Hot coffee and product development

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Hot coffee and product development

I can hear you think: what has hot coffee to do with product development? Is it that product developers drink a lot of coffee? Is it that good ideas are born at the coffee machine? Or is it that coffee speeds up product development?

Spoiler alert: it is none of those. It is actually all about the interpretation of hot.

Imagine the following. You work for a coffee beans company. They decide to extend their reach and start selling brewed coffee. They want to enter this coffee brewing market by opening their own branded coffeeshops. Customer research shows that the customer above all else wants hot coffee, so that will be the main selling point. Coffee exactly as hot as you like it!

You as the product developer are tasked with designing a 'thingy' that serves hot coffee. Your future brilliant invention will be placed in the new coffeeshops, and used to serve hot coffee to customers, exactly to their liking.

The urban dictionary describes a thingy as “a something, a thingymajig,a watchamacalit,a doo dad, a habba whatsa, a do hickey. The word that replaces a noun that you cant think of at that certain moment.” In development environments sometimes used to indicate a future invention that nobody has a clue on what it is going to be like. Leave a comment of you ever had a request to invent a ‘thingy’!

What do you do? Well, here are the most important actions you as the product developer must take.


The first action is to go back to the person or group that gave you the request to make ‘hot coffee’. This ‘hot coffee’ statement sounds a little too generic to your taste, and you would like to know a little more detail. For example, when does the coffee need to be hot? Is it when the customer receives the coffee? Is it when the customer drinks the first sip? And does the coffee need to be hot from the first sip to the last?

As a product developer, the more you know about the customer statement, the easier it will be for you to define what targets to aim for. For the development of your ‘thingy’ you need to understand as much as possible about this customer request of hot coffee. Do not be disappointed if there is little more known about what the customer wants or needs. Statements and claims from customers are almost always vague, especially in relation to their needs. If somebody asks you what you expect from your coffee, you are going to be qualitative at best as well, right?

Still, go talk to the people that asked you for hot coffee. Ask questions to try to understand if there is more detail to hot coffee. If the customer did not express any more detail, probe for customer insights with the same people. In the end, agree together what the customer needs are.

As a product developer, you now know a little more detail on what the customer wants.

Hot coffee for at least half of the cup when drinking.

The customer is not the only party you have to be concerned with. Product development is “Executing an idea which addresses a specific challenge and achieves value for both the company and the customer “. You have gotten a customer requirement, but what about the company requirements? For example, can your ‘thingy’ be endlessly expensive and made out of gold? Is it ok if it produces only one cup of coffee every hour?

Making coffee makers out of gold is not a completely ridiculous idea. You can actually buy golden coffee makers. Just take a look at amazon for example. 

To achieve value for both the company and the customer, you need to understand what the company needs as well. In general company needs will often be of a financial nature. Other needs might be about design (color, smell, shape), quality, and capacity.

Cost of one ‘thingy’ is less than 2000 Euro, and it is capable of producing at least 80 cups of coffee per hour.


Now you are getting somewhere. You know what to do for your customer, and for your company. The temptation is to now start putting something together, building your first ‘thingy’, but we are not at that stage yet. First you need to quantify your requirements.

Let’s start with the ‘hot coffee’. It is a requirement, but what does hot actually mean? How can you quantify hot coffee, and how would you measure it? You need a temperature: quantifiable and measurable. You do a little research and you find that on average hot coffee has a temperature of 77 °C (171 °F). This is an average though. The same research shows the range of temperature of hot coffee is from 73 to 85 °C. You now have quantified hot coffee, and you can measure it and check if it is the right temperature.

The customer wants coffee of ideally 77 °C, with a minimum of 73 °C, and a maximum of 85 °C.

Next up is the quantification of ‘half of the cup’. Remember, your clarifying conversation highlighted that the coffee needs to be hot for at least half of the cup when drinking. In this case you need a time: quantifiable and measurable. Again you do a little research and you find that the average drinking time of a cup of coffee is 5 minutes, with a range between 2 and 10 minutes. By taking half of this, you now have also quantified ‘half of the cup’.

The customer wants coffee of ideally 77 °C, with a minimum of 73 °C, and a maximum of 85 °C. The coffee temperature should ideally stay at 77 °C for 2,5 minutes, and should never be below 73 °C after 5 minutes.

As a product developer, this is a much easier target to work with than “hot coffee for at least half of the cup when drinking”. You can actually measure and verify if the coffee from your brilliant future invention is meeting these criteria. So that is the next step.


Certainly it is now time to start putting together the ‘thingy’, right? Well, we are almost there, but not quite. You need to make sure that the target is cast in stone. Otherwise you run the risk of the moving goalpost: somebody changes the target halfway the development, and you can start all over again.

So you make your quantified target a critical criterion for your development. You communicate to everybody in the company that this is what your ‘thingy’will deliver

The customer wants coffee of ideally 77 °C, with a minimum of 73 °C, and a maximum of 85 °C. The coffee temperature should ideally stay at 77 °C for 2,5 minutes, and should never be below 73 °C after 5 minutes.

Now that everybody is on the same page, you can truly begin working on your brilliant invention to be.

Note that up until now nothing has happened technologywise. You have not even thought about how you will meet your target. You do not yet know what technologies you could use or need to invent. All you have done is determined in quantifiable, measurable terms WHAT you need to achieve. Now you need to think of HOW to achieve this.

HOW is way out of scope of this blog. There are other blogs dedicated to this though.

I trust you enjoyed your journey as a product developer in coffee thingy’s. You now know what hot coffee has to do with product development. In order for you to get hot coffee, a product developer had to clarify, and then quantify what that means. By agreeing the temperature and time range of hot coffee, everybody now knows what to expect. Even better, you can measure whether you are complying.

The journey is not over yet. You still have to face the challenge of HOW to do this. Your first coffee from your brilliant invention is probably a tad tepid. You are off to a very good start though, and know exactly what to achieve. And you know that when you achieve your temperature and time, the customer will be happy with hot coffee. The future of the company is assured!

And now, let's get a coffee!

Interested in doing product development?

I have put together a step-by-step program that FORCES you to take action and develop a new product that generates sales. Go to the website and get my free guide to this program, or join immediately.

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About the Author

I am Robert Uhlhorn, an experienced and engaged innovator. I have been living new product development in large corporations for over 25 years. From this, I went on to develop the FTL method: the fast, transparent, and lean way of growing your business with innovative products. I love to travel and to spend quality time with my family.

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