Regardless of the product to be developed there will always be hurdles to overcome, so a sound development process is critical to success. It is important to avoid making mistakes during the formative stages; more often than not, these mistakes aren’t identifiable immediately, but rather only show themselves when they have morphed into a costly fix or workaround. Below are some of the common mistakes identified across different industries and products.
1. Designing Wrong Product
As unrealistic as it sounds, it is very easy to design the wrong product. Many different aspects should be considered when designing what your product is and what it will do.
- Understanding Value Proposition: The key is to deeply understand the target market and their needs, and then work to combine what is possible with what is desirable, to create products that solve real problems. It is important to keep the following two questions in mind at all times
i. Whether or not the product in its current definition adds any true customer value
ii. Will real customers pay, what we think they should, for the product as it is currently defined
- Sufficient End User Input: Have you thought about all types of users, their expectations, and how that will impact the design? Make sure to think about an appropriate sample size to make sure you’re relying on the correct amount of information. It’s a common mistake to think that you only have to speak with your intended users once, at the very beginning. Although their input is absolutely critical, it’s also important to get their feedback throughout the development process. By keeping up to date on needs and considering their opinions, you are ensuring that you’re consistently making the right decisions and reduce the likelihood of mistakes down the road.
- Focus on Simplicity: “Simplicity” should always be a goal rather than trying to create a product that is superior in terms of “features”. Focusing on superior features is one of the biggest mistakes. Each new feature increases the complexity and adds marginal benefits. So when you have a good idea (a new feature to add), hesitation should be the first response rather than adopting the idea quickly. In order to avoid this mistake the appropriate question is: “is it worth adding this feature, which will sacrifice simplicity?”
- Requirement Definition: Clear and feasible requirements (which we addressed in our last blog post) are critical, especially when it comes to function and safety. A key aspect of requirement definition is to look at how the product might fail, and make sure to mitigate all of these scenarios (risk analysis).
- Understanding Regulatory Requirements: Every industry has a myriad of regulations that govern product performance and safety, whether it’s a toy, a consumer electronic, or a life-sustaining medical device. With regulation comes rules; you must follow them if you want your product to be successful. Research all of the regulations for your product at the beginning of the development phase, and speak with a consultant or product development firm if you need more information. The best way to gain confidence that the product will comply is to know the regulatory standards against which the product will be tested before you design the product. This will also avoid problems caused by insufficient design, uncertified components, and incorrect or non-applicable test methods and so on. Discovering that your product does not meet one of these regulations during product acceptance testing in “the murky back end” can be costly. These costs will include time and labor to redesign due to construction or testing deficiencies, as well as product retest and re-evaluation at the laboratory.
2. Rushing Development
With an innovative idea on the table, it’s common to try to get the product complete as soon as possible. However, skipping steps leads to costly mistakes. Instead, be efficient throughout the process and do things the right way (while being cost effective, of course).
- Document Design History: One of the most time-consuming mistakes is forgetting about decisions you made in the past. If changes and design implementations are documented well, the end result is a roadmap of how the product was developed. This ultimately will be a critical tool in ensuring everything was addressed and stray requirements were not forgotten (traceability).
- Track Milestones: In every product, there are major elements or functions that can be classified as milestones. Use these to your advantage and take this time to review progress and ensure that any deviations are corrected before it’s too late.
- Use Design Reviews: Communication is essential to an efficient and problem-free design. Holding design reviews with relevant parties will allow for ideas to flow and identification of key issues. In the end, this will keep development on track.
- Appropriate Testing: Having a product meet its requirements once or twice does not infer that it will function properly for its entire lifetime. It is surprising to see how many companies rely on a sample size of ‘one’ while testing products. The time (and cost) you save by cutting testing short is likely returned ten-fold or more if a problem is discovered after it has been released to market. Every product should undergo thorough and repeated testing to weed out any issues that may be hard to identify. Any test methods used to test the product should be validated to ensure they are accurate, precise, repeatable and reproducible. Selecting sample size for testing is also very critical and should be done using statistical methods to meet appropriate confidence levels and intervals.
3. Ignoring Design for Manufacturing
Design for Manufacturing (DFM) is the method of designing products in such a way that they are easy to manufacture, generally by utilizing the rules and requirements for each of the fabrication technologies to be used. Proper DFM results in a product with higher quality, more repeatability, and lower cost. Here are some ways to be sure that the design for manufacturability is not ignored:
- Make manufacturing engineers a key part of the product development team.
- Start communicating with suppliers as early as possible to learn the limitations and capabilities of the manufacturing processes.
- Do not wait until the product design is complete and approved before discussing DFM.
- Implement DFM into the design review discussions from the beginning of the project.
4. Ignoring IP Protection
Not seeking the correct, or enough, intellectual property (IP) protection can derail a product instantly. Product developers will in many cases need the full gamut of intellectual property protection: patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Choosing not to pursue one type of available protection is a lot like choosing which part of your home you don’t mind people squatting in.