Introducing the S4C Product Stage Assessment

The Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) methodology is a core part of Scale For ClimateTech’s secret sauce to scaling hardware companies and a universal metric to quickly communicate to investors or stakeholders where your company stands. The MRL methodology is a means for assessing the maturity of manufacturing capabilities for a particular product, originally developed by the Department of Defense (DoD) to improve manufacturing outcomes for weapons systems. Methodologies like MRL can provide a valuable source of structure and direction to startups navigating the many complexities of product development and encourages unilateral growth to minimize risk and unpredicted costs (dive deeper into MRLs in our previous post here). 

However, if you’ve even glanced at the documentation provided by the DoD, you will quickly find that the language and vocabulary can be a barrier in itself. 

Hence the Product Stage Assessment

The Product Stage Assessment is a tool developed to estimate your hardware product’s stage of development, manufacturing readiness level (MRL), and technology readiness level (TRL). It will ask you a series of questions about your hardware product and development at this present moment to get an idea of what key milestones you’ve completed and email you a customized product roadmap in the form of a google spreadsheet as pictured below.

Example road map assesment.
Example road map assesment.

It is a mostly multiple choice survey that checks key indicators about your product’s progress from the concept stage to mass manufacturing to provide you with a product roadmap. The results from the assessment are intended to provide you with a high level overview of the journey to mass manufacturing and is customized based on your answers to show where you are on that journey.

Before you get started answering on a variety of topics related to your product, consider your confidence level and the details you have. 

The more detailed and honest you can be with yourself, the better your results will be. In our experience, teams much more often tend to overestimate their MRL level than underestimate it. 

  • When asked about your customer and the problem that you solve, have you done market research? Have you done qualitative customer research? Quantitative? 
  • Have you validated your assumptions with low fidelity prototypes, smoke tests, concierge tests, Wizard of Oz tests? (We like Greenice’s writeup on all of these tests here
  • Have you documented all of this? Each task requires a thorough understanding and answer to the problem at hand, and documentation to share learnings with contractors, new hires, investors, and any other stakeholders you might have. 

In our Scale For ClimateTech program we contract a local university engineering resource to provide an outside assessment for our teams, which has proven tremendously helpful for many of them. With that context, this assessment isn’t as thorough as hiring a team of engineers to vet your MRL level but will at least point you in the right direction.

With all of that in mind, you can get started below.

You’ve taken the assessment, now what?

Once you have completed the assessment and considered your answers carefully, you should find yourself with a list of tasks–some complete, some in progress, some to-do, and some that you might be unsure about. If you found yourself with incomplete tasks before completed tasks, then you may have gone past the MRL recommended phase gates in certain tasks and should consider returning to those foundational tasks that are incomplete.

Since hardware product development can vary greatly with the actual product and with the available skill sets, it’s not unusual to move ahead in certain MRL subthreads much faster than others. In this case, it’s important to consider the areas you’re behind in and address them before they cause problems. If your list of tasks does not have incomplete tasks listed above completed tasks, then you’ve followed the recommended phase gates so far and can simply proceed to the next task!

The roadmap is intended to provide a broad overview of that next task. For example, “first build of multiple units with production-quality tooling (ie. tools sufficient to meet the product’s quality requirements).”

It also provides a MRL, Technology Readiness Level (TRL), and some product stage information about where you are currently on the left columns. While the broad overview is helpful, it’s important to also consult the MRL spreadsheet to determine the details associated with the particular overarching task. Taking all of this information and turning it into an actionable plan is your next step.

FAQ

Now that I’ve completed the assessment. Now what do I do?

Check out our post on Project Roadmaps to create some projects that’ll get you closer to mass manufacturing your product. And check out our post on Manufacturing Readiness Levels and Prototyping Stages as well to get a better understanding of everything required to get there.

Can I edit the Product Roadmap spreadsheet to track my progress?

Please do, it was created to be an interactive way to keep track of major tasks.

How much does the assessment cost?

The assessment is free!

Can I access past results?

We don’t provide past answers to your questions, but the Product Roadmap that is shared with you will remain accessible indefinitely.

What is the difference between a customer requirement and a technical specification?

A customer requirement is a potentially qualitative statement about what the customer wants, i.e. the product should be light, while a specification defines these requirements in exact technical terms, i.e. the product must weigh between 2 and 5 pounds with a preference for lower weight. Some requirements can be difficult to translate into specifications.

My team has multiple products at varying stages of development. How should I approach the assessment?

The methodologies used in the assessment are generally focused on assessing a single product at a time. Consider doing the assessment for each individual product. Or use the one that is farthest along to help identify what tasks will need to be completed for all of your products eventually.

I completed the assessment and have not received a roadmap.

The Product Roadmap will typically appear in your email in less than a day, and it may appear in your spam folder. If you haven’t received it after a day please contact info@nextcorps.org

Get introductions to contract manufacturers with

Scale For ClimateTech Logo