Simplified Product Development Process [FREE Infographic] (1/2)
People frequently ask how product development process work when the goal is to build a new piece of hardware electronics or an IoT device?
It is clever, welcome and reasonable to ask this question. Have a look at the infographic below and let’s decompose this process right away in the article below!
Pros and Cons: New Hardware Product Development
Developing a new connected or IoT device is more complex than a new piece of software or purely mechanical, “dumb” product. And depending on the purpose it might be even more challenging than just putting the whole system to work together. For example, medical, security, payment, automotive and military use cases come with a special set of regulations.
There is a whole system behind that you don’t immediately see. Many people of various expertise work in product development: industrial designers, software engineers, electronic engineers, mechanical engineers and finally manufacturers.
However, don’t forget marketers, distributors, lawyers and people in business who play a part in the process. To achieve success in new product development, everyone’s role is important and should never be underestimated.
To put it simple: two to three people could build a whole new web-based product, but 30 to 40 people will be working on a simple quality LED light bulb that is controlled by an app, and that collects some data, process, and store on the cloud.
Mistakes in hardware are expensive, and it might take months to sort them out.It can easily destroy the whole company. The best way to avoid serious issues is to apply a conservative and careful approach during product development cycle.
However, do not be afraid of that. At the same time, this complexity means less competition and larger profit margins. So, you get paid for all the hustle, eventually. Just keep patience and coolness.
Ideation: is there a problem that I can solve and monetize my solution?
A product should be a value proposition itself. Try to compare your product to something as obvious as washing machine or a light bulb. Are you confident that you’re on the way to develop something that can solve a problem that bothers millions of people? Then you should definitely go for implementation of your idea and invest a lot of efforts into it, regardless difficulties.
However, make sure that you validate your assumptions, for example, people will buy it. You could at least ask your targeted group would they like an idea and how much would they pay for it. You might need to build a proof of concept to validate such thing. Sometimes, the best way to validate your market is to run a crowdfunding campaign.
Then spend some time to analyze feasibility of the whole project. The most important is technical feasibility: is it possible to develop product at a targeted price range? Is it manufacturable?
We tend to think that we are the only incredible geniuses who could camp up with a particular product idea. But there is around 7 millions of other people who could potentially come up with the same idea. Someone might be already working on a similar solution, maybe even better than yours. Some solutions might be already under patent protection, even though a patent owner is not commercializing the solution yet.
While you can’t be 100% sure that you’ll find out all the answers, a few days of Google research will do miracles for you. Check in this series of articles how to define your product idea, and it also includes an infographic.
It sounds like there is a lot of work at the beginning. Partly it’s true. Developing a new product idea might be time-consuming, but that really depends on product requirements. From the moment you think of a solution, around two to three months will pass until a product idea is researched and defined well enough . It is ready for the next phase.
Product development: define requirements
Based on the findings during ideation phase, a product manager is defining requirements for the development of a new product. Now, these requirements must be as concrete as possible. If so, the product development process will be cheaper and faster. Unclear requirements is the first reason why projects fail. The second reason while product development fail is misunderstanding and poor communication between all the parties involved.
List all the parts of the complete system you’ll need – design of the product, hardware, electronics, packaging, certifications, target markets. Further, describe all usage cases, a buyer’s persona, target manufacturing and retail price, preferred timeline, etc. Define product specifications in detail as well as all product features.
These information help engineers, designers, and everyone else involved to know what is the final goal of a 18-month project.
Product development: design and engineering
Depending on development challenges, the process starts with industrial design or with engineering. In both cases, the starting point is a concept creation. It gets further developed into a final look-a-like prototype (design wise) and final work-a-like prototype (engineering wise).
In electronic engineering, the process starts with creating schematics and building a breadboard-based prototypes to make an optimal selection of components. After that, electronic engineers create a PCB layout and develop firmware. Creating a PCB layout might be challenging if the PCB needs to have small dimensions.
Also, defining how components should interact with each other, and coding it as a part of firmware development is like giving the life to otherwise dead hardware electronics. Think of firmware as reflex of breathing. A body of a newborn baby (seen as hardware) wouldn’t hold up for a single day without inborn reflex of breathing that starts functioning at the first minute the baby comes to the world.
