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How to avoid serious risks in device development projects?

Recently, everybody has become aware of how the global lack of critical components may halt the manufacturing of goods. However, missing components are not the only risk when developing and launching a new physical product. What sorts of product development risks need to be considered, and how could they best be avoided?

Exploding development budgets, failures in component quality testing, buggy software, difficulties with certifications or manufacturability. All sorts of unexpected problems can occur in the device development process of projects. If any potential risk eventuates, it may have serious consequences.

“A novel risk area people are less aware of is how the device development itself has changed fundamentally. In today’s world, everything is packed with software. Therefore, traditional models in hardware development are not valid anymore,” says Eero Kaappa, Etteplan’s Business Development Director in the Embedded Software and Hardware Solutions Business Unit.

The growing role of software creates friction for quite natural reasons. By nature, hardware is stiff and inflexible, whereas software is its opposite. Testing of hardware requires assembly physical prototypes, while software can be developed and tested continuously. Consequently, the work cultures of hardware-oriented engineers and software developers are so different that it may lead to cultural clashes. However, risk mitigation in project management is important on both ends. 

Managers of device projects need lots of experience

Product managers and directors and anyone in charge are under great pressure in device projects. They bear the responsibility and will be blamed if something goes wrong. To succeed the project manager risk management must include being aware of technical, financial, commercial, and regulatory risks, the overall risk mitigation in project management.

“A lot depends on the management’s experience. No textbook model for managing a device project exists because devices, companies, and circumstances vary so much. Even the management process of the device development itself can have pitfalls,” Eero Kaappa points out.

The management must empower people to identify and address risks early on. For instance, it is far from enough to simply assume that the developers follow best practices and have their own processes to steer clear of harm’s way.

“Most important is to embed risk management into the DNA of device development,” Kaappa says.

Among the biggest reasons for budget and schedule overruns are failures in requirements management. Therefore, the road to success begins with the outlining of the device requirements.

Mitigate risks by partnering

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for risk mitigation in project management. However, the current component crisis has highlighted why developing a device is more complex than ever before.

Lack of expertise is a common cause of problems. However, very few companies have a wide array of required competencies in-house. Very few individuals have the skillset to manage the modern development process to assess and avoid product development risks.

It is slow and very expensive to build internal teams to handle the complete lifecycle of devices. Besides, many companies use partners for all device development because they see that device development is not their core business.

“Partnering with someone specialized and experienced in full-stack device creation is invaluable. That way, a company can not only minimize risks and get crucial human resources but also improve the quality of project management and the results remarkably”, Eero Kaappa recommends.

3 quick tips to manage device development:

  • Define your vision of the device and stick to the requirements.
  • Identify potential technical, financial, regulatory, and cultural risks early on.
  • Contact a development partner and a manufacturing partner.