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Paul Burri: The Finer Points of Product Development

The first rule to know is that the design process takes time

I sat in on a new-product presentation recently. The presenter had a fancy PowerPoint show with lots of pictures of the design of his prototype along with charts and graphs about his projected costs, sales, etc.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

The purpose of the presentation was to arouse interest among prospective investors. Included in the show was a time line of his estimated development costs.

As one who is experienced in product development, one item jumped out at me. His time line showed the following:

Design — 3 weeks — completion, January 2011
Prototype fabrication — 6 weeks — completion, March 2011
Tooling fabrication — 16 weeks — completion, July 2011
Production begins — August 2011

The gentleman’s time line illustrates a certain amount of naïveté on his part. The problem here is with the idea that he will produce a prototype and then immediately begin to make tooling — almost certainly to be very expensive — on the basis of that one and only prototype.

I know from long and expensive experience that the very best designs by the most clever designers are never entirely perfect the first time out of the box. On average, it takes three or four modifications of the initial design before all of the bugs are worked out.

What bugs? Here are a few possibilities.

The initial design doesn’t do the job as well as expected. It has a safety hazard consideration that was not foreseen. It is difficult to operate in its original form. It is too expensive to manufacture. A slight modification in design would allow easier and cheaper shipment. A slight modification to the original design would allow for future improved and expanded models. The list goes on.

So for this entrepreneur to expect that he will be able to design and make a single prototype and then immediately go into production is both naïve and risky. Anyone designing a new product should expect to make at least three or four prototypes before deciding on a final design.

To do otherwise would be a costly mistake.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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