I am trying to write a requirements specification for a new product but I am confused about where I should start. Do you start with the product like "A new kettle" and proceed from there, or do you start with nothing but the current problem for example "The staff need a way to make hot water"?


  • $\begingroup$ So design a product then find a need it meets or examine the needs and design a solution? $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ @SolarMike Kinda, but more like start with a product idea or start with a problem? $\endgroup$
    – r0k1m
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ mmm, I have a four wheeled device that will transport people & stuff. Do we call it a car or an automobile? The lid for the engine compartment, do we call that a bonnet (US) or a hood (elsewhere)? The back compartment for transporting "stuff", should that be a trunk (US) or a boot (elsewhere)? The pipe that combustion gases are emitted from, a tail pipe (US) or an exhaust pipe (elsewhere)? Windshield (US) or windscreen (elsewhere)? Glove compartment (US) or glove box (elsewhere)? License plate number (US) or registration number (elsewhere)? "What's in a name" ... $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 11:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What's the difference between a kettle and a way to make hot water? Could any contraption that makes hot watter be dubbed a kettle? Don't get caught up in the words. You are already "trying to write a requirements specification" $\endgroup$
    – Abel
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ "If I asked people what they wanted, they would've said faster horses." $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 11:15

4 Answers 4


It sort of depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Based on your comment to your question I reckon that you are trying to solve a problem.

If that is the purpose, Systems Engineering (SE) has established itself as a common tool to use. Consider for example a town that observes flooding by a nearby river. As a general proceeding SE would suggest to lead with a problem that needs solving (e.g. "how do we reduce costs/damage caused by flooding?") and not with a solution (e.g. "we need to build a dam because the river floods"). This tries to ensure that a broad spectrum of possible solutions is considered.

For this example, by using a problem-oriented approach and analysing the whole system (river, rain, etc.), one might consider a variety of solutions that might be more effective than an expensive dam-construction.

  • measures upstream (widening, retention)
  • emergency measures at hand (mobile dams, sandbags)
  • construct levee

I would suggest you read into SE, if your problem shows that it would benefit from such an analysis.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Andrew! That is exactly the situation I meant. Just one question, after you have the initial solution, what do you do with a component of it? For example a soultion to the flooding problem is a dam along with other components, singling out the dam, what do you do with the dam, do we make define another problem or do we just define requirements for it and carry on? $\endgroup$
    – r0k1m
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 8:15
  • $\begingroup$ @RichardBamford then you already determined it should be a dam. if you repeat that, you'll get stuck in an infinite loop. But what kind of dam is best? That calls for more research. Maybe it's a gravity dam made of concrete. What kind of concrete? etc etc... what should be the pitch on the screws that hold the sluice gates in place? You won't be involved in all those details - delegate! You could talk to a dam expert to confirm that they're pretty sure they can make this dam, but you definitely don't need to research screw threads. That bridge can be crossed when someone gets to it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ sometimes there are unforeseen problems... "uh oh, the way the water pressure works on this sluice gate means we'd need really massive screws to hold it in place. Can we redesign this part instead?" - the sooner these are spotted the less costly they are, but you can't spot every problem right at the beginning. More experienced people will be able to spot such problems earlier. If you're lucky, someone at one of the earliest design meetings is a sluice gate screw expert and sees the problem. If you're unlucky, it's not noticed until they actually put the screws in. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ I'm speaking loosely and metaphorically of course. I have never designed or built a dam and I know nothing about sluice gates. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 11:25

I'd start with the problem statement, "The staff need a way to make hot water". Usually you can rule out a lot of options quite quickly:

  • Solar is no good. It has to work at night.
  • There is no waste heat (from an internal combustion engine, for example) available.
  • Mains electricity is available in 99% of use cases.
  • Mains gas is available in < 40% of use cases.
  • It has to work in power outages.

This sort of logic can quickly narrow down your options.

Then start on the user requirements specification (URS):

  • Portable?
  • Capacity (litres/hour)?
  • Filtration required?
  • Disposable / repairable?
  • Sales regions / voltages?
  • Lift-off base?
  • Target consumers?
  • Style / trendy / utilitarian?
  • Materials / recycling?
  • Design for manufacturability?
  • To be made on existing manufacturing lines?
  • etc.

I would start with a mission statement, then followed by the requirement for the product - "This specification is for the xxx kettle, which shall meet the xxx standards and the following requirements: 1)...."


The typical procedure at ASTM is : 1- a product is produced an sold. 2- The producers and users come to ASTM and ask for a specification .-3, ASTM sets up a committee with producers and users and other interested parties which writes a specification.


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