Finding a Technical Design Partner Doesn't Need to be Hard
Working with a design partner makes sense for so many businesses, but it can often come with hassles and challenges. The good news? It doesn’t NEED to be hard.
Even if your business does not have any technical resources, you can use this article to help find the right technical partner. Here are tips to help make the process easier.
There are so many reasons to outsource the technical work. In fact, you can check out our article with 3 reasons why you should outsource your hardware design. Here are a couple examples of when it makes sense to work with a Technical Design Partner:
Startups/Small Businesses who don’t have runway to hire full-time tech employees.
Bootstrapped companies engrained in their industry who are starting to explore tech.
Scale-ups with initial traction looking to get to the next level.
Business models that don’t need or rely on heavy R&D budgets.
And here are some of the things that can make that processes seem challenging:
Finding the right partners
Defining requirements to get it right
Setting a budget and sticking to it
Alignment with your teams, strategic goals and vision
Don’t let these potential challenges deter you from moving forward with a Technical Design Partner! Instead, consider these tips to find a good partner and get the most out of your partnership – a successful partnership should be a collaboration that leads to a win for both teams together.
Tip #1: Align on Deliverables and Scope
Technical Design can encompass a vastly different scope for different projects. Be up front with what expectations you have when you’re talking to potential Design Partners.
Being clear about the deliverables you want to have at the end of each phase of the project and when they need to be complete can help ensure potential partners are all bidding on the same scope of work.
If you’re not sure how to structure these deliverables, talk to your potential Design Partners about the deliverables they would recommend. One step that we have found very effective is a Discovery phase, which is always our first step with new clients. It’s a fixed cost/timeline and includes deliverables of a functional specification, full project schedule and budget. Any technical issues or missed requirements get shaken out in the initial deep dive, leading to better estimates and full alignment on project scope and expectations that saves both time and money later on.
If a potential Design Partner can show you the scope and deliverables for each phase of the project, it shows they have done diligence when preparing the proposal. It demonstrates transparency right at the start of the project, which is vital in a good partnership.
Tip #2: Scrutinize the Schedule
In a world where people are constantly trying to do things faster and faster, often schedules become the main driver of our decisions. Be wary of Design Partners promising timelines that simply aren’t achievable, which is another reason to strive for clarity in the project scope up front.
Technical design and implementation is a process – not every aspect can be expedited by throwing more resources at it. Ask your Design Partners for a high-level schedule and compare what you receive across the various proposals. Transparent partners typically can provide this without charging you exploratory fees.
Without technical knowledge, it can be hard to scrutinize a technical schedule. But try looking for a few key items. If there is hardware in scope, check for number of revisions, manufacturing timelines, product certifications, etc. factored into the estimate. For software, ensure there are sufficient timelines in place to allocate for UI/UX planning, software testing, bug fixing, full system integration and deployment.
You should be able to lean on your Design Partner to help you be comfortable navigating conversations around the schedule in a way that you can use to help with your business planning. You shouldn’t have to get to the point of spending money before understanding the “what” and “when”!
Tip #3: Understand the Costs Up Front
By far, the most common fear we hear from potential clients is about controlling costs. Obviously, no one wants to start a project with one number in mind and end up with a much different (read: bigger) number at the end.
It can feel very vulnerable or risky to hand your product implementation to a partner and rely on them to produce what you need within your budget. In business, people have become accustomed to the mode of “hidden costs” and “surprise billing” for professional fees and services, where you don’t know what to expect until you get the bill.
Usually there are 2 things that contribute to surprise costs within the scope of a project: incorrect assumptions and inaccurate estimates. Both of these should be within the control of your Design Partner up front.
At JTDC, we decided to solve this by taking a fixed costing approach to our projects, that allows our clients to know full costs up front and eliminates the risk of unpredictable costs. If it takes us more resources than planned, that’s on us… the client doesn’t pay for it. It also shows how confident we our in our ability to deliver.
We also work hard to provide a full overview of the NRE (non-reoccurring engineering) to meet the objectives. This includes cost estimates of items that aren’t payable to us during the project, but will need to be incurred to make your project successful. There’s nothing worse than starting a project and running out of funds for it before it’s completed that could have been budgeted at the project start.
Tip #4: Limit Scope Creep, but Share Long-Term Vision
The best partnerships are long-term and serve your business objectives. They’re not transactions where you simply order technical design and implementation based on specs and receive something back at the end. Technical Design Partners should be helping guide your technical decisions to meet your overall objectives as a business. This should include short-, medium- and long-term vision.
By sharing your “now, next, later” goals and objectives, your partner should be able to make key decisions along the way that sets you up for success.
Once you have a set scope of deliverables and timeline for a project, try to avoid adding a lot of scope creep. Talk to your Design Partner about ideas and future planning so that you both are aligned, but if you spend too much time scoping and changing the product while it’s in progress, it will add delays to the project that can quickly get out of hand from a schedule and budget perspective.
Trust your Design Partner to help guide the decisions and modifications along the way. With the right partner, the more you share, the better the end results will be. For our projects, our early phases include mostly research and overall system design to ensure that there aren’t surprises later on. A key aspect to this design process is ensuring flexibility in the design to limit rework required if the business objectives shift.
Finding the RIGHT Technical Design Partner can feel daunting. It is a critical piece to the future success of your business.
Find someone you can trust to be up front, honest and align with your vision.
Finding people who understand your business goals and can iterate towards them is the best way to have confidence that the end solution will find success in the market.
JTDC helps people build tech-enabled solutions into viable businesses. If you're looking for a Technical Design Partner you can trust to be in your corner and guide your tech, talk to us about our processes to learn how we can help you reach your goals.