INVENTOR'S HOW-TO GUIDE

Product Development Guide for Inventors and Creative Minds

Part 4:   Making The Most Of Working With A Consultant

Making The Most Of Working With A Consultant

Here are few tips to help you make the most out of work and initial meeting with your Product Development Engineers - consultants.

Understanding the Engineers' Way of Thinking

First you should understand that (we hate to say it) but they are geeks. They are trained to think in certain way, not leaving much room for assumptions. On the same token the product development process does not allow room for assumptions. Although this process is dependent on strong imagination and creative thinking it is well-defined process with long list of questions to be answered. Solutions are carefully planed and executed. Although product development companies employ or associate with experts in different fields the most important is their expertise in integration of different skills with knowledge of the product development process.

From success point of view product development engineers must arrive to your desired goal. They do not have freedom the neither alter your goals nor to provide what is not required. In that respect your biggest responsibility is to communicate your requirements and clearly specify how the success of the design will be measured. With your goals and input they finally have challenging assignment to exercise their abilities. Give them some freedom and they are happy to work on the puzzle you have created.


Define The Objectives that You Hope To Achieve

Invetors ObjectivesD describe the project job you want done and specify the things you expect from the assignment. Understand and be prepared to explain precisely how you expect your business to benefit from the work performed by consulting engineers.

  • Decide on the time scale, scope and any other constraints on the assignment.
  • Clarify your own role, which key staff will be involved, and how their time will be made available.
  • Discuss possible options for concurrent design activities as well as models of cooperation and communication. Consult with others in your organization to agree to those objectives, design goals and models of communication.
  • Decide who in your organization will be responsible for communication with the consultant. Select a person who has the most experience and authority to make the most of the design related decisions. Often some decisions will have to be approved by people other than engineering (marketing and sales etc.) but in order to speed up the process and arrive to the functional design solutions the person in charge should be able to understand the technical aspect and background for decisions made.

Brief The Consultants

Product Development BreifingP prepare a concise brief which clearly defines the objectives, scope, time scale, reporting procedure and constraints of the project and agree on it with others in your organization. If possible prepare the RFP and provide all relevant input to the consultant.

Inventors and small entities should read the following to gain better understanding what kind of information consultant needs. Official FRP is not mandatory.


RFP or BREIF?
RFP (Request for Proposal) is typically prepared by large companies. Beside managing the product development process and deliverables it is necessary to internally agree on the particular project goals and keep proper documentation.
Inventors, start- ups and small entities typically only brief the consultant with available info.

REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL (RFP)

B efore potential consultant can prepare proper proposal / quotation for the required services he /she will most likely ask for the formal Request for Proposal (RFP). If you do not have one, your consultant will probably ask as many questions as necessary in order to learn enough about your project during the meeting.

Preparation of the RFP is not difficult but it does take some time. Ideally you would prepare the proposal prior to contacting your potential product development company. It is excellent idea to send your official RFP to the consultant prior to the meeting. They will definitely take some time to familiarize themselves with your and product requirements, and possibly come back with questions, resulting in very efficient meeting. Alternatively you can present the RFP on the meeting and spend some time clarifying the points.


WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL (or Brief)

Every company has its own form of preparing RFP. There is no particular standard. Here we will describe typical questions that should be addressed within you RFP.

The RFP you should prepare will have two parts. In the first part of your RFP you should clearly describe services and deliverables you expect to receive. Furthermore you should include other project specifics such as Major Decision Making Criteria, time lines and target dates for prototyping, manufacturing or market introduction.

Furthermore you should include other project specifics such as Major Decision Making Criteria, time lines and target dates for prototyping, manufacturing or market introduction.

TIP: RFP (Request for Proposal should include project specifics, deliverables and related services and as well as your time lines.

REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL (PART A) - DESIGN GOAL (also: Definitions; Original Specifications) 

Definition of Design Goal - sounds simple but it is not. Starting from your original idea / innovation, your technical requirements described in RFP your consultant will prepare a document summarizing important details and specifications of the future product, which will ultimately be used in deciding whether final product met your expectations.

You might get surprised how many details about your product your consultant may ask on the very beginning of the project. They know how important is to prepare the Design Goal and they are already working towards it.

