Why the Big Picture Matters: The Systems-Level Approach to Product Development



In product development, the big picture matters.  It’s important that engineers and designers tasked with bringing that next great idea to life have a broad systems level understanding of what’s being created. It’s also crucial for these professionals to possess an understanding of the market for the device so they can optimize development against clear and decisive goals.  This focus on a systems approach is important throughout all stages of the product development process.

Initial Engagement

Most product development companies have seen it many times: Engineering teams tend to focus hard on what they hear first from a customer – market requirements or back-of-the-napkin wants -- but fail to consider the total cost of development and the return on investment.  Typically, this results in a proposed design that meets the criteria the engineering team heard in its initial meetings with the customer, but ultimately isn’t what the end-user needs or wants. And usually, the development route laid out by the engineering team is too expensive.

Design and Engineering teams must think bigger.  They need to listen and ask lots of questions -- not just technical questions, but business questions.  What’s the target resale cost of the device? What volumes of the product do they anticipate manufacturing and selling? Is this product meant to be an industry leader? A loss leader? Will the customer be first to market, and if so, how long can you expect to hold this advantage? And so on.

Developing this understanding lays the foundation for what the OEM’s investment should look like.  Product features and scope can be narrowed or expanded to line up with a strong ROI model and weighed against possible impacts to market acceptance.   Failure to assess the business model and market conditions creates a narrow view of the product development costs that can hinder companies as they try to find the right balance between scope, cost and ROI.

The Development Process

Once in development, teams whose members only possess siloed experience tend to focus only on their area of expertise.  This exposes the project to costly oversights, especially as it nears production launch.  For example, the electrical engineers may care little for what the software engineers are doing or how they do it, or the software engineer might not have interest in what the production test system might need to do.  These are a few classic weak points in engineering teams that prevent the most effective and efficient solutions for customers.

Products come in all shapes, sizes and complexities, from the highly regulated to the consumable throwaway.  Each has a return and each can be implemented in a variety of ways.  Understanding the costs associated with various features, as well as the timeline for their implementation, is important to projecting the appropriate investment for the device development and how fast the effort will become profitable once in production.

The Importance of Production Test Systems

Product development teams that don’t consider production efficiency and don’t test to find appropriate efficiency projections are destined for challenges as the production launch nears.  A production test strategy needs to be established about midway through the alpha phase of development.  This ensures all stakeholders know the tentative approach, effort, schedule and costs.  It also ensures that the required “hooks” are placed in the design both physically and in software to support an efficient test process during production.  This communication should be central to the project and ensures alignment among the contributing engineering teams.

Design engineers with experience creating test systems or customers who have worked with various contract engineering and manufacturing firms will know the benefits of an effective test strategy and when and what to do. Several design components are affected by this strategy, including the test points on what and when not to use, determining how much automation to program into the test, what to put in the boot loader, the PCB array, and various size and scoring components.  An unplanned board spin near the pilot launch can cost five-to-six figures in non-recurring engineering and result in added FCC testing/retesting.  More frighteningly, extra required testing leads to inevitable delays in product launch, which can hinder market penetration and result in huge losses in unrealized sales.

Cross-Pollinations

Synergies exist between systems engineering, electrical engineering, PCB design and production test system development, so these are disciplines that have good opportunities for hands on cross disciplinary growth.  Electrical engineering and embedded software development is another great combination of skills to have.  Management should also encourage development within engineering teams so individuals build out these cross competencies. These investments will pay back in spades in proposal development, during implementation, and within project management.

How We Put It All Together

At Logic PD, our engineers see the entire process as a system.  They think like systems engineers and understand enough about engineering outside of their core area of expertise to ensure that they and their peers execute the project in lock step with each other, always thinking several moves ahead.  It also means that when the unforeseen occurs on a project – and it always does – they’re able to pivot quickly to establish plan B, minimize the impact and keep the ship on course.

Over nearly 60 years in business, our entire team of engineers has managed thousands of projects from proposal to delivery of the final device.  Each time we focus on mastering the technical details while maintaining focus on the big picture.  It’s an approach that has worked for countless customers - and one we we’ll continue to use to bring even more great ideas to life.

 

Erik Reynolds
Senior Director of Engineering

Learn more about how Logic PD can help you piece together your next big picture.

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Tags Digital Product Strategy, Product Design & Development, Organizational Culture, Product Management, Systems Engineering