Beware the Specification Trap

Mouse Trap Blog

Comparing the specifications of things is a powerful approach to help us to decide what to buy. Bigger, smaller, faster, simpler – if you have the spec data at your fingertips decision making is easy, right? Well, only if the data is objective and trustworthy, and only if you know exactly what parameters are important to you and how to weight them. And how do you score more subjective things like usability and aesthetics? Obvious points I know, but there’s more to this than meets the eye...

So why am I writing this? I work for a company that makes automated live-cell analysis solutions – basically hardware, software, reagents and protocols for measuring the biology of living cells over time. A recent web post had directly compared the specification and features of a competitor’s technology to our own. Fair enough. The comparison suggested, on a range of criteria, that the competitor product was more powerful than our own. On face value, a little depressing given that we consider ourselves to be a world leader in this field.  On closer inspection, however, I realise I had fallen into the ‘specification trap’. Whilst the data were objective enough, the chosen criteria were misaligned with the overall goals of the technology. Technical parameters were compared that to the newcomer may seem important, but are mostly not. Other pragmatic aspects were overlooked.  I don’t argue that specification and feature comparisons are worthless, but stress caution if making...

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