Product design goalsParticularly if you are dealing directly with engineers and designers some of the questions are going to be very specific and technical. Even if they did not design the same product as yours they know this process quite well and they are already acquiring data. Some of them will immediately offer solutions for some of technical problems. Expect that new and improved visions of the product will result in several changes of the Design Goals before the design is finished. Remember that later when your product is in the production, changes are very difficult and expensive, sometimes almost impossible. Considering that at the moment you start the idea development process you already have quite good vision of what the design should address, and have most likely defined your idea / innovation, not only in respect to basic functional requirements but in relation to other aspects, it is your responsibility to communicate this to the consultant.

Prepare a short list of these requirements and include it with your RFP. Start from Original Product Specification (think of preliminary specification similar to the technical specification you will find for every finished product) and expand on it addressing anything you may consider relevant from manufacturing volumes to production costs.

Design Goal should include all relevant information:

  • DESCRIPTION and PURPOSE
  • INTENDED USE
  • FUNCTION and FUNCTIONAL REQUIREMENTS
    and other performance criteria,
  • INPUT PARAMETERS and OUTPUT REQUIREMENTS
    (Power, drive, voltages, etc.)
  • PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS and FIT
    (mass/weight, approximate size and dimensions)
  • END USER REQUIREMENTS
    (End user characteristics, performance parameters)
  • USER INTERFACE REQUIREMENTS
    (description of the user, human factors,)
  • STYLE
    competition, shapes markings
  • OPERATING ENVIRONMENT
  • ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS
    (recycle-ability, corrosion etc.)
  • REQUIRED LIFE EXPECTANCY
  • EXPECTED PRODUCTION VOLUME
  • Preferred materials and manufacturing process Preferred components, hardware
  • SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
    (list of safety issues and relevant standards)
  • REGULATORY and STANDARD BASED REQUIREMENTS 
    (list of relevant regulations and standards CSA, FDA, TUV)
  • COST PER UNIT REQUIREMENTS
NOTE: Working through the project design will go from less specific towards more specific. TBD (to be determined) field in your Original Specification is quite often a good sign that particular feature has been isolated but it will not be specified before sufficient data is available. Naturally towards the end of the project Original Specification / Design Goal will look more like Product Specification.

Specifying Desired cost and anticipated production volume will help your consultant understand your needs. Most of the product development companies know how to decrease costs without compromising quality but they certainly don't have idea how many product you will be able to sell.

Meeting ConsultantWhen providing the Design goals for your new product idea or improvement you should define as much as possible and as accurate as possible. Inform your consultant if certain information is not available or not decided yet. Do not constrain your consultant with too much detail. Allow your consultants to both optimize the process and design by allowing for design freedom whenever is possible.

On the other hand insufficient information and/or down played requirements will result in the projects that are not properly optimized, project plans that do not follow your actual goals, and quite possibly with design that are patched or have the 'afterthought' design solutions. Ultimately down played RFP result in increased project costs and decreased quality of the engineered solutions.

TIP: Define what's important and what is not. Having very stringent specifications will increase costs and take away necessary freedom form your designers, while 'down played' RFP or insufficient input will ultimately increase the project costs and decrease level of engineered solutions

REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL (PART B) - SERVICES & DELIVERABLES

Describe services and deliverables you would like to receive. If you are not sure about the services required you may focus on deliverables. Praticly desired Deliverables will govern required services. You may talk to your consultant to get preliminary information what are the services required to obtain the deliverables you desire. You may need to explain your consultant your business plan or intentions in short to help them understand what your actual requirements are. Bellow if a list of typical design / development process divided into Phases and most common deliverables: (At DESIGNLORE we customize the development process according to the specific clients and product needs.)


PHASE 1: Concept Design Services: Various Industrial Design and Engineering Service, related to form and function, aesthetics, product style, ergonomic requirements,Deliverables: Renderings showing artistic visions and proposed technical solutions. Appearance models, clay models etc.

PHASE 1b: Mechanical Concept Design Services: Various Design and Engineering Service necessary to address crucial mechanical function which are required to be verified prior to product development and or product styling. Deliverables: Proof of Concept design, CAD, Proof of Concept models, mock-ups and prototypes.

PHASE 2: Product Development Services: Project management, Various Design and Engineering Service necessary to develop the selected concept into product. Deliverables: CAD models raw, functional and appearance models, photo renderings, illustrations

PHASE 2b: Product Detailing Services: Project management, Various Design and Engineering Service necessary to refine the design to the required level of the design; preparation of the fabrication and assembly documentation, Deliverables: CAD models refined, prototype or manufacturing level fabrication documentation, specifications for off shelf items, BoMs (Bill of materials) etc.