Mechanical engineering uses specialized software to simulate usage of a real-life product and its physics. Later, their job is also to think of DFA and DFM (to be explained below).
App developers will need to develop an app that represents part of an UX/UI. For achieving it, they will need to collaborate with a design team. Apps themselves might be more or less complex.
Product designers also work long days to come up with a final design. They 3D print or CNC, or just cut by hand different shapes that simulate your product in order to get a better understanding of how their idea will appear in the real world. These guys contribute a lot to how the users will interact with the product, what material should be used, etc.
Product design is more obviously linked to the artistic process of creation, and it’s easier to perceive it as a sort of art.
Regardless of how much experience engineers have in their field, product development and design is a process of creating something new that never existed before. Engineers learn and get new insights about the product they are working on as they advance through the process.
So, it is important not to expect a linear progress from engineers. It’s true that they create robots, but they are not robots themselves.
Because of that process, engineers and product designers need to reiterate and create multiple prototypes, with a goal to test one feature at the time. Then, going back to their computers, applying newly learn knowledge and iterating again. In the beginning, prototypes are cheap and fast to build. While the whole system and the product development is progressing, prototypes become more expensive. However, there is no need to create tens of prototypes in a late stage of development, but a few of them would be necessary. Again, that also largely depends on product requirements and complexity.
Speaking of the timeline, to develop a product that follows a process explained above will take around 6 months. The system is integrated, tested, major bugs are solved, it is up and running. If product is fairly simple, it can happen in about 3 to 4 months. But it can go even to 12 months or 2 years. That depends on so many factors, but most important is the product complexity, then people who’re working on it.
Think of DFM and DFA all the time
Those are acronyms of “Design for Manufacturing” and “Design for Assembly.” In the real-world application, it means that during the development stage, designers and engineers must be clear which manufacturing process(es) is going to be in utilized for scaling the production.
In addition, they must plan the way how the product is going to be designed to be able for scaled manufacturing. Overlooking DFM and DFA has called off the end of the game for many innovative products.
There are a few layers when speaking of the importance of DFM and DFA.
To maintain as lowest as possible price of manufacturing is essential for your business. These are things such is: are you choosing screws and how many of them to assemble two parts. Or you would rather choose clips whenever possible? Clips are more time consuming to develop. However, they significantly save time during the final assembly, and reduce product defect rate.
Or, if you’re going for injection molding or die-casting, a product designer might not know that 90-degree angle is not manufacturable. Plastic parts stuck inside of the mold and workers can not take them out of the mold. All the angles on the product must have a draft angle.
There is so many details that directly affect quality of a product, its manufacturing price and feasibility to scale a certain design. There is some general rules and guidelines to follow always. However, since the very new product is unique, there might be multiple ways to optimize design and assembly process for a better, more reliable and affordable manufacturing process.
IKEA products are a great example of how to design products for cheap and easy assembly. In fact, design for assembly is so simple that IKEA offers to their customers the final assembly process as an option.
So, as soon as product development and design start, it is necessary to align efforts with DFA and DFM philosophy.
It happens that some teams develop a product without having DFM and DFA in their mind. Due to the nature of innovation cycle, sometimes people need to clear up their minds and focus on products only. In these situations, engineers and designers tweak and compromise, as well as re-develop of certain parts of the product. Sometimes re-developing the whole product is the only way out. In other words – it costs more time and money.
When there are so many people working on a single thing, the most challenging part is how to integrate everyone’s work into a single box.
Things rarely go as expected. Who says differently either is inexperienced or lies. Who expects differently risks to put unreasonable pressure on the team that will lead to more mistakes.
To put the whole system together often brings unexpected issues and people will need make some compromises and re-do a bit. For example, a certain component on the PCB might be bigger than initially expected.
Those are usually small (sometimes big) issues that you can fix by improvising. But when doing mass production, there is no improvisation. Whatever is the final design, it must be able to scale in production at lowest costs as possible.
Also, this is the first time in the human history that a new product performs its intended purpose. Things are changing, tweaking, improving and fixing.
Ideally, product designers, engineers, marketers, product managers, customers – many people should participate in “debugging.” It might take around 1-2 months to recognize all the issues, find and apply appropriate fixes.
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