Big Ideas

The Three Biggest Mistakes You’re Making In The Process Of Contracting Your Company’s Hardware Development

You already know that contracting all or part of your hardware development makes sense for your burgeoning start-up or big company innovation team.  Here are the three key reasons that a wise business decision goes bad.

Failing to fully engage with your contract partner.

Dzzzzztt. Dzzzzztt. Dzt Dzt. Your phone buzzes incessantly. It’s your contract engineering team. You don’t feel like answering.

“This is the fourth time they’ve called me,“ you think, “today.”

Now consider the alternative for a moment, that you have hired a contract hardware development partner that never calls. Never sends updates. Never asks questions.

Suddenly the assumption that you can send an RFQ to a contractor and then never discuss tradeoffs, identify potential risks, or agree to pivot design direction yet still have a world-class product rolling off the shipping dock six months later sounds absurd.

That is also why you should seek out and embrace development partners that understand the importance of frequent communication.

Companies with less experience producing hardware have a general propensity to believe that development is further along than it actually is.

And why wouldn’t they?

If you haven’t gone through the process before, it is impossible to understand all of the challenges, intricacies, and potential pitfalls.

Don’t be satisfied with attending sprint planning meetings and then showing up for major deliverables – be the voice of your customer and provide intermediate direction. The less time your development team has to wait for your feedback, the faster and more efficiently they will operate. They will also be more likely to check in with you if critical risks or roadblocks arise.

At Mindtribe, we often use immediate communication tools such as Slack to open up an instant portal to our clients’ thoughts and input.

Not understanding your contractor’s core capabilities.

One of the major mistakes we frequently witness across the industry is the assumption that all engineering teams are suitable for all engineering efforts.

The fact is that there are many engineering teams that can build a product to a detailed specification. In fact, many contract manufacturers are fairly capable of doing minor engineering and design for manufacture (DFM) if the hardware innovation factor is low.

You should be aware of the work your contract development partner is good at and what is not necessarily in their wheelhouse, and use the appropriate contractors accordingly.

The potential benefit – using an appropriately divided balance of skilled teams for your most critical challenges and experienced manufacturers for known fabrication techniques – will save your project both time and cost. It will also greatly reduce project risk, leading to… more time and cost savings.

According to our friends at Fictiv and their 2016 State of Hardware Report, funding and resources are perceived as the greatest challenge in bringing a successful product to market.

At the same time, it is not difficult to understand why there is a general desire to consolidate contractors. Working closely with a contractor to achieve an optimal outcome is a significant time investment (see Failing to Fully Engage With Your Contract Partner section above).

When you consider that a typical hardware development effort may (at a minimum) utilize the services of separated ID firm, engineering firm, vendors, and contract manufacturer, you soon realize it is by no means a negligible resource commitment to manage all of these interactions.

This is emphasized not to discourage the use of contract help by any stretch of the imagination.

If your own company is truly following its “hedgehog concept” (defined in Jim Collin’s best-selling business book Good to Great as the convergence of your passion, skill, and economic drivers) then most often you shouldn’t be focused on becoming industrial design artists, engineering complex hardware systems, or scaling a manufacturing line.

Do what your company is best at, and hire other experts to fill in the gaps.

When it comes to contractor consolidation you should resist the urge to believe the claim that so many companies make – that they are a turnkey hardware product development solution. They are most likely familiar with the overall process, but only truly experts on a distinct segment.

How many amazing products can you identify that had a single source for industrial design and manufacturing? Yet so often the engineering phase of development negligently gets lumped in with the former or latter despite the critical and distinct skill set required to engineer a high-quality product experience.

Furthermore, managing stages of contract product development teams in the world of exceptional product design does not happen in silos.

This is precisely where an especially capable product engineering team can add an invaluable contribution.

It’s an unlikely scenario to have your industrial design partner manage your contract manufacturer. There are critical links that an engineering consultancy like Mindtribe can connect as the bridge between industrial design and manufacturing.

Increase communication between these functional groups, and you will find that the overlap between the “design – engineer – manufacture” stages also increases, thereby decreasing overall product development time.

You will find out earlier in the development cycle how to balance the beautiful conceptual renderings with the hard reality of meeting COGS targets. You will realize before tooling ever gets made that your CM may be incapable of device assembly. You will find it easier to actively manage overall development cost, and truly make the product that meets your essential marketing requirements.

Engaging with a contract partner that’s not engaged.

It is unlikely that your consultants and contractors will ever have the level of understanding of your particular market the way that you do.

That’s your skill, the very reason that you have a stake in the game – but an exceptional partner will ask the right questions about how to align product and marketing requirements. A sensitivity to your business needs and sympathy to your customers’ wants are qualities of any development partner that will vastly increase your chances of success; be it in industrial design, engineering, or contract manufacturing.

Anyone that can help you carve out a minimum viable product is a welcome expansion of your core critical team.

There are a lot of engineers that can identify the technical feasibility of a temperature-optimizing smart mug, but do they develop a study that allows the client to answer the question “how hot and for how long should a smart mug keep a cup of coffee?”?

There are plenty of good teams that can come up with a way to monitor energy use in residential and commercial buildings, but Mindtribe asks “how accurate should the energy monitoring be?”, “what can increased accuracy tell us?”, and ultimately the most important question of all, “what is it that our clients’ customers actually want?”.