4.) Be Open to Collaboration
Engineers and industrial designers today often work in agile ways, constantly exchanging ideas and fine-tuning plans and concepts based on feedback and new information. As a client, it’s your right and in your best interest to participate in the process as much as possible. Be sure to establish this as an expectation at the outset of the relationship to ensure you’re working with a firm that values and welcomes your input.
Your partner needs to build this into their project management planning. As a client, you need to be prepared for situations where changing requirements based on new or evolving information can lead to costly or time-consuming change requests. It is unfair to expect your partner to absorb the fiscal burden of changing requirements.
5.) Create Clear Expectations Around Acceptance Criteria
Misalignment over acceptance criteria is one of the most frequent and difficult issues. Are the quality expectations well understood by both sides? When someone says they are delivering sketches, do they have rough hand-drawn pictures in mind while you’re thinking nicely rendered computer-generated images? Is a proof-of-concept model something that demonstrates the functional properties of the idea, without regard for aesthetics or reliability of the functions, or are you imagining a fully functional and reliable prototype with appealing aesthetics?
There are no objective, standard definitions of the terms “proof-of-concept system,” “prototype,” or “model.” Make sure both client and product development partner align on expectations. Dialing them in too loosely may result in quicker delivery or lower cost, but it risks not meeting functional, aesthetic, or reliability goals. Dialing them in too tightly may result in a much greater level-of-effort around full development, test, and validation all with much higher costs and longer schedules. Nail these down in the sweet spot.
6.) Share a Clear Definition of “Complete”
This is often the most difficult issue because it typically comes up when the schedule is running out of time and the money is nearly exhausted.
It’s common to break larger programs into phases. Often, final or interim payments are contingent on certain work being “complete.” Both buyer and provider must have a common definition of what that means. A final review meeting that allows time for reviewing all deliverables—followed by a formal acceptance on the part of the client including, wherever possible, tested and validated quantitative results—is a good way to reach consensus on the completion of a phase.
From a service provider’s viewpoint, this is when they can safely provide a final phase invoice. From a client standpoint, the review summarizes each phase and provides confidence that all the commitments have been satisfied.
If you’ve provided for these six items, you’ll be ready to hold your service partners accountable for meeting their commitments. With a clear definition of requirements and acceptance criteria, you have a rationale upon which to accept or reject the work of your product development partner. By following these tips, you’ll put yourself in a strong position for successful product development partnership—and the creation of a successful product.
Mitch Maiman is the President and Cofounder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS). He honed his deep knowledge of product design on the strength of a 30-year career with companies that manufacture commercially successful products for the consumer, industrial, and DoD markets. Prior to launching IPS, Mitch was VP of Engineering at Symbol Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected].