Product innovation can feel like the cool uncle at the family reunion. Sure, he’s hip, stylish, and drives a slick car. But if he shows up late, doesn’t help out, and leaves you holding the bill, you may be wondering why you invited him. For every groundbreaking product innovation that succeeds in the market, there are dozens of “cool uncles”—new product development efforts that end up over budget, miss their deadlines, or fail to deliver meaningful benefits to the user.
You know what they say: you can’t choose your family. But you can choose your innovation team. Here are a few tips to make sure you have the right team to deliver meaningful innovation, on time, and on budget.
Collaborate to Avoid Costly Redesigns and Delays
As products become more sophisticated and integrated, it takes a greater number of experts working together seamlessly to produce new product designs in a timely manner. If your design partners are using a “we got this” approach (going weeks or months without dialogue, and then showing up on your doorstep with a design and an invoice), you’ve got trouble. Without close cooperation with your internal engineering and manufacturing experts, there is a good chance the design will turn out to be too expensive, impractical to manufacture, or otherwise incomplete.
That’s why it’s wise to look for partners who can collaborate with your in-house experts and manufacturing partners. They must: 1) be excellent communicators, 2) be willing to dive deep into your processes and capabilities, and 3) have the expertise necessary to interface with your technical teams.
At BOLTGROUP, our product designers and engineers develop close working relationships with our clients and their partners. One example is Implus Footcare, makers of Yaktrax traction products for walking on ice and snow. Asked to develop new traction products with patentable innovation, BOLTGROUP designers and engineers collaborated with Implus’ manufacturing partners in Asia early in the process to fine tune concepts. By working to understand their capabilities, the team developed a new prototyping process that allowed the factory to make and test several design variations quickly. Designers were able to fine tune the designs for fit, function, and straightforward manufacture. The result was not one, but two successful new products: the Yaktrax Run and the Yaktrax Walk+ (case study). And when it came time to innovate the category again two years later, our established relationships and techniques allowed us to deliver the groundbreaking Yaktrax Summit on a tight schedule and budget.
Look for Creative Product Engineering Courage
It’s a cliché to assume that engineers, grounded in the constraints of reality, can interfere with the early stages of the creative innovation process. Sure, there are jaded engineers, spirits broken by decades of meager budgets and unrealistic timelines, whose negativity and linear thinking can disrupt the free-association and constructive dialogue necessary for invention. But for every Dilbert grumbling into their coffee, there is a James Dyson* tinkering with a vacuum, combining art and engineering backgrounds to reinvent their category (*famed designer and inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaner). That’s why it’s more important than ever to include creative engineers in the innovation process, starting with the genesis of the concept. Engineers with experience in a broad range of product categories, trained in the creative process, can be invaluable to an innovation effort. Using their mechanical and problem solving skills, they can guide creative professionals towards better solutions.
Product innovation is both art and science. With the right team, it doesn’t have to be mysterious. For innovation delivered on time and on budget, choose a team that balances creativity and engineering expertise to work collaboratively with your team and partners.