I wear many hats in my product development firm and in my role as president, I am tasked with filling gaps in our offerings to fulfill the need of our clients. So, I have first hand experience working with outsourced product development partners. I also take my responsibility seriously to make sure that we have the right talent for the project engagements based on the customers need. I have definitely refined my process in finding talent that I can work with as strategic partners over the years.
Even before starting this business, working as an engineer and in management rolls for mid-size manufacturing companies I was responsible for putting teams together whether they were product development providers or contract manufactures or staff hires.
How many times have you been through this process, or is this your first time? From my experience over the years, as you look to engage a product development service provider consider the following.
Before you even start looking at firms buckle down with your team and define your goals for the project and then the roles you will need from a provider. This clarity will put everyone at ease and make life easier for you.
I would encourage that a discovery phase is part of the contract so both you and the provider are on track with what you would like to accomplish. This phase if done correctly should solidify the goals that you have set for the project. This also gives the provider the opportunity to convey back to you the requirements that you have specified and how they plan to achieve those goals. I find that this works and sets the right tone for the project going forward. If after this phase you are not satisfied with the approach you can both readjust or realize that the provider is not the right fit. Small change to put out before you commit.
Just recently we went through a discovery phase on our own dime because we wanted to make sure that the technology was even viable before we wrote the proposal for the project. By doing this we found that it was viable and shared our findings with the potential client who was thrilled because they were not sure either. This body of work took both an electrical and mechanical engineer. For a firm like ours this was not small change, but I felt that it was the right thing to do. The jury is still out whether we will win this project but it would be very cool to work with them on this new technology.
The design phase is another task that can be difficult to articulate and is different than concepts or ideation phases. What do you as the client want out of this phase. Most times we first begin with sketches and/or renderings that are almost always CAD generated, then simple proof of concepts to experiment on pieces of the design that need further investigation and experimentation. This can be simple analysis or physical experiments to clarify concepts. Most of these experiments are completed before actual work towards prototypes begin. In our world these prototypes are usually different than actual functional prototypes. Keep in mind that the outcome of these steps are your deliverable and you want to be clear on what the deliverable actually means.
What is your end game? We break all of our projects up into deliverable phases with payment expected at the end of each phase once the deliverable for that phase is met. Most of the time these are milestone deliverables. So it is in both parties best interest to know ahead of time what the definition of this phase is and what the outcome will be so that the provider is paid and you are satisfied. A final review going over all deliverables followed by acceptance is often helpful for consensus on completion of a phase.
We also find it helpful to create fixed price contracts when we are hired by a client and we ask this of providers that we engage. Fixed price takes some of the stress off of you. This price can be included in budgets for the year and this will be one less surprise over the projects time frame!
Like any good partnership, over time much of what we discussed becomes second nature. You and your provider have established ground rules and communication so you will have a good feel for project expectations and outcomes.
You owe it to yourself and new product development team for the first few engagements to do as much as possible to succinctly articulate expectations before starting the project. As with anything in business and life, proper execution is in the details!