions of the device:

  • Customer Needs Table
  • Customer Need Structure
  • Focus Group Interview
  • Affinity Diagram
  • Tree Diagram
  • Kano Model
  • N/3 Method
  • Nominal Group Technique
  • Analytic Hierarchy Process

Our team typically uses the Kano model in combination with a potential cost estimate. We place development, prototyping, market entry, and product support at the top of our cost estimates. If the architecture of the software product permits it, adding functionality to the product might be possible. Hardware products infrequently employ this strategy. The product immediately provides every feature it has to offer.

If our customers have already prioritized the user functions, it enables us to proceed rapidly with just the details. If not, we do it together along with the Discovery stage. After that, we begin working on Delighters and Satisfiers. 

We compile a list of the device’s technical features that instigate Delighters and Satisfiers. Rather than just listing user functions, we create a more comprehensive compilation. Our engineers, for instance, transform the straightforward statement, "The user selects the device mode," into, "The user selects the touch screen option which costs X dollar with a power usage of Y watts, increasing the weight of the device by M grams."

This helps us to determine whether implementing the fundamental expectations of the user is hampered by this.  If so, we get a list of technical inconsistencies that engineers need to work on first in order to get a great product. The same list of Delighters, Satisfiers, and Dissatisfiers is provided to the product owner , along with labor requirements and dangers. Then he must answer himself using the Kano model:

- I like that

- That's normal

- I don't care

- I don't like that

Solving technical contradictions on the one hand generates additional costs, but on the other hand, if done for the first time, you gain expertise and a competitive edge.

Non-functional requirements analysis

Non-functional requirements analysis examines the requirements for a solution that define how well the functional requirements must perform. It specifies criteria that can be used to judge the operation of a system rather than specific behaviors, which are referred to as the functional requirements.

The use of this technique allows us to collect requirements that have a significant impact on the technological solutions to be applied to a product. The same function of “to cool a drink” will be achieved by dramatically different technical ways if the non-functional need is “to cool 1 liter to 5°C in 10 seconds".One might simply use liquid nitrogen then. When creating new products, we frequently advise starting the project with the Discovery phase in order to test any non-functional requirements that already exist as well as discover any new requirements that neither our partner nor us had considered at the outset of the project. If you’re planning to sell a new product; try reading through the entire list of non-functional requirements categories from BABOK; you'll discover a lot about your device.

Availability

An IIoT product which is used to monitor a manufacturing process cannot completely halt operation once a week to update the firmware or reboot for every problem, but your Windows PC can. Although the example is exaggerated, B2B solutions frequently need to deploy redundant systems and modules to guarantee ongoing functioning. Engineers must be aware of this in advance to provide a proper solution and select the appropriate components.

Compatibility

This parameter aids in answering the following questions: “What kind of surface can your gadget be mounted to?”, “What will it lead to if you mount it on a metal wall?”, “What degree of heat should it operate at?”.

Functionality

Each function must be given a numerical description. Even the enclosure has a function of shielding the interior parts from dampness and outside contaminants. How much moisture is there? What size are the foreign objects? How long does it need to be protected?

Maintability

How much time should the user spend charging or replacing batteries? What are the restrictions on the tools for this?

Performance efficiency

Power consumption can affect how realistic it will be to develop your product. While developing, it frequently has indirect consequences. If the power consumption of your device is not subject to any restrictions, take it one step further in reasoning. Answer to yourself: “How much heat does it produce?”, “How does it cool?”, “Don’t you rest on the device’s size or noise restrictions?”

Portability

The requirement answers the following questions: “How frequently is the product moved?”, “How will it be delivered to the user?”, “What if it doesn’t fit in a trunk, truck bed, shipping container?”

Reliability

How frequently will the product be used per day, month, season, or year? Imagine that 100 people are present in an open area where they are utilizing your home coffee maker. Not only will ergonomics and design go beyond the requirements of the event, but also the permitted number of times the gadget may be turned on and the amount of wear and tear the device allows to receive. The objective will call for whole new button mechanisms, other materials, and even part designs.

Scalability

Complex B2B solutions may include individual products. Therefore, it’s better to tell engineers about your plans and the system’s overall architecture. Once, after we produced and provided the Customer with a prototype on an industrial controller for testing, they came back to us and asked whether they could connect the medical device to a mobile app.

Security

Along with the well-known issue of data security, hardware solutions also face parallel problems with physical damage and, in the most serious situations, the safety of users' lives and health. Will kids be able to use the product? What takes place in the event of a power surge? Does the device require theft protection or protection from physical access by unauthorized persons?

Usability

Sometimes the requirement: “the user must be able to do it with just one hand” demands 6 months of additional development.

