How to reduce your products time to market
Does my product have legs? Part III
Motovated Design & Analysis provides guidance on issues by presenting a 3 part series. Part 1 investigates challenge definition and identifying the right problem, Part 2 outlines solution testing by validating benefits, while Part 3 highlights on reducing products time to market.
So, you have customers lining up to beg, borrow, or steal your product. The only thing left is to deliver it! Unfortunately, the transition from your lab-built technology through to actual volume production is not straightforward. What could have been a perfectly-functioning customer-approved prototype, may become riddled with problems in production and affects the time to market.
I had a fantastic mentor who was increasingly frustrated at the seemingly endless to-and-fro over performance measures. He commented that there was always one fundamental requirement missing from every list, that it works! It is along these lines that I present details of Motovated’s own abridged product requirements
As highlighted in parts 1 and 2 of our series, we must continuously test and gauge market benefits as features are added through development. To do this, in-hand examples are generated. This provides the opportunity to establish usability but, more importantly, highlights improvements needed in function and reliability (Figure 2).
As an avid cyclist, an interesting case study that resonates with me personally, is the tale of the Brim Brothers start-up and their shoe-based power meter. This product could actually help me measure just how weedy my spindly legs were! The Brim Brothers team had successfully market tested their proposed product with a Kickstarter offering – which exceeded their funding target within 24 hours of going live! But several significant missteps during implementation resulted in the offering collapsing late in 2006.
From this great post mortem, it appears Brim Brothers followed an all-up test process. This meant that the majority of testing was performed on expensive off-tool parts. The article further explained that the number of samples available for testing at any one time was limited, making it difficult to identify major problems and any statistical trends. Additionally, the product’s inherent Design for Manufacture (DFM) challenges, resulted in low production yield which ultimately absorbed the Brim Brothers budget.
The Brim Brothers experience above is an excellent example of where most engineering challenges sit. That is, at the interfaces, and in the complex interaction of parts and sub-systems. One of the most insightful comments I’ve seen on system design comes from John Gall and is coined as Gall’s Law. Gall's Law is a rule of thumb for systems design from Gall's book “Systemantics: How Systems Really Work and How They Fail”.
“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.” – John Gall (1975, p.71)
A parallel is also drawn here with Dieter Rams’ iconic quote
It is no coincidence that this fundamental concept of simplification, together with robust hypothesis testing, is a cornerstone of knowledge gathering and development, as summarised in Figure 3 below.
The considerations covered in Part’s 1-3 of this series can be conveniently summarised in terms of our Lean Product Development (LPD) process. According to the process, we make use of rapid prototype (Minimum Viable Product, MVP) and rapid analysis (Minimum Viable Simulation™, MVS) techniques to reduce uncertainty and time to market.
Build it simple – State your assumption as a testable, falsifiable hypothesis. Implement that one feature or interaction needed to test that benefit.
Measure the benefit – Identify the key data and metrics to be gathered, both quantitative and qualitative.
Learn and reflect on feedback – Test your assumptions and implementations.
- Reconfirm market benefits.
- Check DFM with your suppliers and note relationships and new problems.
This is where you save time and money! It is always best to find and solve defects within the design phase (Table 1).
Table 1: The cost of fixing a single defect
Mr. Hiroshi Hamada, President of Ricoh
Source: European Community Quarterly Review, Third Quarter 1996
It is through a considered and lasting market-validation (benefit checking) and functional-testing (does it work?) program that we quickly convert unknowns into manageable risks. The most effective way to do this is to divide your features into manageable, testable, blocks which you can test and qualify in isolation or as part of a pre-qualified system (Refer “The Judo” MPV of Part 2). But how can we accelerate this testing?
Break it- with confidence!
Some time ago, after a period of examining warranty claims, I grew impressed with many user’s abilities to find new and exciting ways to interact with the products. While there is no question that the multitude of available stresses that exist in the field are unlikely to be equaled in the test lab, there can also be a large cost to your brand if the customer is uncovering problems instead of you! (Table 1).
So, when developing experiments and tests, can we also target field resilience? In a word YES! In an acronym, HALT!
HALT, or Highly Accelerated Life Testing, is a test-to-fail method which aims to apply stresses significantly above those assumed to be seen during use. This approach seeks to quickly uncover weak points (failure modes) in a product at any stage. However, we are best to apply this approach as early within the physical implementation as is possible.
Gregg K. Hobbs, in his seminal work, Accelerated Reliability Engineering – HALT and HASS, straightforwardly describes product failure as “when the applied load exceeds the strength of the product”. Figure 5 (left) shows how even though both loads and strengths are far apart, there are occasions where they overlap which results in failure. It is only designed to be creating a real margin between load & stress that we affect a definitive increase in product performance.
Figure 5: Load-Strength-Failure relationship
By exposing your product is to field stresses as early as possible (by way of your ongoing market assessments with deliberately weaker prototype parts) you are increasing the chance of valuable failures coming to light and reduce your overall development costs & time to market.
There is much more to the delivery process that can be outlined here, and I’ve not even talked about procurement! There is a broad spectrum of approaches that can be taken. Yet under it all, flows an undercurrent of knowledge, risk and uncertainty management that is continuously being challenged, tested, and delivered - all to affect benefit. Keep these principles first and foremost. If your customer or user does not see the benefit, you are misdirecting your efforts, likely at the cost of delivery and time to market!
Product Development Manager
Daniel joined Motovated in 2017 bringing with him over 15
years of product design and development expertise. With
near equal turns at Tait Communications, Cubic Defense,
and most recently Fisher & Paykel Appliances, Daniel has
established a wide portfolio of successful product
Daniel’s key contributors to product design are a keen
ability to visualise concepts, to deconstruct their basic
functions, question key assumptions and to propose a wide
range of approaches. Daniel has a firm grasp of physical
fundamentals, essential in solid up-front decision making.