Any business leader knows that the success or failure of your organization largely depends on the value your product or service brings to your customers. Particularly for budget-conscious startups and entrepreneurs that have a great idea for a new product and can visualize the success of it in the market but are not quite sure how to get from idea to product. It’s having the expertise to capitalize on the opportunity and identify and eliminate risk at all the in-between stages – from early market analysis, to identifying your first customer, to design and prototyping and testing, to selecting components to setup for manufacturing. Each phase has associated risks that if not identified and rectified early will impact your ability to turn an idea into a successful product in-market.
Most early-stage companies don’t have the in-house expertise required to turn an idea into a professional, manufacture-ready product; therefore, it pays to look to outside partners for guidance and help.
But what should you look for when seeking an outside partner? Here are the top four elements to check off your list.
A senior team with technical and business expertise. There are many types of product expertise that contribute to delivering an awesome product that gives you the best chance to win in your market. Product development process requires a diverse team of experienced professionals including data research, human factors, industrial design artistry, graphic design, mechanical, electronics and software engineering, experience in manufacturing methods, a supplier network, rigorous documentation and regulatory approval skills. This integrated team requires a project management process with a long history of successful product designs. Critical design decisions are carried out by bringing together the design, manufacturing and business objectives to win users and influence buyers, resulting in company profitability. Choose carefully and find a partner with a cross-functional team that has the experience to balance technical decisions with business and marketing implications, overcoming risks and carefully trading off competing objectives. During the idea to market refinement of the product details and specifications, an expert team collects and uses data to get the new product features right so the resulting product demonstrates compelling user value through profound simplicity, ease of use and the ability to engage users at a personal level, connecting the product experience more effectively and enjoyably with each user. Users who fall in love with a product become loyal customers and advocates.
A focus on the first customer in end-to-end design, test often and refine. Each stage of the product design process has associated risks, and this particularly holds true when developing custom products to meet niche customer segments, knowing most products developed are for performing tasks in niche markets. Look for a design partner that collects data, focuses on the critical risky items first and uses rapid iterations to test options for success or failure throughout the four stages of the product development process (Design, Engineer, Prototype, Manufacture). If you can find a partner that has all four stages of the process in one team you will save yourself the burden of managing multiple teams yourself and the inevitable setbacks as disconnected teams hand problems over the fence. Find a product design partner that is creative, knows how to quickly explore options and takes a step-by-step approach to guide you through the overall process, focused on maximizing opportunity and minimizing risk as a product is conceived and configured. The process of making a product to meet a user’s needs starts with identifying your first customers. The more general the customer description and task descriptions, the more difficulty a design team has solving the “what task solutions are ‘best’ ” equation. Be specific. Stay focused on customer needs and only the necessary product features to meet them, while spending the least amount of time and money in development.
A low risk-high reward approach. Each physical world product is a unique mix dressed up into a new and functioning object, delivering a newly crafted set of features to a user to perform a task. If four different design teams were deployed, you would end up with four unique devices with a host of different strengths and weaknesses associated with the decisions each design team made. The business operations and sales and customer support teams will live with the risk assessment skills and decisions of the design team for the life of the product. Starting with the concept stage of design, the biggest risks and most unique and useful product features should be identified and any key assumptions tested immediately as you are figuring out the architecture of a product. A closely collaborating team with the full suite of design, business and manufacturing expertise available to critique can spot new opportunity, and easily identify and qualify high risks, with low-cost assessment testing in many cases, to get subjective but important data points to make more informed decisions. The choice of a design team is critical to the business outcome. A design team cannot guarantee a successful product, but it can give the business team a far better shot at success with a well-designed product, built by a reliable manufacturer and focused on a specific target customer with a solution to a task they are willing to pay for.
An effective extension of your team. Find a design partner that will act as a seamless extension of your technical, marketing and business teams. This fills the expertise gap and can cut in half the product design innovation process time and money spent. If you choose a design partner and they do not have the business, manufacturing and marketing experience in house and readily available to the team on an hourly basis as needed, they will work through details of the design mostly independent of the other teams, meeting only briefly for reviews that come after large pieces of the design progress are carried out. This intermittency opens up too many opportunities to miss important risks, opportunities, part supply issues and critical decisions during the configuration of a product. Tragic issues uncovered much further along increase development costs and send the process backward, taking leads longer to develop to market. A well-chosen partner should be working closely with your business, marketing and your software engineering team for devices connected to the Internet where your product is a software application and the hardware is a contributing device that just has to work without user or business issues. The product development partner needs to be managing their contribution to the entire four stages of product development, filling the major holes when you don’t have the knowledge and guidance in house. Most importantly, they have the diverse skills and a great deal of product design experience to plug in quickly, come up to speed, integrate their expertise effectively and remove themselves when their value is no longer required.