Choosing a product development agency to help bring your product to market is a high stakes decision that should be made with the utmost care. The bottom line is who you decide to work with will massively influence the success or failure of your product.
Something we hear often from prospects that are shopping for a product development partner is how all product development agencies are not created equal. Each have their own process, expertise and approach to working with customers and developing products – which makes their decision on who to work with more difficult.
In the interests of making the decision a little less stressful for those looking for product development help, we’ve put together 22 questions you can ask each agency you meet with, to help you evaluate them across a common set of criteria.
Ask questions to understand the product development (PD) agencies involvement in specific projects featured on their website.
1. What was the company’s actual involvement or responsibility for each product?
2. Did they contribute industrial design only? Did they only help on a portion of the design or were they responsible for the entire design?
3. Were they involved in defining the product requirements to determine product market fit?
4. Were they responsible for the mechanical design, electrical design, communications, hardware, and firmware?
5. Were they responsible for the manufacturing launch of that product?
Ask for examples of products the PD agency has developed that are related to yours. PD agencies don’t need experience in your exact type of product, but you should be able to see translatable experience from products they’ve worked on.
6. Does the firm have all the required competencies for your project?
7. Can they help you assess the market and validate your product-market fit?
8. Can they design electronics, controls, communications, and do they have manufacturing experts to deliver on producing the design?
9. Have they worked on projects in the past that require similar capabilities to yours?
Understanding how PD agencies approach their work is just as important as understanding their hard skills. Ask for examples that show how the PD agency works amongst themselves and how they work with their clients.
10. What processes has the PD agency developed to capture and share knowledge internally, amongst and across the team(s) working on your project.
11. How do they capture, document and communicate knowledge to their clients?
12. What kind of design and business processes do they have and use or do they just wing it? Do they create product specifications, do they create project plans, do they have project and product risk assessment techniques, do they follow change management protocols? Do they have a staged gate process?
13. Do they have project managers that are accountable for overseeing the project budget and schedule?
In hardware development, prototypes are key to learning, communicating your product, and reducing both technical and commercial risk. The faster you can turn around prototypes, the faster you can learn and get to market with a winning product.
14. How does the company handle product validation, testing and certification in the context of prototype validation?
15. What is their process to integrate these tests when they are planning and designing the product? If you don’t plan for the testing during design, then how can you expect to pass it?
16. Do they have any in-house prototyping and testing capabilities? What will they do if the requirements exceed their in-house capabilities?
Ask about their track record of taking products into manufacturing.
17. Do they design for manufacturing and assembly? Designing pretty products that customers love that can’t be manufactured profitably or with good quality isn’t good business.
18. Do they run an FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) on the designs they produce?
19. Do they provide a DVP&R? (Design Verification Plan and Report)
20. Were they actually responsible for selecting the manufacturer and seeing it through? There are many product development companies out there who design products and then “throw it over the wall” to a manufacturer.
21. Do they manage ongoing quality control of the parts and assemblies produced?