PHASE 3: Prototyping Services: Project management, Liaison with various suppliers, part and component procurement, design changes to accommodate the prototyping process, Deliverables: Prototypes, Models etc.

PHASE 4: Manufacturing Services: Liaison with various suppliers, part and component procurement, project management, engineering support to manufacturing, logistics Deliverables: First off, production run parts, assembly etc. Depending on the current stage of your product idea / invention, internal capabilities, or particular plan you may select only some of the required services / deliverables or to perform only certain steps in the product development. By dividing the project into Phases both your consultant and you will have better control over the process and ability to more accurately plan time and resources for the following phases.

TIP: Make sure your product consultant understands your expectations, business plan and how far do you want your product idea / innovation developed.

MORE ABOUT DELIVERABLES

Deliverables vary from proposal to proposal. The most of the proposals will specify Blue Prints / Drawings and/or CAD files, Bill of Materials models and prototypes and functional prototypes, test results etc.

Fabrication DrawingsDeliverables in plain words are what you are going to get for your money. In this respect deliverables are the most important part of your agreement. If you are not technically inclined and you are not planning on hiring anyone to finish the project you should ask for the detailed design ready for manufacturing. Many conceptual designs can contain design floes, which are not apparent, until the product is manufactured. In order to avoid situations when you have design which is not quite functional or manufacture-able, and your consultant pursuing you that there is no problem with it, always ask for designs which are detailed to the level ready for production. Asking for detailed design under separate agreement might get surprisingly expensive. Keep in mind that it is always advisable to have the same people who prepared the design prepare detail drawings ready for production.

  • BLUE PRINTS & FABRICATION DRAWINGS - detailed drawings used to transfer the information from designers and engineers to the people in production. While part drawings describe the designed part in detail including material specification, surface finish, tolerances, special production instructions, etc., Although many designers prefer computer readable formats such as IGES files, they do not contain sometimes very important information such as tolerances or special instructions. Detailed drawings are still the best way to document and control the design. Make sure drawings you receive are at least prototype level if not "READY FOR PRODUCTION" (partiality completed drawings can give you lots of headaches)
  • CAD FILES Are form of communicating design between designers and engineers and manufactures. Parts with complicated surfaces can be presented with both CAD file (IGES) and drawing which should contain reference note, referring to CAD format while all other information such as tolerances, material specifications, finish or color should be clearly presented on the drawing. Nowadays with increased implementation of CAD software and increased complicity of the surfaces it is common practice in the industry to forward CAD files for manufacturing purposes followed with drawing for human communication and filing purposes. All other parts can and should be described using fabrication drawings.
  • ASSEMBLY DRAWINGS describe assembled components and even process of the assembly. Sometimes assembly drawings specify usage of bulk materials such as lubricants or adhesives that are rarely specified using CAD software.
  • BoM - Bill Of material - list of all components which will be used to assemble the final product. Bill of materials must list manufactured components as well as purchased items all with specified quantities per unit of final product.

To see list of DESIGNLORE Typical DELIVERABLES per Project Phases   →



MAJOR DECISION MAKING CRITERIA

P rodcut design and engineering is complex process of creative thinking where ideas are filtered in process of selecting the most suitable ideas for the particular Design Goals and clients needs. This process often encounters selection between good but expensive solution or inexpensive but less reliable solutions which still satisfy all design goals and functional requirements of the product. To speed up the process and to help your consultant make the right decisions it is highly recommended to provide the list of major decision making criteria by order of importance as seen by you / your company.

  • QUALITY (Quality of the Product)
  • COST (Cost of the end Product)
    (cost of parts, tooling & Assembly process.)
  • TIME to MARKET (Speed of execution including both design and prototyping process)
  • [Cost of Development] (For those on shoe string budget this may be important factor.)

Naturally you may set your own priorities differently and in accordance with your project goals. Some of these may be part of your business plan and you may consider discussing this matter with your business plan advisors, but nevertheless your consultant will have much better understanding of your goals and driving factors in your particular market.

DECIDE: What it the most important for your project:; Quality, Cost or Time to Market!

Do not set impossible to achieve goals. For example your major decision making criteria should not be the quality if you set manufacturing costs bellow the lowest cost product on the market or compete with the market player who is obviously going after the lower segment of the market.


