University of Utah
The most successful product development efforts match a cost-competitive solution to a set of fully understood customer problems. Customer needs are the problems that a product or service solves and the functions it performs. They describe what products let you do, not how they let you do it. For example, many businesspeople have a need to "be able to do any work I want, wherever I am." Products and features deliver the solutions to people's problems. Features are the ways in which products function—a portable PC delivers a partial solution to being able to work wherever I want. So does taking a secretary and all our paper files on a trip, but although this was a preferred solution for some in past millennia, this is not a feasible solution today. Solutions and features change more rapidly than needs and problems to be solved.
Customers have general problems for which they need a solution and which relate to the overall product function. General needs and problems are fairly stable. They change only slowly, if at all, over time. For example, there is a general need to "protect my feet from the environment," which shoes, as a product, solve.
However, as they say, "the devil is in the details." Customers also have very specific needs or aspects of the overall function that a successful product must also solve. These more detailed needs, which may be related to a particular feature or technical solution, often are ...