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The Product Design Equation

Jun 1, 2019 6:06:04 PM / by Travis Jacobs


When designing a product the key decisions are

  • What to leave in ...
  • What to take out ...
Less is more, the simpler the better
You can only pick two ... this is where the trouble starts. 
Trying to do things on the cheap is the most expensive way to do things
 one variable
We never have time to do it right, but we always have time to do it over ... and over ... and over ... and over ...
concrete idea
Most pain in the product development process is self inflicted.
Fix 1 Fix 2
Trying to cut corners and shortcut the development process is a recipe for disaster.   You try all these "quick" fixes that don't work ... so you keep trying "quick" fixes ... three months later it still doesn't work.  The engineers told you it would take 4 weeks to fix this right ... "that is too long!" I need this fixed in a week ...
Do it right the first time seems obvious and common sense ... 
... But common sense is a logical and intellectual activity
In a low trust culture dominated by fear ... politics ... stress ... panic ... anxiety ... common sense goes out the window.
When the boss says ... you have two weeks to accomplish 3 months of work ... and he doesn't like to be challenged or told "he's wrong" ... "that won't work" ... common sense doesn't apply to this situation.
What to design is more important than how to design it ...
80 percent of the cost of a product is defined and locked in early in the design process.  Expensive problems are designed in and not discovered until just before full production launch.  At this point it's too late and the product configuration is set.  It's either too expensive or will take too long to change and fix, destroying the customer delivery schedule.  So what ends up happening is that Bad products get delivered to the customer.  Some problems are found immediately by the customer and some are found after a few months.  Some problems are minor annoyances and some problems are very detrimental to the brand and the company.  
The Galaxy Note 7 battery incident is a good example of this.  The Note 7 recall is estimated to cost about $1 Billion dollars, which is a small percentage of the the hit the stock took in the market.
Using customers as quality control and Beta testers is a catastrophic long term strategy.  On the other hand taking 3 years to design a product isn't a viable strategy either.
Customers demand high quality and innovative products and have little patience for poor quality.  Focusing solely on cost or more importantly on the lowest cost ... is a recipe for disaster. 
Think of your product that you are designing the same way a chef would prepare a a bowl of Clam Chowder.  You pick the highest quality ingredients and prepare it with care and expertise.
I knew of a restaurant that served the best Clam Chowder and was packed with customers from when they opened at 11 am until they closed at 2 pm.  The line was out the door and around the block some days ... it was that good.  
Then the business was sold and the owner retired, but nobody knew.  The new owner focused solely on maximizing profits and minimizing costs.  He used low quality ingredients and an inexperienced chef and watered down the Clam Chowder.
For a month or two, with lowered costs and constant revenue profits soared.  But little by little the customers began to disappear.  Trust was gone and the business dwindled to almost nothing.
The new owner tried desperately to reclaim it ... but it was too late.
Most of the pain in product development is self inflicted ... we shoot ourselves in the foot and blame others for our mistakes.
We are watering down the Clam Chowder ... 
  • The cost of a bad design is the following
  • Missed sales & unhappy customers
  • Product recalls & warranty claims
  • Scrap & rework
  • Production & shipping delays
  • Finding expensive problems after production release 


Avoid These Landmines During Product Development


Common Mistakes


Common Obstacles


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Topics: Product Development, Product Design, Leadership, Design, Innovation, Execution, Strategy, Tactics, Team, Winning

Travis Jacobs

Written by Travis Jacobs

Travis is the president of JA Simulations, a product design & development firm in Denver Colorado. We help clients solve problems & get to market faster with innovative & high quality products

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