Product development efforts achieve success when products are successfully delivered to satisfied users. There are key steps and considerations in the process that must be covered in order for products, whether a software application or hardware product (or a smart, connected product featuring both), to be both scalable and/or manufacturable and an overview of those steps and considerations is presented here.
1. The Product Development Plan
As one might expect, the first thing a product developer needs is a plan. You can always change and pivot as the project proceeds, but having one at the onset can make all the difference. This phase is arguably one of the most valuable – and one of the most frequently overlooked – phases of the product development (PD) process, especially during times of urgency. For example, the recent, pressing need for rapid development of easily manufacturable, high-performance ventilators has been acute and at times such as these, the temptation is to jump headlong into immediate development because lives are at stake.
In truth, not taking the time up front to create guidelines can result in confusion and delays during development. While understanding that pivots and changes are inherent in almost every development effort, here are considerations to take into account while planning. Note that the planning of at least minimal requirements is necessary for all products – software applications, simple tools, complicated electrical devices and smart, connected products/systems alike.
Who is the User? (the most important question)
Below are some of the questions to be discussed in conversations amongst collaborators and kept in mind at all times:
- What is the need?
- Who is the anticipated user?
- What are the product’s minimal features/functions such that the user can successfully accomplish their goals?
- Is the product subject to operational regulations and standards?
- What is the desired user experience?
- Where is the user located and Is the product standalone or does its operation depend on environmental resources (e.g. standard 120V/60Hz outlets)?
- How is the product’s operation maintained and where is the product stored when not in use?
- How will software updates (if applicable) be delivered?
- How is the user prevented from accidentally misusing the product?
- What will make users come to rely on and be fond of using the product?
- What are the considerations for the product’s scalability? (especially SW) and/or can it be manufactured efficiently?
- What is the timeline for this effort and how can collaborators best meet a timely project timeline?
2. Preliminary Design
With user guidelines in place, collaborators are ready to create their best approaches to design and production.
Budgets are typically created at this time, and special consideration should be given to whether funds needed for the effort and if so, how much is needed and who will provide them. This can be as simple an approach as ‘every designer/developer for him or herself’ but collaborators should be aware that there may be costs associated with the work. The team should arrive at reliable BOM guidelines.
- Materials: specifications (color and surface finishes)
- Sources: for components, manufacturing, prototyping and product fabrication
- Electrical systems assessment
- Circuit board layouts, connections, component placement
- Batteries: battery life requirements, charging methods
- Design Summary and Stress/Tolerance Reports
- REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS (if any) – costs and timing
At the end of this phase, collaborators should largely be in agreement on the viability of simple proof-of-concept prototype(s) and/or minimally viable SW tool(s).
3. Detail Design and Engineering
- System code implementation complete and ready for unit testing
- “Production Ready” design documents and PCBA data packages
- Detailed tooling ready 3D CAD models of the design
- Detailed Design Review package including requirements summary, design overview, DFM (both assembly and fabricated parts) review.
- Updated supply chain plan, as required
- Test Plans
- Product bill of materials with cost projections and long lead items updated
- Detailed Design Review minutes including items reviewed and action required
- Detailed Design Review presentation
If possible, the above items should be reviewed by collaborators and discussed/updated in a face-to-face setting.
Many teams may choose to include the creation and testing [Market testing? Functional testing?] of final “prototypes”, the definition of which should be clear (e.g. “looks like”, “works like”, “looks and works like”, or “looks and works like using closest production materials and processes possible”) at the end of this phase, or this can be accomplished in its own phase, “PROTOTYPE AND TEST”
Observations And Recommendations: Product Development During A Crisis
4. Transition to Production
- Manage short-run supply chain partners and coordinate with molding/mold manufacturer.
- Support the final selection of manufacturing suppliers and management of transfer from the short run to volume manufacture.
- Work with suppliers to minimize production and tooling costs.
- Assure long lead items are in place to support schedules.
- Assure any and all sub-tier suppliers are in place to support the final assembly.
Note: These guidelines are presented as a menu for collaborative product development efforts and that not every item cited applies to every type of product. For example, recent online collaborations to rapidly create and produce new, effective face shields would clearly not require all the electrical and hardware considerations listed above. However, we believe that following the process guidelines as they are applicable to your efforts, is critical to realizing an actual, usable product at the end of your engagement.