Friday, December 18, 2009

Not Knowing Something is a Business Requirement: LED Traffic Light Design Fail

If you had to create a new traffic light bulb, what would your business requirements be? It turns out that it’s not just about the amount of light they cast or the energy they use. There was a hidden business requirement in designing new traffic lights bulbs. LED traffic lights are much easier to see and consume up to 90% less energy, but something the designers didn’t consider was something incandescent traffic lights do naturally. They melt snow. People can see current traffic lights in snow because the heat that they produce melts the snow that accumulates on them.

If someone made that a requirement in designing the new LED lights, they would have addressed it. Instead, police departments are reporting an increase in traffic accidents where LED traffic lights are installed. Are there important product features that get removed during an upgrade because people weren’t aware of their importance? Product Managers have to make sure they know what features of their products are vital.

UPDATE 1 Jan 2010: The New York Times article on this same topic - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/02/us/02lights.html

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