In today’s fast-paced world, it has become increasingly difficult for technology companies to be the first to bring a new product to market. Global competition is fierce, and the rapid pace of technology change forces companies to continuously innovate, just to keep up.
Moore’s Law, for example, states that computer processing power doubles in speed every one-and-a-half years. That poses a significant challenge for the engineering companies that build their technology stack on top of a microprocessor that will become obsolete within a few years.
How do firms keep up with technology trends today?
One way is to outsource the development to an engineering firm that specializes in necessary technology for the product, such as web development or embedded systems design. This strategy makes sense if the necessary technology falls outside of the company’s core competency. The firms that succeed in outsourcing technology typically have reliable technology partners who focus on keeping up with the latest technology trends.
Other firms build the technology core competencies in-house. They focus on attracting and retaining the best talent their money can buy. This strategy requires continued investments in training to keep these key personnel informed of the latest trends.
Where do most companies fail?
Most companies allow several weeks for each development milestone: Proof of concept, prototype A, prototype B, prototype C, final product, etc. Since multiple iterations are necessary in building high-quality products, the best way to ensure that products ship on time is to reduce the cycle time between iterations.
This is where most companies fail; they over-engineer the product at every development stage. Good engineers are often risk-averse and slow to make decisions, thus slowing the iteration cycle time. The key is not to expect perfection at each milestone, but to embrace the iterative design process. Often, companies spend years developing a product that nobody will even buy!
By iterating quickly and frequently, product development companies can gain valuable customer insight at every milestone. Encouraging the engineers to embrace failure is the key to unlocking their creative potential. The software world calls this agile development. The startup world calls it lean startup, or minimum viable product. The agile/lean mantra is to “release early and release often.”
Although the agile approach is the new norm for writing software, it hasn’t been fully embraced by the hardware engineers of the world. After all, updating software is much easier than recalling a mechanical product to be reworked. However, hardware has changed significantly in the past decade, giving hardware development companies no excuse not to use agile practices. For example, a mechanical engineer can prototype four different mechanical parts within one day with a 3D printer, and an electrical engineer can revise and fabricate a new circuit board layout within two days with quick-turn board houses. Similarly, software and web developers have numerous open source libraries to choose from, some of which are available with a commercial-friendly license.
The agile development process must begin at the project management level. The development schedule must allow for many iteration cycles, and each iteration cycle must be kept at a minimum. Specifications and requirements must be thorough, but open to change based on customer feedback. Engineering teams need allocated time for creative brainstorming sessions to properly condense the time between iterations. Customers must be part of the design process, rather than an afterthought.
The agile approach to general engineering development will be a significant cultural change to the product development team. Some members will resist, while others will welcome the change. This approach may or may not prevail in the future. But one thing is certain: the rate of technology change is not slowing down anytime soon. Companies need to embrace change now, more than ever, in order to survive.
-Jesse DePinto is a Milwaukee-based serial entrepreneur and business technology consultant, helping clients prepare for technological revolutions such as 3D printing, virtual reality, wearable technology and the Internet of Things. He holds a mechanical engineering degree and reviews products for the Internet of Things in his spare time at StayAtHomeNerd.com. You can connect with him via email at email@example.com, via cell phone at (937) 829-3720, or via social media at LinkedIn.com/in/JesseDePinto or Twitter.com/JesseDePinto