Delivering design success

4 mins read

How to take your product idea from doodle to design success. By Dunstan Power.

When on the journey of taking an electronics product idea to market, the path from concept to successful market launch can be quite challenging.

Inventors, whether from non-engineering backgrounds or experienced design teams, often conceive innovative ideas for electronic products. Yet, the sad reality remains that many of these ideas never see the light of day in the market. Interestingly, some seemingly foolproof products have failed, while others that were less conventional have emerged as roaring successes.

Achieving successful product design is akin to scaling a mountain. It necessitates meticulous planning to reach the summit and ensure a safe descent. The focus needs to be on bringing the product to market and establishing a process that facilitates its successful introduction.

Distinguishing between 'technology push' and 'demand pull'

Numerous factors can impede progress, from supply chain challenges to compliance and production testing. The inception of a product generally aligns with two fundamental models: technology push and demand pull.

A push strategy centres on innovative technology. However, a product lacking a clear customer market or failing to solve a specific problem might struggle to find its audience.

This is where the concept of demand pull becomes crucial. By adopting a more conservative and incremental approach to the product's design and pinpointing the problem it solves, there's a higher likelihood of success with customers.

Nonetheless, the downside includes facing increased competition within the market.

Evaluating the underlying assumptions regarding the product will determine push or pull strategies. For example, what problem is it looking to solve? How will it look and feel? What retail price point is viable? What additional functionality could it offer? Document these assumptions to determine the initial specifications for a minimum viable product (MVP).

Cross-examine financials against key assumptions

Once the initial specifications are in place, conduct a thorough financial analysis. Calculate the unit cost, potential sale price, market size, development costs, and overheads to ascertain the feasibility of making a profit.

Decisive cost-related decisions should be made early in the product development process. Delaying can significantly inflate costs as the project progresses. If doubts arise regarding the product's potential success, it's crucial to pivot or discontinue it sooner rather than later.

Ongoing scrutiny of the finances, from development costs to projected unit costs, is crucial, regardless of whether a startup or larger organisation is launching the product. Failure to align these figures properly can erode final profits. Therefore, regularly verifying financials against key assumptions is essential.

A critical part of financials is market validation. However, instead of resorting to Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and intellectual property (IP) patents, seek feedback from trusted individuals. Rather than seeking market validation for ideas, focus on iterations and idea verification initially.

Outsourcing and tools to bridge skills gaps

The composition of the product team holds great significance. An effective team requires a leader who is entrepreneurial, understands the concept, and possesses both hard and soft skills to implement the specifications. Technical proficiency profiling and DiSC personal assessment tools can help to assemble a well-rounded team that addresses any skill gaps.

In addition to a proficient leader who can guide the team through the product development process, having a capable project manager is vital. Weak project management has been known to cause project failures, and while project management tools are valuable, they cannot substitute for an adept manager who remains on top of every aspect of the project.

If there's a skills gap, an audit will identify what’s missing. Gaps are inevitable, but outsourcing can introduce experts as needed. However, there are some parts of the electronic product project, like aftersales, returns, shipping, maintenance and long-term commitment, that should always be kept in-house.

Identify risks and review regularly

Throughout the technical implementation, confront risks directly. Identifying potential risks at the project's outset by prototyping high-risk elements and experimenting with concepts alongside potential customers can mitigate issues early on. Project Risk Analysis and Management (PRAM) aids in rating potential project-affecting issues. Continuously monitor and re-evaluate these risks at regular intervals.

Engineering projects necessitate a risk-reward calculation to avoid extreme risk aversion on the part of the project manager. Here, conducting a feasibility study might delay project commencement but significantly reduces risk, preventing wasted time later.

A feasibility analysis is conducted through a set of pre-design activities. These are critical when defining a product specification and enable documenting of potential design challenges and risks. It combines a brainstorming exercise with rational feasibility analysis and practical testing. This helps product owners to understand the product design, all under the umbrella of customer expectation, budget and financial viability, along with project deadlines and product lifecycle.

External factors, such as personal biases or market changes, can pose risks. For instance, a project manager's emotional attachment to their project might distract and prematurely rush completion. Being informed about competitors' activities and remaining vigilant about unexpected changes in customer needs or demands is vital. Avoiding succumbing to sunk cost fallacy is crucial, and continually reassessing key assumptions is recommended.

Prototype versus production readiness

Before launching a product, always ensure that a prototype is production ready. Testing, whether functional or for compliance with standards, can be labour-intensive initially but can later transition to fully automated testing.

Once the final product is ready, reassess its viability. Consider any new competitors that may have surfaced during the project's duration. In case the product doesn't perform as anticipated, be prepared for an iterative approach; potentially starting the process anew based on lessons learned rather than conceding failure.

Even with meticulous specifications, electronics design projects may deviate from the original plan. Missed deadlines can prolong the time to market, leading to frustration within technical and management teams. If an electronics project derails, a process or service to recover the design might offer a viable solution. This would involve an in-depth project analysis to identify the causes of failure, thus providing recommendations for rescue, and outlines realistic timelines for recovery.

Henry Ford said that “failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Confronting failures and other challenges directly is key to success in any business endeavour. Collaboration with experts in their respective fields supports the development of a final product that captures the attention of the market, customers, and industry peers. Unwavering commitment to achieving design excellence is crucial for all design projects.

By adhering to the advice outlined and maintaining a positive, informed, and adaptive approach to overcoming challenges, you will effectively navigate the process of bringing your product to the market.

  • This article is based on Dunstan Power’s presentation at this year’s EDS 2023.

Author details: Dunstan Power is Director, ByteSnap Design and Versinetic