MDO Article: How to Collaborate with a Product Design Firm

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There are a number of things that medical device companies can do to ensure that their partnerships result in well-designed devices. Here are a few tips for successfully navigating a partnership with a product design firm.

So you’ve successfully interviewed, evaluated and selected a design firm to partner with on your next medical device product development project. Congratulations on finding a team to bring your product to fruition! As a client, you are investing your time and money into the partnership, and you want ensure that working together results in a successful and fruitful product development effort.

Your job now is to make sure the combined team delivers value and meets your needs. Here are four key factors that will help you ensure the relationship begins and ends on the right track.

1. Communicate your product marketing strategy

Share information about your products, business and marketing strategy with the design firm at the beginning of the partnership and communicate any changes in strategy as they happen. Understanding more about the business, the product and the market helps the design firm innovative and make better decisions throughout the engagement.

Design offers an effective way to differentiate a company’s products, often providing a competitive advantage. Empowering the design firm with information about your company and market will inform their designs and decisions, resulting in more effective product designs.

2. Understand your target user needs and desires to create better experiences

Don’t rely on best guesses about your users to inform your product design team. You can find out how actual target users behave, how they might engage with the product you are developing and what you might do to improve that user experience so they will ultimately purchase your product.

The knowledge gap between the design team and the target users can be diminished by applying systematic usability techniques throughout the design and development of the product. Usability data can provide objective evidence to use as the basis for making design decisions and as a way to decide which ideas are the most viable.

3. Accept the uncertainty of product development, but be an active participant as the project unfolds

Relatively few details about the desired product are known at the beginning of the project, meaning that a design firm’s estimates are subject to a degree of uncertainty. As the design firm engages in the project and the product development effort matures, more knowledge is gained and the uncertainty about the project and desired product typically decreases.

But financial and contractual commitments are agreed upon at the beginning, based on the proposal – at the period of highest uncertainty. Once the design team engages and dives into product development, creative ideas emerge that may not have been in scope of the original proposal. This limits the design team’s freedom to pursue a better product.

If not managed appropriately, this also can lead to contentious discussions between the client and their design partner. Working together, however, the client and design firm can actively and continuously strive to reduce the uncertainty level.

An adaptive project management approach – in which estimates and project plans are redone on a regular basis as new information becomes available – is one approach to dealing with the uncertainty. In an adaptive framework, all team members from both the client and the design firm accept that changes are inevitable, learn from discovery and update plans to reflect those lessons and – above all – work together in a transparent and trusting partnership.

4. Engage continually in the partnership

At Product Creation Studio, we believe the consulting relationship is an amazing collaboration built on commitment and trust in which we become an extension of our clients’ team. For this to work, both sides must embrace open communication and be capable of giving and receiving frequent, honest, transparent feedback to avoid unpleasant surprises.

To get the relationship off to a good start, clients should be ready to set their idea free and transition from day-to-day involvement in the details to supporting your design partners as they execute on the day-to-day details. This means communicating what you need at a requirements level, rather than how to do it at an implementation level. Understand and identify the key decision-makers and make sure the design firm knows who they are.

As the project progresses, other behaviors become key to maintaining a successful, lasting partnership:

The client needs to be ready and available to make decisions to keep the team moving forward;

The design firm should provide the client with options and tradeoffs to help make these decisions;

Resist the urge to micromanage. Let the design firm do what it was hired to do and provide it with the information, background and support to do it.

The design team’s dedicated project manager should also manage regular updates in the form of meetings and written status reports.

The client will benefit from being available for the meetings as requested, reading the status reports to make sure the information is understood and asking clarifying questions.

Working together, the client and the design team can achieve results that are more successful and innovative than what either team could have produced working on their own. By keeping these four factors in mind, you’ll be on your way to successfully bringing your product to market with the power of a well-functioning, multidisciplinary team.

This article originally appeared in Medical Design and Outsourcing, written by Product Creation Studio Senior Project Manager, Sonja Takatori.