The 9 Proven Steps For Choosing An Electronics Design Company
So, you or your team have an idea for an electronic product, device or application. What’s more, you’re pretty sure – no, absolutely certain – that it will revolutionise, if not the world, then your back pockets. After all, you’ve done the hard yards. You’ve identified a gap in the market, you’ve carried out the necessary research, and you’ve established a viable product that will meet this need.
The problem? You don’t have the manpower, tools or expertise to bring this product to life, let alone to market. So where to from here? How do you go about turning that idea into a potential moneymaker, while also meeting strict time and financial budgets that will ultimately determine the success or failure of this project?
Whether it’s consulting on a project, executing on a single task, or managing the development program, electronic design companies exist for the sole purpose of bringing their years of experience to bare on your best ideas. From the simplest technical consultation, through to complex Printed Circuit Board (PCB) designs, embedded software design, firmware development through to small scale prototyping through and commercial-scale manufacturing.
If this speaks to you, then it sounds like you need an electronics design company. But how do you find one, let alone one that can meet your very specific needs? It can be a tricky search, especially when your decision can mean the difference between getting your product to market on time, and getting caught up in costly delays and setbacks. Sure, you could switch companies at a later date, but is that a mistake you can afford to make?
The steps we’ve outlined below are intended as a guide to help you through this decision making process, and ensure you’ve considered all possibilities before you sign on the dotted line.
1. Research Your Options
Research forms the foundation of any informed business decision. So like the products you plan to make, or the markets you want to enter, deciding on an electronics design company requires an initial investment of sheer time to compile a list of relevant options. To expedite the process and cut down on overheads, this phase should also see you gathering as much information on these prospective options as you can.
For example, say you have the following two candidates in front of you. The first is an electronics design startup, with little real-world experience and no past clients. The second? It’s a company with 10+ years of experience, with a history of successful projects, happy clients, and industry-wide recognition.
Which would you choose?
When push comes to shove, there’s no comparing a newcomer in the industry to a seasoned developer with a proven track record. So while the decision to work with a new company may pan out for you, a calculated risk is still just that: a risk.
From here, highlight the companies that have experience within a specific field similar to the one you intend to enter, or are flexible and versatile enough to adapt to your needs. If your projects requires microcontroller design and development, for example, look for companies with a history in the field.
At the end of the day, you want to know that your project is in the experienced hands of a developer that knows how to deal with the challenges that inevitably arise over the course of any project.
2. Size Matters
With a list of reputable companies in hand, you need to start considering the size of the company itself, as well as the inherent pros and cons that come with working with either.
Larger companies often suffer from an unfair stigma that they’ll treat you, the customer, as ‘just another number’. While small companies, in comparison, are known for providing personal, individualised service that can better suit your specific needs. They often become as personally invested in your project as your are because, after all, your success is their success too.
On the flipside, larger companies often have access to a much larger pool of resources, which can help speed up the process and ensure your project is moving through the production pipeline at a comfortable speed.
The ideal scenario is a company that ticks all of these boxes, whether it’s a large company that operates on the personal level of a small one, or a smaller company with the resources of a larger one. And don’t despair, these companies are out there. Either way, you want to join forces with a company that’s going to treat you and your project as if it were their own, irrespective of size, resources or annual turnover.
Look for signs of this approach early. How are your initial enquiries being followed up? What kind of language is being used? How are you treated during those initial conversations, and later when you’re talking to higher-ups within the company?
How a company treats new and potential customers is often a sign of how they’ll treat you a day, a week or a month down the track. Judge them based on your personal criteria, and choose wisely.
3. An Experienced Management Team
Let’s face it, you want the most skilled and experienced staff members working on your project, right? Which means a large part of your decision is reliant on just how well a company’s development team is managed. It follows that common questions to ask would be ‘Is there a strong leadership within the company?’, or ‘At the end of the day, who will have the final say on hard issues?’.
Experienced, results-driven management teams don’t just sit on the sidelines, instead they offer up new ideas or ways to improve your project because they care about it, and want it to become the success you already know it can be.
Don’t always take this at face value, though. Oftentimes, companies can play the tried-and-tested bait-and-switch. That is, you’ll be lead to believe that senior staff are working on your project, when in reality much of the work is being carried out by subcontractors. Stay vigilant, ask questions, and find the answers you need to make an informed decision.
