We work on a lot of hardware development programs. They are usually run by either a marketing lead or an engineering lead. Both organizations run their programs in very different ways. Understanding the critical needs and wants of either discipline can be the difference between success and failure. At the very least, it can eliminate a lot of headaches resulting from miscommunication.
Lack of proper communication or miscommunication between engineering and marketing is a big problem in product development. It is no wonder that it is such a big issue. The sheer amount of information that needs to be shared, the constant changes in program direction and the long amount of time it takes to bring a product to production are all contributing factors. Add in the fact that engineers and marketers usually have very different personalities, have different ways of working, don’t always see eye to eye, so it seems inevitable that there will be problems. Sometimes these problems are just annoying; sometimes they can cost real time and money.
In this article I want to discuss marketing driven hardware programs and how engineering teams can better understand the needs of marketing. I also want to touch on how marketing teams can better understand how engineering teams see hardware development.
Engineering and marketing see things differently, very differently. It can be very difficult for engineering teams to react to marketing requests during the product development process. In some instances, reacting to marketing requests can actually be the problem. In reaction mode, engineering teams can feel out of control. Marketing can feel frustrated when they don’t see the results they want.
It can, at times, seem to engineering teams that marketing is giving unclear or contradictory directions. I believe that there are some fundamental objectives that most marketing teams are trying to achieve.
One of marketing’s main tasks is to determine what the end customer and ultimate buyer of the product wants. This is a difficult task and the ultimate success of the product depends on marketing getting this right. Marketing needs to determine the correct features and optimal product cost in order to assure that the product is successfully adopted by the target market.
The problem is that no marketing team has a crystal ball. No matter how much research is done, at the end of the day assumptions have to be made. It makes sense that marketing teams might change their direction as new critical information is learned.
Engineering, on the other hand, wants clear and concise direction that has as much information as possible. Once that information is given, engineering doesn’t like changes. When both engineering and marketing can be aware of the difficulties each faces, there can be empathy and understanding. This leads to solutions and teams working together to anticipate each others’ needs, instead of frustration, blaming and finger pointing. This awareness starts with honest discussion about areas where missing knowledge exists. Teams can work with the missing information. Teams will struggle when they receive direct information that is then contradicted later in the process.
Figure out what people want, instead of relying on what they say. Being a mind reader is a great skill to have as a team member. But if you are not well versed at that skill, there are things you can do to anticipate future requests or product course changes. For example, if something is brought up in meeting and then ruled out because it might be too difficult or costly to implement, you can bet it might be brought up again. You see, we all want what we want, and don’t like to be told what we can’t have. Just because someone agrees to drop a particular topic, does not mean they have let it go. Conversely, if you see a product feature that is really needed, and will make the product more saleable, suggest it and find a way to proactively design it into the product. Most everyone appreciates proactive action. Plan in contingencies to your designs in areas that you feel might change. That way you will be prepared when asked to implement them. Don’t know what those areas might be, ask those that might know.
When in doubt, give tangible options. It can be difficult for even those proficient in visualizing product solutions, to understand all of a potential new product’s embodiments. Most don’t have this skill and if they can’t see it they can’t understand it. When physical options are given, even just to show why a direction is not a good one, the value is great.
When asked to implement a design direction you know is fraught with problems, develop that solution anyway and then develop your better solution. You may say that is twice the work, and yes it is. But either you want to do great work or you don’t. If you don’t care about the outcome of your work, then nothing I say here will make a difference. But if you do care, providing options, in the long run will save you time and energy as you avoid being run around in circles with endless changes and reworks.
Contradicting information confuses everyone. When uncertain of the correct product direction, pick a desired goal and then let the team provide options on how to get here. Giving precise information, such as target unit volumes and then ordering substantially lower or higher unit numbers, causes problems in engineering as the incorrect manufacturing processes might have been chosen.
On the other hand, there are areas that consistently cause design problems and they can be anticipated. These areas could be part sourcing, required features, unit cost, NRE budget, target customer needs, and first product ship date to name a few. Knowing that these areas can be difficult to predict will open up the dialog of what to do should the current direction change. I am a big fan of having alternative plans in place.
Product development programs seem to always follow the same path; marketing and engineering teams need to make critical decisions at the beginning of the design process when the least amount of information is known. If new information is not evaluated in real time as it is learned then teams run the risk of going down the wrong path and into a dead end. At that point, change is costly. More frequent, smaller course corrections are much less costly in time and money than fewer bigger ones.
Anticipate the natural trajectory of a product's lifecycle. All products go through a lifecycle. They are born, hit maturity and then they die. In the beginning, as a new product is being introduced it will be difficult to know exactly how many units will be sold. Initial unit volumes may be substantially lower than expected as the product ramps ups. Conversely, once a product takes hold, unit volumes may ramp up quite quickly.
Sometimes initial manufacturing methods are not suitable for the higher volume production. Often, initial lower production orders are much higher in cost then after they hit sustained production volumes. Engineering teams can anticipate this and have a plan in place to scale up manufacturing, and then be able to redesign to cost reduce once product maturity is reached and the market is saturated.
Having plans for how to handle inevitable situations such as this can save engineering massive headaches as they will already know what to do when marketing requests them. It can be so easy to be overwhelmed by the day to day tasks. The thought of future planning can seem overly time consuming and not worth the effort. By analyzing a few previous programs, patterns can be noticed and those patterns can be applied to new programs. This is where looking backwards can really help with moving forward.
There will always be differences between how different disciplines think and act. It is not only a fact, it is necessary. It is those differences that allow those teams to function and get their respective tasks done. With a little bit of awareness in the areas I discussed above, engineering and marketing can better serve each other and also build better and more successful products.
Driven Innovation develops products in the consumer, medical and technology space. If you need help getting your product idea to a successful mass produced state, contact us at www.driveninnovation.com and make sure to download our free product development checklist on our homepage.