PROJECT DEADLINES

For some projects / products it is very important to arrive to the desired goal at specified time. Communicate these milestones and dead lines with your consultant early in the discussions, neither you nor your consultant will enjoy being behind. Professional engineers will advise you if they do not have available resources to meet your dead lines or if they believe that some steps and number of design variables will take more time than allocated.


WHAT SHOULD THE WRITTEN PROPOSAL INCLUDE

W hen you and your product development consultant have drafted the Design Goal you consultant will be able to estimate Scope of Work for the Quotation. Invite product development consultants to submit written proposals, which should include:

  • Their understanding of the problem / your goals.
  • The brief project description
  • The brief project plan with the list of the major activities (as proposed)
  • Scope of the Work
  • List of deliverables per phase or per proposed project plan
  • Lead times or expected delivery dates per deliverables or estimated schedule.
  • Fees, expenses and schedules of payment
  • Estimated Total Costs
  • Fee basis Payment terms and required down-payments
  • Description of included and not included expenses.
  • The inputs required from you / your role.

Written ProposalAlthough cost of product development can not be estimated accurately it is possible to estimate final costs with 10 % to 15 % error. The most of the companies will agree to limit the maximum cost (e.g. stating within the proposal / quotation: "NOT TO EXCEED") which will definitely protect you from unpleasant surprises. (Please consult you legal advisor on under which circumstances it is possible to legally prevent consulting company from charging unreasonably higher that originally quoted.)

Once you receive the written proposal from your product development consultant review it thoroughly. Your RFP, initial meeting and any other discussions you had with the consultant should be sufficient input for the properly prepared proposal. if anything is missing it should be added, but incomplete, poorly prepared proposals and lack of understanding of the technical aspect of your project generally speak against the consultants.

NOTE: Remember it is your responsibility to ensure that consultant did capture all your requirements within proposal, and has the full understanding of your idea, design goals, time lines as well as cost. If you are not happy with the proposal you should request change or addendum.

Compare the received proposals and look for the best value. Proposals may have small variations in project plan and activities consultant intends to perform. These small variations although may appear insignificant sometimes require significant time and effort on consultants side which in turn will affect the cost of the project. Professional engineers will typically recommend all activities necessary to ensure the complete success and eliminate every predictable pitfall. If you are not certain you can ask the consultant what is driving the project costs up, or if some of those actives are absolutely necessary. At least you will have much better understanding what you will be getting for your money.

The best understating of your specific project needs is typically an excellent clue that your consultant did their homework and knows what it will take to bring your product idea to the desired goal. Template quotes, standard and brief proposals lacking info are not typically the way professionals deal with the product development projects.

TIP: Stay away from quotations which are provided before Design Goals or Product Specification, are at least drafted, from unclear , vague and proposals lacking detail.. Without proper one you will not be sure what you may expect on the end, or wonder what are you going to be charged for.

Remember that the most inexpensive quote will not necessarily provide the best value for money; while fees of your preferred consultant often can be negotiated.

Once you have a selected proposal and potential consultant, do take time to talk through the chosen proposal with the consultant before making a final decision. Ensure that every aspect of your project is addressed and shown in the proposal. Discuss any concerns that you have with your consultant and ask for the revised proposal if required.. Your consultant will be happy to learn better about your project and accommodate your needs. Continue discussions with the consultant until the project ahead is well defined including all deliverables and other terms.

TIP: You can arrange that payments to your consultant be made per phase which will provide you with good overview of the development process and related costs.

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT CONSULTING AGREEMENT

The next step is to develop a contract with the selected consultant. You should consult your legal advisor, search for standard consulting agreements on the internet or simply ask your consultant for the one. The most of professional engineering companies use standard consulting agreement for every project.

Although most of the consultants use standard agreement, they will be willing to tailor the agreement in order to meet your needs. You can always seek advice from your legal councilor prior to signing the agreement.
(A guideline for the use of agreements between client and engineer is available from PEO.)

TIP: Make sure your agreement clearly specifies all you expect to receive in the DELIVERABLES clause.


REPORTING and COMMUNICATION

T he reporting frequency probably has been proposed within the proposal. Other than that it is important that you do keep in touch with the consultant. Don't just hire the consultant and let him (or her) loose. Do get involved. You should probably be in touch weekly or biweekly, even it's only for a 10-minute phone call. Ask about the progress, if the project is on schedule, and if there is any additional input that is required.