Certification

For a wide range of products, including medical, laboratory, industrial, and automotive parts, certifications are necessary. These standards will place constraints on engineering, materials to use, manufacturing processes, and even design choices. Did you know that medical equipment has to be made so that a cup of coffee cannot be placed on it?

Compliance

In some countries, chips for blockchain or encryption systems are considered dual-use products. It might be embarrassing to learn it from your lawyers, who will ask you to redesign the product’s electronics for a specific market. Even worse, if you learn it from customs who might easily block your shipment.

Localization

Mains voltage, common doorway sizes, countertop heights, sewer manhole diameters, and other factors can affect your product’s success. All of these will have an impact on technical decisions or design. It is crucial for an engineer to know what country the product will be sold in.

Service Level Agreements

A complicated part which requires a deep understanding of the business model you adhere to. What will happen if a third party sells your product to an end user? What impact will it have on your product’s packaging, maintenance procedures, and starter kit? This line of reasoning may force your device to provide telemetry to your server. All the above-mentioned further impacts internal memory, power usage, and communication module selection.

Extensibility

Extensibility appears a challenging parameter for hardware products. It is frequently guaranteed by changing the firmware, once you have gathered sufficient data and created the appropriate algorithms. The question may lie in how you are planning to update the firmware.

Using this list will help you organize your approach to the new product and remember to schedule the work. 

Estimation

Estimation is used by business analysts and other stakeholders to forecast the cost and effort involved in pursuing a course of action.

There are dozens of estimation approaches and methodologies nowadays. On each of them, one might write an article or perhaps a book. Based on the data sources and hypotheses, there are 3 categories:

  1. Analogous Situations: using an element (project, initiative, risk, or other) that is like the element being estimated.
  2. Organization History: previous experiences of the organization with similar work. This is most helpful if the prior work was done by the same or a similarly-skilled team and by using the same techniques.
  3. Expert Judgment: leveraging the knowledge of individuals about the element being estimated. Estimating often relies on the expertise of those who have performed the work in the past, internal or external to the organization. When using external experts, estimators take into account the relevant skills and abilities of those doing the work being estimated.

We employ all the 3 approaches, however, we strongly recommend to start off with browsing for analogues. If you find a competitor’s product for just $100, it’s not for nothing. If you read that a major auto company would invest $1 billion in the development of a new braking system, you shouldn't think that you can achieve the same with your own savings. We're not suggesting that you should base your decisions on the information you have about your rivals only.. It should be a source of careful consideration for you (5 whys method) and a test to see where you can innovate. The “5 whys method” is one of the LEAN production techniques that our company uses to examine difficult cases.

Prototyping

Prototyping is used to elicit and validate stakeholder needs through an iterative process that creates a model or design of requirements. It is also used to optimize user experience, to evaluate design options, and as a basis for development of the final business solution.

There are numerous prototypes that exist nowadays. According to BABOK, they are as follows:

Proof of Principle or Proof of Concept

Form Study Prototype

Usability Prototype

Visual Prototype

Functional Prototype

We always advise emphasizing a device’s main function or its competitive edge and starting with a creation of Proof of Principle, or Proof of Concept. This prototype is so crucial that we frequently ask to bring it to us for study or build it from scratch using the Customer's sketches. It’s essential that this prototype fully exemplifies the intended functionality. Just because you can transmit the data inside a room does not necessarily mean that you will be able to do it in a densely populated urban building.

Proof-of-Concept of the Device

There may be several iterations and branches between a Proof of Principle, or Proof of Concept, and a functional prototype to test theories, fix problems, and refine the list of components.

Sadly, the description of prototyping methodologies in BABOK is heavily geared toward software development. In hardware development, prototyping is a crucial component that is inextricably linked to development, not only to requirements gathering. Our post, will tell you more about it.

To conclude, you can use BABOK to gather the necessary requirements and develop your product in a systematic manner. There are various techniques that allow you to organize your ideas and put them on paper. 

For instance, you can begin with benchmarking to define the technological level of your competitors and gauge the strength of your competitive edge from both a business and a know-how standpoint.

Then you may order functionality (prioritization) to emphasize the things that matter most to users and set you apart from your rivals. By doing this, you will be able to correlate the impact of a particular feature on the cost and time-to-market of the product with the benefits to the end user.

By analyzing non-functional requirements, you will be able to transform the collected information into technical requirements. Based on them, engineers will be able to provide you with estimations that might be of a particular use for you personally when making plans and looking for funding.

If your plans show that the project will be successful at least on paper, you can move on to prototyping. There will be difficulties, but if you organize the process well, prototyping will enable you to create a product that will gradually take the market.