In the past, working with a product development firm often meant simply handing off a set of requirements and then meeting up to review the results. Today engineers and industrial designers are increasingly working together in a collaborative partnership that involves an ongoing exchange of ideas coming from both sides. At the same time, there are some aspects of the product development process that remain the same - as do certain keys to success.
Here are six tips for maximizing the probability of getting exactly what you want and expect from a product development service provider, whether you're focused on execution-oriented projects or research-focused initiatives. Both require boundaries and definitions of success for both the client and service provider.
1. Create Clear Product Requirements
Seems simple, right? Yet you'd be surprised how often it fails to happen. Whenever you engage with a product development consulting firm, it's crucial to be able to clearly define the goals of the engagement - even when the project is open-ended and research-oriented. Regardless of the type of project, it's essential to establish parameters for expectations.
It is surprising how often product development experts are called into meetings with manufacturers where the product development requirements are very loosely defined. In these situations, an experienced product development partner will encourage the client to first complete a brief and inexpensive "discovery" phase; product development service providers call this the "productization plan," gathering requirements as a baseline. With clearly defined requirements, the product OEM is in a better position to seek competitive proposals and can be confident that it is getting an apples-to-apples responses for an even comparison.
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2. Clarify the Partner's Deliverables
Loosely defined deliverables are nearly as dangerous as sketchy requirements. Having a clearly defined and a common understanding of deliverables is not just a measure to satisfy procurement teams. For manufacturers or product OEMs, as a purchaser of product development services, it's necessary in order to understand how the partner will demonstrate results.
A lack of agreement on deliverables from the outset of the partnership is a big factor in dissatisfaction for both the buyer and the service provider because it opens the door to debates over the quality of the deliverables.
3. Make Sure the Process is Collaborative
It used to be that the client was the one handing off requirements to the product development firm, and the product developers were the only ideators on the project. That's no longer the case.
Today, engineers and industrial designers are often working in a more agile way, constantly exchanging ideas and fine-tuning plans and concepts based on feedback and new information that's constantly coming in from a variety of sources. Users of product development service providers have the right to participate in this process as much as they like. Just be sure to establish this as an expectation at the outset of the relationship to ensure that the product development firm is a company that values and welcomes your input.