There is a lot of use information about a new product concept that we can develop, even if we don't have an engineering prototype. We want this information especially before we start prototyping!
We talk about what type of information we can gather and a stepwise approach to get it with our cross-functional team.
We’re developing a new product. When do we start talking with our greater cross-functional team, the marketing and field operations people. Ideally, we wanna talk with them throughout the design development process, but we can also talk with them really early. Before we even start developing a concept. Let’s talk more about what information we can get at the concept phase and a stepwise approach to get it after this brief introduction:
Hello and welcome to Quality during Design, the place to use quality thinking to create products others love for less. My name is Dianna. I’m a senior level quality professional and engineer with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing and design. Listen in and then join the conversation at qualityduringdesign.com.
There are things that we should have before a design concept makes it to the engineering drawing board. Those things include information about its use the risk information and even technical information during the concept development where we don’t even have a clear picture of what the design might look like.
There are five pieces of use information that we could get when working with our cross functional team that have a big bearing on how the design is well design, how it’s engineered and what components we wanna pick for it, how it looks. Those five things are:
User needs, including the primary operating functions, performance and usability needs.
A definition of user groups and use environment. And also considering the end of life users, those people that are handling the waste streams and recycling streams.
Our use information at concept can also include a list of use cases or scenarios.
a preliminary process flow of the use of the concept device with a task analysis, outlining potential use errors.
and (not at the least) a list of users that can participate and be available to continue formative studies of our product design.
That seems like a lot of stuff that I’m saying that we should be able to gather at a concept phase. I can hear some of you asking, “Dianna, I don’t even have an engineering concept or a prototype to share with my marketing and field operations people. How am I supposed to get this information from them? How do I talk with them about this new product design?” and, “I don’t have anything to show them!”
There are ways to do it at the concept phase. We’re asked to evaluate the technical merits to give some engineering insight. By this point, our cross functional teammates have likely already performed some analyses on their own. So we wanna try to, to get access to them or to look at those before we start talking with them.
Inevitably, we’re going to have to meet and talk with our cross-functional team. Now one way is to corral everybody into an offsite intensive meeting that is all day, but that’s not likely. And honestly, those can also be really exhausting.
If we can’t do a deep dive session with our cross-functional team, then we can set up a series of say, 30 minute meetings. Maybe we set up a series of meetings that are on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 30 minutes in the morning. As engineers, we know what information we need to feed into our design inputs. So we can take charge of this process. A way to get started with our marketing and field operations friends is to start with an introductory meeting. In our first meeting with our team, we can introduce the development of this new product, that we’re going to be doing ‘this’. What do they see are all of its uses in the field, all of its uses? At the end of this meeting, we’ll be able to verify the different use cases for this product concept on our own. We can start assembling information about the user groups, the environment, and the user needs.
In our second meeting, we can take it to the next step. We talked about ‘these’ use cases last time, what steps would users take to use this product here? We want to verify the high level user process steps for each use case, and we can start a user process flow.
In our third meeting, we’re heading into it knowing that we have use cases and we know how the users interact with it. Now we can ask our cross-functional teammates who are all of the users and what environment are they working in.
After we have the use cases, user groups and environments, and how they interact with it, then we can start asking about safety, hazards, risks, and potential failures in the use process.
We’re professional engineers. We don’t need to be spoon fed all of this information from our teammates. We can take some initiative to research what we learned in our conversations with our cross-functional friends and take it to the next step.
Because we’re not the customers and we’re not experts about the customers, or at least not as expert as our marketing and field operations friends, we’re going to need to verify what we’ve learned. That can be as simple as asking, “Did I get that right?” Or asking for feedback on a summary.
All of these questions we can ask about a concept of a product before we’ve even gotten into what it looks like, what color it is and what shape this, that, and the other thing is. And with all this information that we’re gathering, we can iterate on what we’ve learned and take it throughout the rest of the product development process. Having this use information at the concept phase will help us design those products that others love for less headaches, less resources, and less time.
To explore these ideas a little bit further. I recommend episode number 40 released in December, 2021. It’s titled “How to self advocate for more customer face time (and why it’s important)”. I’d also recommend another previous quality during design episode, but this one is in season three, episode one. It’s titled, “Product design from a marketing viewpoint with Laura Krick, a chat with cross-functional experts.” Laura’s involved in marketing sales and commercial operations for new product development. And she talks a lot about engineering and new product development interfacing with marketing and commercial operations.
What’s today’s insight to action? If you’re starting a new product development project, don’t wait to have a prototype at hand, go ahead and start conversations with your cross-functional teammates. Know the end goal that you have in mind with what information you’re expecting to be able to have at the concept phase, and then stepwise iterate through conversations with your cross-functional team so that you get the information you need to create great designs.
If you like the content in this episode, visit quality during design.com, where you can subscribe to the weekly newsletter to keep in touch. This has been a production of Deeney Enterprises. Thanks for listening!
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