Finishing Well, Part 3

The 5-Step Guide to Taking Your Product Across the Finish Line

Step 4: Transition Well to Finish Well

Step 5: The Finish Line

Finishing Well Part 3

This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, because it’s the moment upon which your entire product development (PD) program hinges—the fateful, make-or-break finish.

“Finishing well” is a mantra at M3 Design, because it means creating a product that succeeds in the market and delivers results to your business.

In short, finishing well is what this whole product development game is all about. It’s how you win.

If you’ve been with us so far, then you already know that there’s a lot that goes into a strong finish. Namely,

Not to mention our (rather strong) opinions on the bathtub of value. But all that leads up to the finish itself. Which is where we’ve arrived today.

It’s time to examine the final 2 steps in successful, finish-focused product development: transitioning the product successfully and hitting that finish line like a boss.

In other words, it’s go time.

Step 4: Transition Well to Finish Well

The handoff from your PD firm back into your company is one of the most essential junctures in any product-development program. Handled well, this transition can kick start an efficient path to market success. Handled poorly, it can kick start a path to total disaster.

Let’s start with a look at what not to do:

Don’t pull the rug out without warning

When you bring an in-process product back in house suddenly and before the expected time, you place the entire project in danger. Because you open yourself up to all the unknowns that your partner firm was prepared to work through as they moved into the next phase.

A successful transition from your PD firm back into your company hinges on preparation, care, and communication. So make sure your own team and your product-development firm are ready and on the same page when it’s time to make the switch.

Don’t mistake functional for market-ready

“We can get something to the point that it’s functional pretty quickly,” muses chief operations officer John Bernero. “But to go from that to a mass-produced product takes time and effort. And when you go there, you might need to change some things.”

So when you start to get jazzed about a functioning prototype that your PD firm has presented, don’t assume that it will now be easy to bring that concept in-house and run with it.

Remember all the planning and knowledge that has already been invested in that functional product—much of which will be lost if it’s brought back into your organization too soon or without a properly managed transition.

Don’t assume

Once you see a solution, beware the “Oh, of course you did it that way” reaction. When you begin thinking this way, you’re likely to disregard the work it took to get there—and the work it will take to get it to the finish line.

But enough with the don’ts. Let’s spend some time on what you should do:

Do trust the firm you choose

Healthy skepticism is an important part of great product development. But if you’re constantly second-guessing the firm you’ve chosen, they may never get enough wind in their sails to soar to the next level.

To finish well, you will need to value what your firm brings to the table.

So make a confident PD firm selection. First, study this step-by-step outline for choosing the right product development firm. Then, become familiar with the characteristics of a rock star product development team.

And finally, give that stellar team some room to create for you.

Do Communicate

There are few things as essential to an effective transition as effective communication.

Consider inviting your PD firm into design reviews while the product is transitioning back in house—and after. There’s nothing to be lost from the insights and information they will bring to the table.

In general, if you’re ever in doubt of something, discuss it with your product-development partner. This can only serve to expand your tribal knowledge and better the finished product.

Do question what you’re questioning

We all want to make sure we’re getting to the best version of a concept, and questions are an important part of making that happen.

But it’s also important to be honest about any misgivings your team might have. If you’re about to change or disregard something your firm did, first consider your team’s reasons for doing so.

Is it because you’ve never done it before?

Because you need different problem solvers to figure it out or take it to the finish line?

Because it’s difficult to manage considering your company culture?

Or is there a market-driven reason?

Do beware the NIH issue

Most of us are familiar with the Not Invented Here (NIH) phenomenon—the tendency of product developers to tweak designs in order to feel more ownership in a product.

The NIH effect is a very real part of our industry, and it’s important that managers maintain a realistic perspective about its pervasiveness and likelihood.

Change for the sake of change alone can mean wasted knowledge, time, and efficiency. And quite possibly a broken product. So what to do about it?

“It’s natural that engineers like to put their own thumbprint on a design,” concedes Bernero. “But if they don’t first say to us, ‘Hey, I am thinking about doing X and here’s why…will that affect functionality?’, then they can make a change that stops everything from working—and now they don’t understand why.”

From the outset, get realistic about what it will look like for your internal team to take on someone else’s work.

Truth be told, they may not like it. They may feel like coming in at the end isn’t “real” product development. And this could lead to problems if it isn’t handled realistically.

“Of course,” Bernero goes on. “Our clients’ teams don’t just want to be part of the process at the very end. So if possible, it’s great to involve that team along the way. But it’s also important to make sure they understand that when the product comes in, naysaying isn’t constructive. They shouldn’t throw an idea out just because it seems different than what they’ve done before.”

Setting these expectations early on can help smooth the culture gap between your large company and your smaller product-development firm, which can in turn help ease the tendency toward unnecessary NIH changes.

Step 5: The Finish Line

The final 10% of a project is the most difficult part. This is when every single detail counts—from tooling to first articles to inventory, and so on.

As the bathtub of value has shown us, project costs skyrocket at the end, along with the number of people involved: production, manufacturing, quality, sales, etc.

And since the people who are putting all that together tend to be assemblers and not engineers, the production process must be impeccable.

Business development executive Casey Branson details the process: “All the moving parts—getting tools made, first articles inspected, inventory, etc. Financial risk goes through the roof. So when our team is releasing a part that’s going to be stamped into a tool to make thousands or millions of parts, they’ll stay up all night checking and rechecking. Then, there’s tweaking that happens when it goes to production. A lot of times, our people are present on the line, watching first articles come out. Sometimes, we’re designing fixtures for manufacturing. It’s not glamorous, but in order for the design to stay intact and be absolutely perfect, all these nitty-gritty details need to be figured out.”

If you’ve selected the right firm, it’s their job to ensure that the usability of the device marries up with the function, and that the intended design comes through in the end.

I learned this when I was 14 or 15 years old. Back in the day, you took a wood shop class in high school, and you spent the first 9 weeks designing—making nice sketches, detailing parts, etc. And then you went down to the shop and started cutting out expensive black walnut. And if you were wrong, your parents were buying that wood, just because you screwed up and had to start over. So I learned quickly that the last part—the finishing up part—that’s the hard part. But it’s also essential.

These days, the formula for finishing well is really just as straightforward. It means ending up with a satisfied client, a happy client. They make money, and they return. If we get to finish well, our cost of sales is nothing, because they come back so we can do more great work together. And that’s what we all want.

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About M3 Design
Founded in 1996, M3 Design is a product development company located in Austin, Texas. We craft and execute product development strategies for leading technology-based companies.

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