With the updated set of requirements, risks, and priorities in place, a detailed development plan is then developed. This plan outlines the major tasks, milestones, timeline, dependencies, and resources required to develop the product. Typically created using project planning software such as Microsoft Project, this plan (we’ll refer to it as the “PP” for Project Plan) serves a number of key purposes
First, as an estimating and planning tool to determine the overall scope (time, costs, resources required) of the development process. A detailed PP is fundamental In order for a Product Development (PD) firm to provide an accurate estimate of the scope of a project. It also helps to highlight both dependencies and critical paths early in the project, reducing risk.
It also serves as a management tool for both the PD firm and the client to track progress, identify potential problem areas along with their potential impact, and serve as a communication vehicle for everyone involved. It should be coupled with weekly reviews between the PD firm and the client, where progress and issues are discussed, along with decisions on critical items. The idea here is that both the PD firm and client are always “on the same page”, eliminating surprises and potentially costly misunderstandings.
Finally, it allows both the client and the PD firm to have a common understanding of the overall approach/development strategy being used, jointly determine if things could be improved upon up front in the process, and jointly agree on the plan and approach.
Here’s an example of a project plan for detailed design of a product (it’s been simplified for the blog):
Note the specified major reviews with the client, along with an “extended team CAD check” – this CAD check utilizes engineers not involved in the project to review the CAD prior to sending files to the supplier(s). This helps to avoid potential delays and additional costs due to errors.
During this phase of the process, it’s also important to have a common understanding of how communication and decisions will be handled. Generally, a single point of contact for both the client and the PD firm for “official” communications and decisions is recommended. Decisions and significant discussions should be documented, as part of agreed upon process for how the PD firm and the client will work together, make decisions, and so on. The larger and more complex the project, the more important it is to have these processes in place.
The detailed design phase is also the time to plan for manufacturing in more detail. The client and PD firm should have a common understanding of how the product will be transitioned – is the plan to outsource manufacturing? If so, what will the volumes/ramp-up look like? What role(s) will the client fill in the manufacturing process? Who will be performing assembly, testing, packaging, shipping to clients? Where will the clients be located (to help determine potential shipping costs)? How cost sensitive is the product? The answer to these questions may have significant impact on the design process and/or the design itself. Given the potential lead times involved if you’re planning to source overseas, it’s important to start the process as early as possible in order to avoid delays. And if the client is planning on sourcing or manufacturing overseas, it will be important not only identify suppliers as early as possible, but to understand their requirements/potential limitations from a manufacturing perspective as those may impact the design. The client will also want to plan how you’re going to manage those suppliers, and what role (if any) they would like the PD firm to play in selecting, transitioning the design, and potentially assisting in managing the supplier(s) once in production.
Next time we’ll discuss the transitioning to manufacturing.
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.