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Finding the Right Contract Design Firm – How Tough Can That Be?

How tough can it be to find the perfect contract design firm for your company or next project? Not at all, once you know to right questions to ask. Start here.

Great Innovation!

They were a start-up medical device company with proof-of-concept funding and a new solution in an existing competitive market. It really was an elegant idea. And because it was conceptualized by people who would actually use the device clinically, it also addressed several key elements that other existing devices had not.

Fast start? Beware! Hazards directly ahead.

Key stakeholders, who knew our expertise, put us together with the company. We talked through their approach and the elements with which we could assist. They were very focused on immediate next steps and refused to take the time to create a roadmap for development.

They needed a design firm. The next call we got was that they had scheduled a meeting with one of the largest one-stop-shop design and manufacturing companies on the planet…locations worldwide! They were thrilled. Unfortunately, this firm was at the opposite end of the spectrum from what we had discussed about finding the right fit. The start-up wanted us to attend the meeting with them, so we did.

We heard about all of the design firm’s amazing capabilities. During our debrief of the meeting, we expressed how and why this was not a fit for them at all. But it didn’t matter to the start-up. They were totally enamored, wrote a large check to dive in.

Three weeks later, when his schedule permitted, we had a kickoff meeting with their project manager.
Within a week the original project manager was pulled off to service a bigger client. Four weeks after that, a new, fill-in and untrained project manager was assigned as all trained project managers were on larger client projects. A new kickoff meeting was scheduled. And one disastrous stall after another. After almost six months, nothing had advanced, and the start-up accepted that they needed to walk away. But the money and time were gone.

How to proceed? We met and reviewed what they needed once again and how we could advance. Our next check in call revealed that they had found an individual with an electrical engineering background who worked out of a shop attached to his garage in a small country town. He had never done a medical device, did not understand the standards or the necessary requirements, and also felt that he could handle the mechanical as well as industrial design aspects himself.

The start-up liked him and were really pleased because they knew that their project would not be passed around like before. But this proved to be a similarly costly disaster. I wish, for the client’s sake, that I was making this up.

A different story – a different approach.

We created a great team with varied backgrounds for establishing the criteria and requirements we were seeking from a contract design firm. And intentionally, one of the team members had extensive product development experience, as well as having managed high tech contract design and manufacturing companies. This team developed a thorough initial roadmap together.

We needed help designing a new medical device with exceptionally unique requirements. We reviewed and visited a great many medical device design firms. Usually before we even had a chance to explain what we needed, the firms were off and running – describing themselves, all of their capabilities, their work methodologies, and their many successes. Endless PowerPoints of Greatness!

Some design firms were located in extravagant buildings with beautiful interiors and meeting rooms. One had a game room with old-style pinball machines, huge monitors for gaming, and other great distractions. This was where all of the innovative thinking took place, they said. Individuals and teams gathered there to really think though projects – sometimes for several weeks before hitting upon their view of a truly amazing approach. Impressive, but did we really want to pay for all that overhead?

Every firm assured us that they would knock the project out of the park! All without really asking any questions. In fairness, we had no doubt that they all did good work for some clients. Almost all had many capabilities. But they had no idea why we were even there.

Through all of their posturing though, we were able to discover enough to discern that none had the appropriate disciplines, nor experience, to even understand our project. All would have failed quite miserably at our expense in time and dollars!

We persisted and did not settle. Eventually, we found exactly what we needed because we started with a plan.

So how can you assure success in your design firm search?

Key questions we always start with are:

  • Who is on your search team and what are their respective backgrounds and experience?
  • Do you have a written plan for what you have to accomplish with this search?
  • Have you listed the requirements and questions you must get answered?
  • What is your timeline for making a decision?
  • What is the desired timeline for the design phase?
  • Do you have some idea of an initial budget?
  • What size firm are you looking for?

Although these look pretty straight forward, all need additional expansion and clarification.

Facing similar challenges? Contact The Yar Group to discuss your unique situation.

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