Product Development: Refinement and Validation

April 26th, 2017:

After a brief, two year hiatus from my articles on the product development process, I am back with the next step in this undertaking!  If you are interested in the early phases of our process, please follow these links to learn more:

  1. Product Development: Getting Started
  2. Product Development: Building from the Ground Up

We left off at the conclusion of Phase Two with our first Alpha prototype.  This is a very exciting time for a new product, where it is likely the first time that you have seen your product function as a cohesive system.  A first functional prototype is a victory, but it is important to keep in mind that the lion share of the work is still ahead.  While this Alpha prototype proves that the product will work as intended, it normally uncovers a litany of functional and validation issues.  Uncovering these issues and developing a strategy to resolve them is the key to your efforts in this phase.

Having reliable test data from multiple Alpha prototypes is the best way to lay a solid foundation for the engineering development in this phase.  Take care to eliminate variables and have a reliable test process - the quality of your test data will be important as you refine the product.  Using the experience of the past phases and prioritizing the engineering and design refinement will ensure the efforts are focused and valuable.  Once the core product engineering and design efforts have been implemented into the design in CAD space, here is the ideal time to begin vetting the engineering of the product with a manufacturing partner.

It is beneficial to understand that your manufacturer should not be requiring major engineering changes at this stage, but adjustments according to their process and capabilities.  This input from your partners can pay dividends when it comes to tooling and part costs down the road.  We often evaluate multiple manufacturing partners during this phase in order to discover what manufacturing process best fits the needs of the product. 

After the refinement is complete, we are now ready to build our Beta prototypes.  Whenever possible, we source parts and components that are the same as, or very close to production material and process.  This helps us truly validate the performance and use case of our product.  This prototype will look and perform like the final product.  One often overlooked step during this phase is conducting user and performance testing to validate the key requirements of the product.  It is often assumed that the product meets user needs by this phase of development.  This is truly the last point in the project where small to moderate design and engineering changes can be made without incurring a significant tooling and manufacturing loss. 

Now that your Beta prototypes are completed and validated, you are ready to shift the focus to manufacturing readiness and cost reduction efforts.  This is pivotal point as Beta prototypes often enable startup ventures to begin showing the world a realistic representation of their product!

In the next installment, we will tackle Verification and Manufacturing readiness.  This phase is not that much fun but can be a make or break moment for many products. Stay tuned!

-Corey Smigelski, General Manager