Any company without established product development capabilities can reduce time to market and risk by partnering with an experienced product development firm. The more complex the product is, the more the challenging rapid product development becomes, and the more a company will benefit from the involvement of a seasoned product development team.

To reduce time to market for complex products the development team must:

  • Identify specific infrastructure and processes that measurably reduce the amount of time it takes to perform typical product development tasks.
  • Constantly manage technical risk by building risk mitigation activities into the product development plan and dynamically adjusting priorities.

An engineering partner with a product development process, or PDP, that addresses these two key points will be able to accelerate the product development process with minimal risk of a major project reset. The right product development partner will also offer the benefit of their experience developing products across a range of industries and transitioning them into manufacturing.

In this article, we’ll share some of the solutions we use to help our clients conduct rapid product development projects in a predictable manner.

QUALIFYING AN ENGINEERING PARTNER FOR ACCELERATED PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

Below are some key qualifications that a product company should evaluate when looking for a product development partner to help them reduce time to market:

  • Engineering Team – A development partner suited to work on complex systems should have an engineering team with multiple experts in all the core engineering disciplines and a good balance of seniority. The team should include skilled systems engineers. This gives the development partner the flexibility to select the best team, from among their staff, optimized by discipline and experience. The partner can adjust the team throughout the project by adding or streamlining resources to aid in maintaining project momentum and manage development costs as necessary.
  • Development Resources – A good product development firm will have invested significantly into its infrastructure to speed up its development process. This may include software and hardware design tools, internal machine shops, 3D printers, and fully equipped lab spaces with test and measurement tools to accelerate prototyping and testing activities. Software infrastructure should include systems for document control, quality management, project management, procurement, and general workflow automation. These systems facilitate project organization and regulatory submission preparation. An established infrastructure provides greater control over the project schedule and the ability to determine project status in real time.
  • Processes – Product development partners will have developed and optimized comprehensive hardware and software product development processes that cover all aspects of development. These processes should be implemented in a way that promote best practices without introducing unnecessary overhead. Consistent application of these processes will promote efficiency and minimize errors.
  • Support Network – An experienced development partner will maintain a list of qualified specialty consultants and suppliers that support their PDP. These specialty resources can be called upon as needed to aid in areas where there may be additional opportunities for project streamlining and increased development speed.
  • Project Management Disciplines – Your development partner should have well-developed project management processes that enable them to provide regular, current, and transparent information about project status and costs.
  • Relevant Experience – Your engineering partner should be able to recognize the expertise that will be required for your project and offer relevant examples from their portfolio. Through experience and intuition, they should be able to predict the aspects of the project that will be technically challenging or require innovation.

A significant deficit in any of the major items above will challenge the ability of an engineering partner to deliver on the promise of a rapid product development.

To get an even more complete idea of the whether the prospective design partner has optimized their methods for rapid product development, try to determine answers to questions like (but not limited to) the following: 

  • Is the company culture supportive, collaborative, creative, and accountable?
  • What are their processes for both formal and informal review of time consuming or costly efforts prior to initiation?
  • Are engineers encouraged to master their primary development tools so that the full benefit of these advanced software and hardware tools can be realized?
  • Do they tend to approach problems starting with engineering fundamentals and applicable physics to minimize the number of design iterations required?
  • What is the caliber and completeness of their design documentation?

If the above conditions are met, it is possible to reduce design iteration cycle duration from months to weeks, to reduce the overall number of cycles necessary to reach the verification and validation phases, and ultimately, to reduce time to market.

MANAGING TECHNICAL RISK DURING PROUDCT DEVELOPMENT

Every development project involves technical, schedule, and program risk. Attempting to accelerate product development projects demands even greater attention to technical risk management than normal. Technical risk management becomes a primary driver in creation of the project plan. Here are some examples of the risk mitigation practices that an experienced engineering partner should have in their arsenal:  

  • Thorough technical risk assessment
  • Dynamic staff allocation
  • Active project management in which task prioritization and schedule are adjusted in response to changing technical risks
  • Definitive feasibility demonstrations during the first phase of the project to characterize and reduce technical risk areas
  • Models and materials that support marketing in validation of user needs
  • Parallel path designing and contingency options
  • Formal tools such as Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) for risk assessment and mitigation
  • Formal and informal design review processes with subject matter experts (SMEs) from within and outside of the core project team to identify issues before prototyping or testing
  • Rapid, iterative, and early testing programs
  • A disciplined approach to using existing solutions where appropriate and restricting innovation for areas that require novel designs to meet product requirements

Mitigating risk requires a combination of experience and technical expertise. These attributes will allow the team to identify most foreseeable risks and mitigate them to a level that is comfortable for both the client and the development partner.

During more complex projects however, unforeseen issues are bound to arise. The development partner will be able to draw upon the institutional knowledge gained from multiple projects and years in the industry to to effectively respond in these situations, without significant impacts to schedule and budget.

This same knowledge will guide decisions about when to insert an additional design cycle, whether the promised cost or performance benefits of an innovative design idea justify the schedule risk, or whether technical risk of the primary design path justifies a contingency plan.

The right engineering partner with institutional knowledge acquired over hundreds of projects can help clients create rational frameworks for making decisions about how much technical risk to take during the development.

ENSURING AN ORDERLY TRANSITION FROM R&D TO MANUFACTURING

The product development phase is not complete until the manufacturing responsibility has been transitioned from the development team to the manufacturing organization.

To ensure an orderly transition between these two very different functions, manufacturing representatives should be integrated into the project during the detailed design phase. The manufacturing team will consult with the design team on design-for-manufacturability and assembly (DFX), manufacturing process selection, quality control, and many other manufacturing issues. The objective is to have the design that undergoes verification testing be completely representative of the production design so that it can transition from development into manufacturing without the need for redesign and retest.

The manufacturing experts will also advise on the content and format of the design documentation so that it will be easily onboarded into their manufacturing systems. Examples of the documentation typically transferred to the manufacturing organization include:

  • 3D models
  • Industry standard, ISO compliant 2D drawings
  • Electrical schematics and Gerber files
  • Cable harness drawings
  • Assembly drawings
  • A complete bill of materials
  • Assembly instructions and procedures
  • Assembly jig and fixture drawings
  • Quality and performance test protocols and results
  • A complete trace matrix
  • Engineering analysis (where appropriate)

FINAL WORDS

Developing a product that successfully navigates the commercialization process is extremely challenging. Companies with expertise in business, marketing, or core technologies, but without direct experience in product development should always consider partnering with a qualified product development firm. These partnerships tend to reduce time to market, yield products that meet requirements, and design products that are easily manufactured.

If you need product development support, we can help. Reach out to us to learn more about how we can help you reduce time to market and manage product development risk.

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