Optimise your relationship to get the best results each time
A huge amount of your power, to make your project a success, is held captive by your chosen electronics design partners. So, choosing the right team to work with is crucial. Getting this decision right will see you hit the jackpot. You will have a reliable and trusted partner that gives you the right expertise and inspires you to take on even more ambitious projects. In the knowledge that you have the right team behind you.
We see people come to us time and time again because they are frustrated with their current partner relationships. With strong feelings that their projects are not getting the right amount of attention or failing completely to get off the ground at all.
Here are our top tips to make sure you end up thrilled by your design partner choice, not left in dismay. Firstly…
Why is choosing a supplier for ANYTHING so difficult?
When you outsource any project, regardless of the outcome, it ultimately reflects on you, the person who chose the supplier. For example, if you purchase an item in bulk and the sample is perfect but the volume supply comes in faulty it can cause a huge amount of embarrassment, not to mention sleepless nights when you open the box dreading what you might find inside.
You have a lot of control over your OWN performance but when part of your project’s results relies on someone else this can cause you to feel out of control. So how do you get that control back?
By working with someone who provides regular updates, has an exceptional track record and gives you good vibes from the start.
What to look out for:
Align your goals
You need to understand each other, and this is a two-way street. You need to be very clear about your project goals. Even more so if there is a time bound element to your project.
Regardless of the size of your chosen consultancy they will always have other projects on the go. So be crystal clear about your needs from the start so they can schedule the resources for your project. Most good consultancies are in high demand from existing customers and from referrals and will have a lead time to pick up larger projects.
Talk to your chosen supplier about the desired outcome for your project, on the part they are helping you with. A low volume prototype or Proof of Concept used for research or investment will need a different approach to a product that will be manufactured in large quantities.
At the Proof of Concept (often referred to as PoC) stage there is no need for detailed test and validation, however at the higher volume stage it is essential.
You can ask them if there are any extra elements to your project they think you should consider. Areas that you may not have fully explored yet such as compliance, production test jigs, test and validation and ongoing support for updates.
Also sense check that they understand your requirements. Design teams will often translate your requirements into implementation specifications and acceptance test plans early in the project. Make sure that you can review these with your partner to confirm the requirements are understood.
Ask about your chosen schedule and see how realistic they think this is. If they have concerns listen to them and consider whether to change your plans due to their advice. In some cases you may wish to source another supplier who can commit to a quicker timeline. But be cautious if they seem too easily available or too optimistic about your timelines.
Check whether enough consideration has been put into key project risks. If there are unknowns or technological uncertainties, then a brief feasibility study or bench top demonstrator can de-risk the project and allow course corrections early, to achieve your business goals.
Look for an open and honest partner
No-one likes negative feedback, but you need your partner to volunteer ideas or at the very least tell you if there is a problem with your product plan. If they know that they can’t complete their part of the work and don’t tell you, due to not wanting to upset you or due to only having their own interests at heart, they are not the right team to work with.
Communication is key to your project staying on track. Not only do regular updates mean you feel certain of progress you can also feedback to your team and adapt immediately if there are any delays, challenges or indeed if a project is finishing ahead of schedule. It also allows less room for any misunderstandings and may mean that other members of your team can get to know your design partner and ‘buy in’ to that relationship.
What to watch out for:
- People who show a huge amount of interest in you from the start then go quiet. They may be looking to bring you on board and then rapidly lose interest and leave your project on the shelf whilst they go and get the next shiny prospect.
- Someone who seems a little too excited to work with you. It is amazing and right that a team are passionate about your project but if they seem excessively over the moon, they may not have worked on this big a project before. Just make sure you double check they have the expertise and resources to do it.
- Rapport with the wrong person. If you have built up a good relationship with the sales or engineering manager that is great but try and make sure you get a feel for the people who will be actively working on your project. If the engineering manager is your only contact during the initial consultation you may lose the benefit of regular contact from them when you get assigned your engineer(s). Equally you should expect great customer service but do not write off a company entirely if the receptionist doesn’t immediately know the answer to your in-depth technical question.
How to avoid a single point of failure
If you choose a one-man band consultancy, be prepared for the project to potentially take longer than planned. They may want to take a holiday; they may have a family matter or decide to go in a different direction. Do you have their business details? If they went AWOL, could you get hold of them or do you just have a mobile number?
Equally if you have a big software development project and your design partner has an exceptional software developer with years of experience but everyone else are hardware specialists then if the software professional leaves unexpectedly, you could be left with no one to fill the void. So, if the engineer working on your project is a hidden gem ask your partner what the backup plan is if they can’t work on the project for any reason?
Does your chosen partner have a heart?
In the Wizard of Oz the tin man is on the search for a heart, you need a team that already has one! We are not talking about ‘fluffy’ empty statements but about whether your partner is committed to the environment and people.
Now you may be rolling your eyes at that statement. You may think, sure of course I believe in that but at the end of the day getting a reliable product out there is what I really need.
But if you choose a consultancy who have worked on harmful products, there could be a guilty-by-association element to your work.
Also, if your partner is happy to work on any product regardless of the harm to humans, can you trust their ethics when it comes to sourcing your parts from high quality places, testing all the safety elements etc?
Finally, if you yourself believe in helping people surely you want to work with someone who shares your values?
Is your design partner a long term commitment or a quick fling?
In our valentine’s blog we talk about our different services and how electronics design consultants can be like a marriage or speed dating depending on what you need. But as you complete your initial project with a consultancy it’s important to think about the long-term benefits of working with the same partner, even if it is for the majority and not all projects.
Creating an ongoing relationship means projects can get off the ground quicker, you don’t have to research other consultancies each time and there may be extra benefits like referral schemes or access to their own knowledge of the right partners for you, for manufacturing for example.
Depending on your product portfolio you may wish to work with multiple manufacturers; the right design partner will have insider knowledge of the best people to use for your project. Also note that if your design partner is also a manufacturer it will be harder for them to be truly impartial on this.
Use loyalty in moderation
A note of caution here, whilst a long-term partnership is great be careful not to fall into the ‘we always use them’ mentality. If you have been using a consultant since 2012 and they have not kept up to date with new technologies, they may not be the right person for you today. You may outgrow them as your company evolves. They may be ‘getting away’ with not being in regular contact or being slow on projects because they see you as a client that will not leave.
If this is happening, it’s worth exploring your options and having a frank conversation with your existing partner to raise your concerns.
Consider carefully whether to use a design partner exclusively or a joint design and manufacturing partner.
We cover this in-depth in our design and manufacturing blog. Essentially you need to weigh up the pros and cons and be careful not to buy into deals that give you instant wins but long-term losses as well as giving away the rights to your own designs, tying you to one supplier. What is right for you now may not be right for you in the future.
In summary look for:
- A team that understands you and your goals
- That have the right expertise to meet your needs
- That communicates regularly
- They are transparent in providing advice or raising issues
- They believe in building a better world
- A team of a decent size that work well together
What you need to do to get the most out of them
- Have a detailed spec ready
- Ask if they have any concerns about your timelines
- Discuss back up plans if an employee cannot work on a project
- Talk about how often they plan to update you
- Check their case studies and team page to check their expertise
- Ask if they have worked on any similar projects