Inventors, managers, and seasoned engineers alike can get lost in the product development process. When is the last time you really challenged yourself to consider your role and the role of others in getting your product across the finish line and out to market? Have you really taken into account all of the necessary steps? I have found value in stepping back and taking time to consider my role in the process. I bet you might, too.
- Project Scope Definition, Get Specific
This step may seem obvious at first, but all too often, what we really build when launching a project is a house of cards. Once an inventor or manager has selected a project, they want results, and they want them fast. “Of course we do!” you might say. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but the details matter. Sometimes it takes deliberate effort to stop and assess what your goals really are. It’s more than establishing realistic cost and time frame expectations. It’s essential to get specific about performance goals, reliability expectations, optional features, and even the development process itself. What types of testing and analysis will be necessary? The biggest take away here is slow down. Challenge your assumptions and get specific with the details, specific enough that gaps in understanding will become clear. “Wait, how exactly do we get from a successful product test to a product on the shelves?” This will ensure the rest of the project team has the resources they need, and that you get the results you’re looking for.
- Product Development, Be A Team Player
There’s a real tightrope to walk here. Development needs to proceed quickly enough to meet project goals, but slowly and methodically enough to develop the design to the extent required. This will vary significantly by application, but the tightrope is ever present. Every team member needs to think big, beyond their own interests. The whole team succeeds or fails together. Over investment in any activity hurts the team. Engineers always want more data. Managers want design work to move faster and cost less. Risk managers want every risk mitigated no matter how improbable. At some point, we all must make the tough decisions regarding when enough has been done to ethically justify moving forward. The only absolute certainty is that you can never be absolutely certain. Any team member can halt the process and should indeed do so if they are being pressured to cut corners. However, we must all challenge ourselves balance the needs of our particular job function with the overall project team’s needs.
- Verification & Validation, Take No For An Answer
Great, you’ve got a design that looks good on paper. Some prototypes have even past simple tests. Now we can sprint to the finish line, right? Wrong. Some amount of pre-launch testing is always necessary on production equivalent hardware. Its easy for inventors to overlook this step, but anyone chomping at the bit might be tempted to move too quickly through this phase. This testing is not necessarily a repeat of the earlier prototype testing. How are users going to use this device? What might be considered reasonably anticipated misuse? Has every specification, design, and project goal been satisfied? Are you sure? Challenge yourself. Let your ethics guide you. Is this a safe product? Does it work? No is an acceptable answer. Be ready to hear that and take a step back to fix any problems. You’ll be glad you did in the long run.
- Manufacturing & Marketing, Not An Afterthought
Once you’ve got production equivalent hardware, you might think you’re just about there, but this last stage can be a real “gotcha” if you’re not careful. By now, you should have fully developed packaging, labeling, and packaging testing. Did you perform drop testing? Did you assess potential misunderstandings of your instructions? Have you added the necessary safety warnings and disclaimers? Are you so pressed for time that you cannot stop for process development? This product launch phase should really just be implementation of a lot of prior work. Don’t wait until now to think about distribution or who your target customer is. You should already know in explicit detail how you’re going to market your product. This word of caution applies more to inventors, but I have seen larger companies get bitten by this, too. “Wait, what are we going to ship this in?”
These key points are critical to success. They are commonly overlooked or trivialized to the peril of the project team. Detail oriented, open minded teams that plan ahead and support each other are far more likely to succeed. Challenge yourself to contribute positively to your team, and don’t be afraid to call in assistance from experts (like Focused Engineering LLC) when needed!