Why Work with a Multidisciplinary Development Team?
And what are the benefits
Let’s face it, if you’re looking to develop a physical product nowadays, it’s going to contain several different engineering disciplines (not to mention the non-technical roles needed). It’s rare we see a project that doesn’t require some combination of electrical, software, and/or mechanical engineering (and many others). Launching a new product, especially in hardware, requires balancing and managing a lot of resources. Most companies can’t afford the luxury of doing every single aspect of their product in-house, and in many cases is at a disadvantage to do so.
If you’ve made the decision to utilize outside resources for your hardware product development, it’s worth understanding some of the benefits of partnering with a single, dedicated Multi-disciplinary Development Team.
Creativity and Innovation
When your development team all lives under one roof, conversations and discussion tend to be more fluid and organic. There isn’t this virtual time barrier that usually comes from the typical email, wait for response, respond back, wait game. These delays can hinder the creative process, and derail the design thinking phases of your development.
That’s just the fluffy stuff. Hardware product expectations are becoming more and more demanding, requiring more features and functionality crammed into smaller and smaller devices. The integration and packaging of electrical and mechanical components has become more strenuous. How much room is there in the mechanical enclosure for a PCB? Is there enough clearance for this connector? Does the light pipe reach the LED? Will the battery get too warm in this location? Real time, face to face, discussions between the electrical and mechanical team are more than critical.
Hardware designs are utilizing microcontrollers and microprocessors more than ever. With the cost of these components declining, and the performance increasing, it’s hard not to put one of those parts in a design. Thus, deep interactions between software team and hardware team must happen to streamline PCB design. Can we move this address bus to these ports to simplify routing? Can we use the microcontrollers ADC (analog to digital converter), and drop the dedicated extra parts? Does the firmware need to monitor the switch mode power supply output?
In addition, you’d be amazed at how good mechanical guys are at solving electrical problems, or how electrical guys can spark (pun absolutely intended) an idea in the firmware team. Creativity and innovation can come from anywhere.
Communication and Cohesive Vision
A huge problem that plagues nearly every development effort is lack of communication and cohesive vision. It’s usually the task of the project or programs manager to make sure everyone is on the same page. This is a daunting task, even when everyone is in the same building. If your team is scattered across the city or country, sometimes that cohesion can easily erode. Communication is essential to make sure that everyone’s efforts are for the same cause. Nothing is more frustrating than the electrical team getting nearly complete on a PCB design, to learn the mechanical team was asked to move some mounting holes, or remove an air cooling vent. I’m assuming I don’t have to mention the impact on time and cost.
Sure, a kickoff meeting with all the teams located in one spot at the beginning of the project can be a great start. Maybe physical meetings can be planned every other week or so. But as they say, the devil is in the details. And the details rarely get discussed in real time, during a planned meeting. What if that meeting is a week away, and you can’t continue forward until the issue is resolved? There’s that time impact thing again.
We all know that we can attempt to sync up on our next Skype call, create another Slack channel, or spend 15 minutes trying to figure out what magic caused the phone system to drop calls again. But, a simple head poke in the room can get teams up to date rather quickly.
Get to Market Faster
If it wasn’t obvious from the previous sections, having a dedicated Multidisciplinary Development Team can drastically increase your development time, thus speed to market. If teams are waiting on emails, or waiting for when the software team in Chicago is available to schedule a call with the hardware team in the Boston area, crucial market time is being eaten away. Markets vary, but we all know consumers have an attraction to the latest and greatest. Sometimes more the latest, than the greatest.
Developing hardware means at some point, you’re going to have to touch and hold physical prototypes. Each team is going to need to interact with these prototypes. That means, you could be shipping parts all over the place. Ignoring the potential risk in damaging/loosing parts or prototypes (dare I say expose your tech), the time alone can add weeks (potentially months) to a project.
In today’s world, speed is everything. Sometimes being first, is better than being the best. The hardware startup landscape is littered with companies like Doppler Labs who created a genuinely great product but were beat to market by a much larger player like Apple.
While there are many additional reasons for using a Multidisciplinary Development Team, the final one I want to mention, and likely most important one worth noting, is cost savings. We spoke about shipping risks, we spoke about misalignment in vision, we talked about speed to market, all things that have a direct impact on the bottom line. A lot of efficiency is lost when teams are not tightly integrated in the same process, which can be very difficult to achieve across multiple locations and between multiple different vendors.
It’s nearly impossible to find a one stop shop, that can solve every aspect of every product needs. That being said, the fewer amount of individual teams you have to manage, the more likely your product will find success quicker and faster than your competition.
Randy Parmerlee is the CEO at Glassboard, a hardware focused product development company.