There is nothing to fear when it comes to implementing a process for hardware development—except forgoing the process altogether. Process is the one thing that will stand between you and chaos. More importantly, it could mean the difference between a successful multi-million-dollar company and bankruptcy.
Yes, it makes fiscal sense to have checkpoints through new product development. But before you even get there, you owe it to yourself—and your product—to subject it to early checks and balances.
So, knowing the implicit value of having this process, what are the ideal guardrails? Here are three things you cannot move forward without.
1. A clear definition of the problem your product will try to solve.
Before you ever build, you need to know exactly what you’re building toward. This clarity will inform everything, including how your product looks.
Unlike with software, hardware development does not afford you the luxury of iterations. Essentially, you have one chance to get it right.
Therefore, you must start with a complete scope of the problem and a sound and tested idea for a solution to create a proof-of-concept prototype.
This is your rock-solid foundation, and the part of the process where you bolster your likelihood for creating a product that hits its mark.
Take the time to interview real people who could be potential customers. Pay attention to what they say and how they say it. Don’t talk about your product or solution; just let the conversation flow naturally.
You’ll get a great deal of mileage out of what you find, as you’ll see in the next step.
2. A true assessment your product’s potential for success.
Don’t fall so in love with your idea that you’re blinded by the realities of a bad investment. Take a view from afar and get other perspectives. Now is the time to think it over and really evaluate the product’s merit.
Too many product entrepreneurs jump in with fervor when a cooler head would be beneficial. It’s important to be honest with yourself and your team here.
Once you’ve completed your assessment, it’s time to dig deep and do the research in the real world. Do as much market analysis and discovery research as you can.
Things to consider:
- For B2B: Know which stakeholders make the decisions, how they purchase products like yours, and why this is a high-priority problem for them
- Know what brands your potential customers or users like, where they live and their purchasing habits
- Find research to support how much consumers would pay for your product
- Have a customer base defined and a total customer base size
- If raising venture capital, show how these numbers equate to $100M of revenue within 5 years
It’s also important to build user personas—fictional profiles of your ideal customers.
Those unfiltered conversations you had with potential consumers can provide anecdotes that inform the entire design process.
Use as much information from them as you can and build very detailed personas. Since these people represent your target market, you’ll want to know as much as possible about their needs and habits.
Skipping this could mean a great product that is targeted incorrectly, or fails from a business perspective. User personas will help keep you on track.
3. A well-defined design process.
As mentioned above, this is not like software development, which can follow a different and sometimes faster path to completion. Hardware requires and more planning that software dev does, simply because of the large number of things that need to come together. These include manufacturer selection, tooling fabrication, part procurement, prototyping and debugging.
You will need to build to find and correct problems and unwanted side effects—these don’t show up in isolation, so there’s simply no other way.
For this reason, the design phase should be carefully mapped out, with a check at the end of each phase to make sure moving forward is warranted and that you are in fact ready to move.
Some companies prefer a less organized methodology with the reasoning that it will use less overhead. Don’t believe it. A tiny mistake in design or a poorly QC’d part can bankrupt you.
Your product idea deserves to be treated like the innovation it is, so don’t skimp on any area of its development. Stick to a process, plan, budget and give each step due diligence. The result could be a product that changes how we live.