You can as well decide what form you want your communication to take on the very project start. Typically emails are great form of communication. Besides allowing both sides to respond at their convenience they provide irreplaceable way to record communications and decisions.

DESIGN REVIEW MEETINGS

D esign Review Meetings are typically scheduled ahead and associated with the delivery of the deliverables. Design review meetings are typically started by consultant's presentation of the project status with any specific project details, issues to be resolved and decisions that took place. The presentation is than followed by open discussion, Questions and Answers period. Ensure that representatives from various teams involved are present during the Design review Meetings. While the recommendation and suggestions are welcomed potential danger is departing from the agreed project plan, deliverables and design goals. The best way to avoid side tracking is to involve the same people who were present on the original meetings and make sure they are familiar with the technical details of the proposal, time lines and deliverables planned.

NOTE: The professional engineer is accountable under the Professional Engineers Act for providing competent engineering services and complying with the Code of Ethics. (Professional Engineers Ontario, Code of Ethics section 77 of Regulation 941).

CHANGES IN THE SCOPE OF WORK and REQUIREMENTS

If you and your staff need to provide additional input, make sure you do it as soon as possible Changes in the design goals, requirements and/or scope of work can significantly affect the project plans, necessary design and engineering activities and deliverables. Changes in the scope of work, effort and deliverables may incur additional costs. Considering that some changes can bring the design back to square one the related costs may be substantial.

Sometimes those changes can not be predicted as are normal part of product development process. Ideas and requirements evolve and do happen during the design process. On the bright side it is much better to make such discovery and request design changes during the product development process than after the tooling is finished. In that respect sooner is always better.

ADDITIONAL INPUT

Occasionally the project plan allows for additional input or changes during the design process. Typically proposals that allow for alterations in the direction or deliverables are quoted as estimates only or per hour using the flat hourly rates. In any case if consultant is waiting for input from you or members of your team, it may hold up the progress of the assignment or even incur additional costs. Most of clients will prepared project plans based on the assumption that input will be available when required. Constancy requires an investment not only in fees but also in client time.


UNDERSTANDING DESIGN APPROACH

C onsumer's higher than ever expectations have set new standards in product development. Need for shorter time to market and more efficient product development process together with significantly shorter product life cycle have rendered old engineering approach ineffective and obsolete. While in the past products were divided among different departments according to logical functional or manufacturing subsystems, today's approach is dividing the product development into two main groups: Shell with user interface and core of the product.

Written ProposalWhile the old products were designed from inside out, today products are design from outside in or to be more accurate simultaneously. For example first Walkman was designed around two subsystems: electrical and mechanical. The housing and user interface had to follow whatever engineers and designer came up with. Result was bulky design suffering from lack of appeal and poor aesthetics, which was soon replaced with better design.

No wonder that more companies are focusing on concurrent engineering and team work which should enable them to design the products from top-down starting from well designed user interface.

Modern design approach and familiarity with contemporary design trends and market needs have enabled small companies to provide faster product development cycles and more efficient engineering, which led to significant shift of design from large to small engineering groups. Although this trend is slowly entering even high-end technologies like aerospace, majority of companies still keep critical know-how and design of the vital components in-house. Manufacturers of the automobiles are working on engines, brakes and suspension while shape of the car, dashboard, seats and all components visible to driver and passengers are developed by consulting companies.

NOTE: Concurrent engineering is modern approach in product design by which teams of experts design different elements of the system simultaneously achieving high level of coexistence. Ideally this concept should provide optimal and balanced design in the shortest possible time. Unfortunately lack of adequate communication and inability of CAD and Engineering software to support simultaneous work on the part render small teams more efficient. Until new standards of communication are established the old concept of dividing the product into logical subsets and subsequent integration of the designed subsystems will remain the basic project management strategy at least for the large engineering teams.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Once you have your product you may consider obtaining any of the Industrial or Intellectual Property Rights, which will protect your innovative and original solutions from unauthorized replication for the prescribed period. Patents, Industrial Designs or recognizable Trademarks can give you great market advantage.

Product Development companies employ people with extraordinary skills and very powerful imagination. Those people sometimes generate novel ideas and patentable solutions. Never-the-less patents or innovative solution can not be promised in advance! Beware of such premisses.

For more info please visit our   PATENTS and your INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY  →
page from our How-To Guide Series For Inventors and Creative Minds.