4. A Reliable Project Management System
A quality electronic design company should be able to show you how they intend to take your ideas from the drawing board to the store shelf, and what it will take to do so, so look for signs of a good project management system within the company. This is one of the most effective ways to circumvent problems before they arise. Questions you need answers to here include:
- How will the process be executed?
- What should I expect during the process?
- How will the project be managed?
- How will activities be tracked and resources allocated in order to meet goals?
- How often will you be updated on progress etc?
Risk management should also be considered. Whether it’s a faulty product, human error, or unforeseen circumstances, even the best companies still suffer from downtime. What separates the good from the bad is their response. So, find out what the company’s risk management policies are like. Ask how your timeline would be affected if something goes wrong at a given stage, and find out what the worst case scenario is if a situation like this does arise.
5. Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork
Documentation is critical for any company, but even moreso for a design company that is rapidly working through numerous hardware, software and design revisions in a short period of time. A trusted electronics design company should be able to provide you with details on this process, including systematic design reviews, change tracking and a detailed project plan that highlights what is required, and when it will be achieved.
Solid quality control is also crucial. A completed product is no good if one in three are falling apart. This is often achieved through robust design verification testing that ensures the products being created are performing to the intended design specifications.
Any company should be able to provide you with a draft or template document that outlines their standard list of procedures, which will then be adapted to fit the specific needs of your project.
6. The People Factor
You may have heard this one before: ‘People buy things because they like the person selling the product.’ And it’s true! Chemistry between a company and those enlisting their services is crucial to the future success of any project. And it’s on this quality alone that you can often differentiate between the good and the great.
It’s here, with a list of potentials in hand, that you need to start evaluating who you’ll be working with within these organisations should you enlist their services – In most cases, this will be the project manager – and get a feeling for just how well you get along with them. Are they the kind of person you can see yourself working with on a regular basis? Do you feel they’re skilled enough to guide your project to completion?
It may seem small, but it’s important to evaluate a firm’s team and their ‘bedside manner’, so to speak, before you sign on. They may get the job done either way, but you don’t want to have to fight, kick, and scream to get there.
7. A Portfolio & References
Who has this company worked with before? What does their portfolio look like? Did they meet the needs of those customers? Did they deliver the product on time, to a high standard, and on budget? These are all important questions that can tell you the quality of a design company.
Like anyone, design companies want to put their best foot forward, so there’s always a chance they’ll cherry-pick their best clients, or showcase beautiful product designs that never left the concept artist’s sketchbook. It’s one thing to conceptualise products, but it’s a whole other thing to successfully commercialise them.
Armed with this knowledge, dig deeper. Find out who else the company has worked with, particularly those within a similar field as your product, and get in touch. Find out how the process went, how successful it was, the ins and outs of the project management, financials, and team chemistry.
Did it succeed in increasing market share or sales? Did it help to position the client within their desired market? This is usually where you’ll find red flags if they’re there, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
8. A Knack For Innovation
The expertise, thinking, processes and ingenuity – not to mention creativity – required to reinvent the wheel rather than just create a variation on a time-honoured design is more than you might think. There’s just no comparison.
If you’re planning on leading the charge on the cutting edge of electronics, look for a product development company that isn’t going to leave you in the lurch at the concept phase. Innovative concepts and swish designs aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if due thought isn’t given to the manufacturability, human factors, profitability and end-user experience.
If they don’t know how to make your idea work, you’re wasting money, so find a company that can take that initial concept all the way across the finish line.
9. Repeat Clients
The sure sign of any successful business is repeat clients. If they’ve done it before? Chances are they can do it again. Switching design companies isn’t cheap or easy, as we’ve explored, so a client deciding to do so points to them being unhappy with whoever they were working with.
With this in mind, seek out companies that consistently work on multiple projects for the same clients. If they’re sticking around for 2, 3 or 4 products (if not more) then this is a sign they’re not just happy with the technical execution, but also the project & financial management, team chemistry, and other deciding factors.
It’s Time To Make Your Choice
Trusting anyone with your best or brightest ideas is a difficult task, which is why choosing the right electronics design company can be such a tough decision to make. Even more so when you’ve already invested so much time and money into conceptualisation, R&D and market research.
The above criteria are just a few of the numerous factors you should consider when making your decision. The size and experience of the company, how they’ve treated past clients – and how they’ll treat you – as well as their eye for innovation are all key factors that need to be considered before you can decide. By keeping these in mind, you’ll ensure your decision will benefit your product, your company, and contribute to its long-term success long after the tools are downed for the last time.