The balance of criteria needed for the design of a technical product is critical. Given its inherent complexity, design firms often encounter one of two challenges:
- Continually reengineering the product due to a moving requirements target. This re-engineering loop tends to lead to strain on the project timing from excessive schedule slippage. Given the importance of market windows, if the product is not delivered until after the critical launch date, it may not matter how well it performs.
- Holding the design freeze date firm regardless of changing customer needs to ensure the product is released on time for customer launch. The issue with this approach becomes either compromised product performance or delivering a product that no longer meets changing customer requirements.
There’s a better way to achieve the right level of detailed engineering while ensuring the product launches on time. Understanding the following three critical factors to technical product design will help teams create a path to success.
3 Factors Impacting Technical Product Design
“IF YOU GIVE THEM WHAT THEY ASK FOR, IT MIGHT NOT BE WHAT THEY WANT”
– Steve Jobs
1. Understanding Customer Requirements and Expectations
The customer defines success criteria and a timeline at the start of the project. However, schedule pressures during development can cause teams to challenge requirements/expectations, which leads to compromised project intent and shifting project goals.
For a development team to deliver the project objectives, it first has to decompose the design objectives into product requirements. Soft requirements like “aesthetic” and “rugged” must translate into [respectively] quantifiable model and durability requirements. Without defining and planning for a specific condition, the scope and timeline can expand substantially. Providing a detailed product requirements specification to the customer is the best way to clarify design intent. This document becomes the technical contract to confirm the project goal and to provide the blueprint for customer product approval.
Syncroness augments this approach by holding Phase 0 engagements to do a comprehensive analysis of the customer needs and requirements, delivering a proposal that accurately meets the desired project scope. This process defines a clear value proposition, ensuring what the client asks for is also what they need.
“INTELLIGENCE IS THE ABILITY TO ADAPT TO CHANGE”
– Stephen Hawking
2. Flexible Planning Structure
The premise of Stephen Hawking’s quote can also translate as the following: Intelligent product development results from the ability to adapt to change. Invariably, unplanned challenges or direction changes arise when developing something new. The beginning and end states remain largely the same, but the path between them must be elastic to absorb challenges as they appear.
Maintaining a flexible design process requires a balance between absorbing timing extensions and delivering the project goal. Insufficient flexibility erodes client satisfaction when the project needs a reactive course correction. Excessive flexibility leads to a chaotic development process, plagued by over-engineering and scope creep.
The schedule must be allowed to adapt to emerging problems to implement course corrections that lead to a better final product. One of the most effective ways to achieve this balance is to implement Agile project management, which breaks the project into small sprints that demonstrate continuous progress and value for the customer while remaining adaptive to new approaches or customer requests.
“THERE’S NEVER ENOUGH TIME TO DO IT RIGHT, BUT THERE’S ALWAYS ENOUGH TIME TO DO IT OVER”
– Jack Bergman
3. Risk mitigation
One of the most impactful factors in the product development process is risk mitigation. Incorporating appropriate levels of addressing risk in the design process is like buying insurance; if the failure modes do not occur, the effort amounts to increased security without apparent payback. Without risk mitigation, though, the impact to the product could be catastrophic.
Gathering a team of product-familiar personnel and experts not associated with the project can work well to identify potential risks. One method to assess overall project risk is to use a tool like the Design Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (DFMEA) – a collaborative rating process that scores the risk to assign a weight to each failure mode. The product of the severity, the likelihood of occurrence, and the ease of detection for each failure quantify the magnitude of risk in the opinion of the team. The team should address the highest-risk items in the product design and include them in the test plan to maximize the probability of success in the validation phase.
Though many clients will accept higher risk in exchange for speed with new products, none want them to fail. Analyzing and mitigating risk improves the likelihood of success.
The link between each of these three factors is communication, creating clear and frequent touchpoints between team members and the client. Syncroness creates multiple communication channels to the client through specific development team members. For example, the Project Manager is an external communication channel, charged with protecting the customer relationship, the schedule, and the project budget. The Systems Engineer manages the requirements to the internal project team to ensure that the product will meet the needs of the customer. Project leads must work to establish or facilitate internal communication pathways, and should not assume the team is already communicating effectively. Clear, direct communication paired with clearly understood requirements/expectations, a flexible project schedule, and appropriate risk mitigation provides the development team with a steady path to success.