Working with a wide variety of inspired and dedicated hardware entrepreneurs, we see some common threads around what most young startups struggle with. Here are 3 best practices for lean hardware development we share time and time again that will help you improve your rapid prototyping process for faster, more efficient development.
1. Keep Designs Simple
Though the desire to change the world is an admirable goal, too often this zeal results in a product with too many features and no clear roadmap on how to build them. The antidote here is to design with intention, starting simply and increasing in complexity gradually. Create a product requirements document (PRD) for the product you want to build, which lays out a clear and detailed roadmap for product development (Mindtribe’s Product Nucleus is a helpful template). And if you still feel tempted to chase perfection with your first product, remember LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman’s words: “if you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”With each design iteration, aim for improvement, not perfection.
2. Incorporate User Feedback
Throughout the design process it’s vital to trust your instincts, but it’s just as vital to keep your customer in mind every step of the way. Read: don’t design in a vacuum. So before you have a working prototype with integrated electronics, put really basic prototypes in the hands of users. By basic I mean, really basic. This could look like some cut out foam core attached with duct tape. Or if you’re developing a smartwatch, maybe it’s a regular watch with a piece of paper taped on the screen to indicate where buttons might go.You want to find out what users think about the basic premise of the product’s potential utility as well as which features should be prioritized in development.A simple structure for integrating user feedback is ETC or express, test, cycle:
Express: Give your product just enough form so you can gather useful feedback.
Test: Test out this form and gather the feedback.
Cycle: Rinse and repeat.
For more on this, SoundFocus has some great examples on how they approach early-stage user testing for their smartphone speaker, AMP.
3. Optimize for Speed
While being budget-conscious, most early-stage companies don’t factor in the true opportunity cost of wasted time, which ultimately comes down to burn rate. For example, if you choose a cheaper option to get your parts 3D printed, but the shipping takes 5 days, your engineers are most likely sitting around.. waiting. While she’s waiting, she’s also getting paid $220/day, based on an $80k annual salary. Not a good use of anyone’s time. So the true cost of that 3D part is actually: (part cost + (lead time x daily burn rate)). Think about this next time you’re deciding whether to pay $50 for a part with 3-day lead time or $100 for a part with next-day lead time. When it comes to 3D printing, we also see some companies purchase their own printers to help speed up their development cycles and offset costs. If you’re considering machine ownership, consider how much time your highly-skilled engineers will be spending cleaning build beds, repairing machines, and managing schedules.
The hardware industry is changing rapidly and it’s critical for companies to focus on moving quickly toward clearly defined milestones. By focusing on these three key principles for lean hardware development, you’ll get to market faster, while there’s still money in the bank.
If you want to learn more about lean hardware development then go check out the Fictiv website where there are a ton of resources to answer your prototyping questions.