It’s all in the planning. Especially when it comes to producing your new product. There are so many variables to consider, so many steps from inception to production. You don’t want to be surprised at any stage by unexpected costs, malfunctions, or quality and safety issues.
By creating a thorough test plan, you’ll be ready for what may come, and while you may not have the answers at every stage, you will have the advantage of having the possibilities laid out in front of you.
This can result in changes and contingency plans before you even start production.
So what is a test plan?
It’s a document that will outline everything from objectives, target market, internal beta team, and processes for your product. It will outline the strategy you’ll use to ensure that your product or system meets its design specifications.
Many inventors don’t realize that there is so much potential for variation—the product may not perform the way the prototype did or parts may be different than specified requiring assembly changes, among other issues.
And then there are the end users. Will consumers use the product the way you intend them to? What if they drop it?
A test plan keeps you on schedule with all the testing you’ll need, and it keeps you in mind of all these possibilities.
How do I use a test plan?
Start with the specifications, requirements, product definition, environmental and usage conditions.
Your test plan may influence product cost and technical capability, so you’ll want to implement this plan early in product development as a guide throughout the life of the product.
Outline what areas will need testing and what problems could arise. Plan on having to course correct as you discover flaws and malfunctions.
Some of the areas to test include:
- Functional tests
- Initial EMC scans (for FCC regulation)
- Mechanical fit test
- UL review
- Button life test
- Connector plug in/pull out test
- Defect definition (minor, major, critical)
- Aesthetic testing
- Abuse testing
- Manufacturing validation tests (to make sure you can build fast enough to meet demand)
The test plan also gives you insight into the length of each testing cycle, so you get an idea of how long this phase will last and when mass production might begin.
Remember, one test is not enough.
Don’t underestimate the number of cycles required to effectively perform reliability and life testing.
Through each iteration, your prototypes will mature. That means your testing strategy will evolve as well, and you will need to prepare for that.
For example, you may consider building an arbitrary number of prototypes and use them for investor pitches and press demos. These can disappear during the events, leaving you only a few prototypes left for actual testing, which may not be enough with which to do anything statistically meaningful.
Your test plan can help you define the right number of marketing prototypes while leaving you with the room to adjust as testing continues.
The testing phase can be stressful and time consuming. But that test plan you created before you started this process will be your guide. At each step, you can assess and make fixes and move ahead. Without it, your process could grind to a frustrating halt, costing you money and time.
So make a test plan and stick to it. You’ll be very glad you did.