Successful product development, as defined by creating products that are manufacturable, is a team effort, and in general the more complex/leading edge the product is, the more important it is to have an extensive ecosystem of suppliers and specialists available to assist with the development.
It’s typically very difficult (and expensive) to have these resources available under one roof, as more specialized capabilities are not necessarily needed for every project. This is typically the case for both companies that create their own products as well as those who look to product development firms. It’s therefore important to have both depth and breadth of an ecosystem of suppliers, complementary firms/consultants with specific expertise. The project development plan is a first step in determining what resources and expertise are needed, along with the timeframes that are needed. Having a comprehensive, detailed plan (ideally before the project is started) is important so that external resources can be contacted, contracted for, and scheduled. As part of the project plan, dependencies and risks are also identified. For example, suppose you’re developing a new medical/laboratory instrument which requires an optical subsystem to read and detect/measure the results of some process. At the beginning of the project, you’re not sure whether the optics are available off the shelf or will need to be custom designed. You’ll probably want to plan for an optical engineer to evaluate the “make vs. buy” options early on in the project, as well as the need to engage with suppliers (with potentially different timelines if the optics need to be custom designed/fabricated vs. available off the shelf).A strong ecosystem is also important when it comes to developing prototypes. Today, many product development firms have 3D printing capability in house, which is a valuable tool for rapid turnaround of parts. This technology is evolving very rapidly, offering new materials, capabilities, and options for prototyping parts. Given this rapid evolution, it’s more advantageous for firms to have a healthy ecosystem of prototype providers who are constantly investing in this technology vs. having the capability in-house. Another aspect that is sometimes overlooked is the importance of client involvement in a project. Development projects typically involve many decisions and assumptions that are made along the way. Some are more important than others, the more important ones are often those that involve cost, time to market, or performance. Clients should expect (and indeed desire) to be informed of/consulted with the more impactful decisions early and often – engagements with outside firms should have processes in place that provide for regular and timely meetings/reviews, as well as a process that can support rapid decision making for critical items that arise.Finally, it’s critical to have a strong ecosystem of manufacturing partner(s) to choose from, and a process that emphasizes engagement with them as early as possible during the development process. We’ll talk more about this aspect in our next blog.
Ken Haven has been CEO of Acorn Product Development since the company’s founding in 1993. Ken has more than 25 years of product development experience including technical leadership roles with NeXT Computer, Attain, Inc., and Hewlett-Packard. He holds MS and BS degrees in mechanical engineering from Cornell University.