Deciding to outsource your next product development project is a big deal. There is a lot at stake – both for the company in general and for the person who has to make the final decision. Here are a few things to keep in mind when your are trying to decide who you should work with.
Communication and Responsiveness
The most important part of any relationship is communication. By the time you make your final decision, you should have a good idea of what it’s like to work with the various design firms you have explored. Which ones feel the most “in-sync” with your organization? Does the firm respond quickly, or does it feel as though they always take a little longer than you would like?
Any level of concern will be amplified once you get into an intense project, so pay attention to it now. Remember that a design firm will be on its very best behavior during the quoting phase and early stages of the project. Only the very best firms maintain or exceed this quality of service once a project is underway. If things are bad in the early stages, assume they only will get worse later.
As much as we like to make decisions as a group, the final call often comes down to a single person’s view. If not, a joint decision likely will be based primarily on one individual’s perception. Try to get several other view points about what it’s like to actually work with the potential design firms. Acknowledge that your company is taking a risk by outsourcing, so do what you can to mitigate and address that risk now.
If you can’t get any solid recommendations from trusted sources, think of other ways you can address this risk. Maybe you could engage the firm (or even multiple firms if your project is big enough) for a short trial project. This is a great way to see what it’s like working with them – and also to get some work done in the process.
When outsourcing anything, especially product design, think about what you can learn along the way. The main objective is to get your product out the door, but make the most of the experience and pick up new skills along the way. You will find you get the very best outcome when you are involved in the process – so absorb as much as you can.
Don’t be afraid to invite their design team to come and work with you and your team, or ask to work at their firms’ location. Close-quarters development helps you learn as much as possible, and it’s great for forming positive working relationships.
Outsourcing to a well-qualified design firm also will grant you access to its network of suppliers and industry contacts. You know from your own experience how long it takes to build a network of trusted partners, so access to their network is of huge value. Make sure you ask about the firm’s business connections when selecting a firm, and think about how these new contacts could be of value to your company.
Consider the long game. Are you at risk of outgrowing your proposed design firm in the near future? Maybe you’re a large company and even though this project is small, there may be larger ones later. Are you going to need to add another firm later, or do the firms you are considering have larger teams that can be added as needed? There is a huge benefit in having your outsourced design team in-sync with your company and ideally grown together over a period of time.
Ultimately, outsourcing any project comes with a measure of risk. It’s up to you to do the necessary research and take the proper steps to maximize the return on your investment and minimize the chance of failure.