How can I refine a product? How do I break free of well-established processes? And how can I facilitate greater creativity in the area of product development and still maintain focus on the users of the product? These are some of the questions that the Solar-Log team has considered over the last year. After all, a relaunch of the Solar-Log WEB Enerest™ was on the horizon, and the aim of this relaunch was that the existing product should even better fulfil the complex requirements of a high-performance PV monitoring system. The main challenges here were to critically examine established solutions and to implement new ideas – all while remaining focused on the requirements of the various target groups.
The first insight: Standard approaches will not necessarily be successful.
It quickly became evident that long-established processes would not necessarily help us to achieve our goal. The standard approach – from the formulation of requirements and identification of specifications, through to development – takes too long for a dynamic software product and does not involve customers to a sufficient degree. The worst case is that the development is already obsolete when it achieves market-readiness and does not completely fulfil the customer requirements.
Customer-oriented product development of the Solar-Log WEB Enerest™ 4
Once it was clear that the traditional approach was not a starter, the Solar-Log team first had to address the following core issue: Are our ideas for the new product in line with those of our customers?
1. Clearly defining the product requirements
There are often differences between the perceptions of product management and the actual needs of the customer in terms of requirements and the implementation of these requirements. The following example illustrates the problems that can arise:
I would like to get from A to B
- With steering
- Colour: black
- Fresh air
- With wheels
The requirements as formulated do not give a clear picture of the end product. Almost every single person will envisage a different product when they read these requirements. One possible solution is:
The defined requirements are the basis for every product, so particular attention must be paid to this area. In addition, customer groups are being involved in the definition of requirements for the new Solar-Log WEB Enerest™ 4.
2. Implementing the requirements in a solution-oriented manner
The product is then designed on the basis of the previously defined requirements. The aim here is to stay as close as possible to the customer’s needs. After the initial development steps, a product should be available to the customer that the customer can work with and test.
In other words, one should not start with a wheel as in the example below, but instead with a working vehicle. This functional basis is the starting point for further development. The advantage of this is that the customer immediately has a working product that can be further developed and adapted to meet his/her requirements.
The approach for the new Solar-Log WEB Enerest™ 4
Once the approach was defined, the next step was implementation and the question of how to involve the customer in the development process in the most effective manner.
Before development itself began, a careful analysis of the customer requirements first had to be carried out. A simple customer survey would not be sufficient for this purpose. In agile product development, the customer is involved at various key points.
The following schematic diagram shows the different steps that build on one another and that guided the development team for the Solar-Log WEB Enerest™ 4.
This approach ensures that product development does not lose sight of customer needs. The customer obtains a prototype at every development step for testing.
1. Identifying needs – better understanding the customer
Initially, a lot of time was invested in the tasks of identifying customer requirements and analysing them together. The next step was for the developing team and customer to critically examine the resulting catalogue of requirements. Not only did this process deliver a clear picture of the portfolio of requirements, it also helped to create mutual understanding for perspectives and positions that were quite different in certain cases.
2. Not all customers are alike – identifying target groups
In the next step, the team defined individual customers – so-called personas – that were representative of customer groups. The Solar-Log sales team and selected clients developed these personas in a number of workshops. The groups and the individual personas had to represent a diverse mix of customers. As Solar-Log products are used by a very broad target group, it was important here that the personas should reflect every target group. For example, PV systems and their operators, and installers for small rooftop systems right through to 2 MW industrial-scale systems had to be taken into account.
3. Agreeing customer requirements for the new product
The next step was the portfolio of requirements. The Solar-Log team developed this portfolio based on the requirements of customers relating to the new software.
The following requirements were identified:
- Finding faults quickly
- Tracking faults
- Flexible system for analyses
- Flexible system for visual representations
- System groups that can be categorised
- Offering interfaces to other systems
- Suitable for mobile end devices
The example of the ticket system showed how far apart customers and manufacturers can sometimes be. As far as the Solar-Log team was concerned, the tried-and-tested ticket system should definitely form part of the new product too. However, it became evident in discussions with customers that larger customers were already using a different ticket system and would not switch over. On the other hand, a simple to-do list was sufficient for smaller installers.
As a result of these insights, it was clear that the ticket system in its old form was no longer necessary.
4. Involving customers in the active development process
It was time for detailed design now that the catalogue of requirements was established and the functions were defined that the new software was to perform. The following issues were to be addressed: What were the customer wishes in terms of navigation and which elements were important?
Good navigation often determines how good a product is in its day-to-day use. This is a further reason to involve the customer in designing the navigation system. In further workshops, customers had to consider the background work behind the structure of a “simple” navigation system. Various solutions were discussed with the aid of Post-it notes. Every variant and combination has a range of advantages and disadvantages. The aim was to identify the best possible structure. The end result of this close cooperation was an “ideal” navigation system for the customer.
The Solar-Log WEB Enerest™ 4 is put to the test
Once the theoretical structure was established, the next step was the implementation of the solutions that had been jointly developed. A demonstration portal that is accessible for all customers was created. At the same time, this created a very large, independent test group for the new software. Everyone who registered for the new demonstration portal could submit feedback to Solar-Log directly.
This represented a further step in the development process. The incoming feedback was evaluated and taken into account in subsequent detailed design, where appropriate.
The new Solar-Log WEB Enerest™ 4 can be found here
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