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Product design and development is a complicated field, especially when creating brand new products with aspects never before attempted, or when working for clients who are new to the product development process or your company.  Brand new product categories often contain hidden problems no one can anticipate and the development effort requires flexibility and the ability to pivot. New clients, especially but not exclusively startups, may be leery of working with a yet unproven design partner.  We are all aware of the challenges with producing complex connected products, smart device systems, cloud solutions, IoT platforms and mobile solutions – sometimes all of these create and ecosystem within one design effort. None of this is for the faint of heart.

There are several critical things to keep in mind about providing great client service and maintaining optimum comfort levels when embarking on that innovation journey with inevitable unknowns lurking in the future.

Here’s a round-up:

Be sure the client has addressed other important aspects of their business plan and has them covered.

If this is a startup or an existing client developing a product in a brand new category, it’s wise to understand as much as possible about their preparedness for the trek. Are they amply funded to make it to the next step?  Do they have a realistic expectation of the depth of the resource pool it will take to bring the project to fruition? Ditto for the time frame? Once NDA’s are in place, these are the FIRST discussions the product design firm should initiate – whether or not you are providers of services in any or all of these areas. Significant inefficiencies ensue when you’ve just spent months refining scope of a proposal only to find out that the client only has an approval to produce the widget based on a unrealistic time frame. Unanticipated events will occur during the innovation and product realization process.  Making sure both parties are on the same page and agree to have open dialogue regarding the change in direction – the value opportunity, the reduction/increase of risk, and the overall cost/schedule impact. The best products are realized by a design TEAM.  Quickly communicating changes are truly crucial to a long term relationship.  If you cannot be open with the client, or they cannot be open with you, the best possible solution cannot be realized.

Educate. Set Realistic Expectations Up Front.

Designing hardware or software products – especially fully integrated IoT Systems – involves sprints, parallel workflows and critical junctures for prototyping, testing and changing direction.  It is rarely straightforward. Clients making that first foray into IoT or smart electronics often do not realize the long term value in the ‘discovery’ or ‘requirements gathering phase. Be sure to prepare them for this and to make sure that this early phase does not get sold short. It is crucial to a solid project plan.  Changes in every phase cost 10 times as much when implemented in the following phase.  Also, customers are often also unaware of the costs and time frame associated with required regulatory preparedness and testing. The design firm needs to have a complete understanding of this information as bringing it up later on is often an unwelcome shock to the client, and rightfully so. Share the process in writing at the very beginning of the engagement. Keep the project plan handy and in view at all design reviews so no one loses track of where you’ve been and what lies ahead.

Always Expect the Unexpected. And Coach Customers to Do the Same.

Be like that middle school Science teacher who trained you to pivot quickly when your lab project didn’t yield the results you were SURE it would.  Let your customers know that the unintended will happen – and in fact, times that it doesn’t are often the exception. The plan of execution should identify potential inflection points where a change in direction may be realized due to technology, cost or schedule.  Stay flexible and versatile in your personal and collaborative problem solving skills. Be confident and invite your clients into the process.  Once they understand there is almost always a way to figure something out – even if it isn’t what they were expecting – their friendship with the product development process will be enhanced as will their comfort level with your company as a trusted resource.

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