How to Set Up a New Project for Your Design and Engineering Team – Part 1
After many years of setting up projects for our industrial designers and mechanical engineers, here are my thoughts on some basic best practices on how to structure your files and keep your project organized.
Here is the transcript:
Good morning. My name is Montie Roland. I’m with Montie Design in Morrisville, North Carolina.
And this morning what I’d like to talk about is how to structure your project from a file standpoint, from an organizational standpoint.
Montie Design is a full-service design firm in Morrisville, North Carolina. We provide industrial design, mechanical engineering and prototyping capability on demand to help you move your project from concept to ready-for-the-shipping-dock.
It’s always good to have processes and procedures. Now, I think . . . and, of course, any company can take that too far. And the counterpoint is if you take it too far, then you get that big company mentality and you’re painful to deal with. But, a lot of these processes and procedures benefit the company. I’ll be the first to admit that, as we’ve grown, we’ve . . . I’ve not been the biggest proponent of procedure and process, because, as a small group, you get everybody reading your mind and you don’t have to worry about it. But . . . this changes as you have more employees, because you have different levels, different capabilities, you have to keep re-training. And so, all of a sudden, it’s more important to have policies and procedures just to make life easier for your staff.
It’s also important when you think about interns. You’ve got someone’s who’s going to be there for a limited amount of time. You want to get them in, get them trained, and get them some experience; and then also get some work product completed so it’s a win-win for both the employer and for the intern.
So, let’s just dive in. A lot of these topics I’ve covered in past podcasts were much more . . . higher level. And so, this case, though, I want to dive in and let’s talk about this in detail.
So, first thing is that when you think about how do you organize your files. You want to have a place that everybody can get to. So, let’s say . . . let’s call it the “Z-drive”. And on the Z-drive, you have a space that is a shared working space. Now, what you need is you need a set of rules so everybody knows what to do. On a project where there’s more than one contributor, you really want to have a gatekeeper. So, the gatekeeper is in charge of files that go in certain locations. One is that files that go in current design and the other is files that go in your release directories. So, let’s kind of roll through those directories so I don’t get too far ahead of myself.
So, we’ve got a project direction. Let’s say our project is Zigsess (spell that one). And so, we got the . . . so I created a directory in this case . . . maybe for the client Zigsess. And then I have to make a decision. Is it likely I’m going to have multiple projects from this client? Or is it likely that I might just have . . . one. Or, not now . . . So maybe what I’ll do . . . I’m thinking that this might be a repeat client. So, let’s say that, if it is, then I’m going to want to have a directory for each project that we do for that client. So, we’ve got a directory called “Clients”; and then the client name. And then underneath that, let’s say Project A is the Vertical Inductor. So, we create a directory called “Vertical Inductor”. Alright. And under Vertical Inductor, we’ve got several directories. And what we try to do is keep these file names the same so that it’s consistent for everybody. Otherwise, you run the risk of people not knowing where the correct file is, which could be really, really bad. Because if you don’t maintain control over where files are placed, then you end up with names like . . . “12 February ’04”; “13 February ’04”; “29 November”; or, “Latest”; “Latest Old”, “Latest New”. So, you can imagine that someone stepping in who isn’t the person who created those directories is not going to have a clue which is the correct set of files. Same thing for the person who created them comes back six months’ later, may go, “Ah . . . I don’t know.” And the scary part is you might grab the wrong files. Let’s say you grab the wrong files and made some parts. You just made some scrap metal, potentially. Or worse than that, it may take you a while to figure out what’s scrap metal and what’s not, and that may be more expensive than just doing the whole thing again. So, in order to avoid that entanglement, what we do is to have a directory called “Current Design”. Current Design is the working directory. After the project’s over, the files in Current Design, theoretically, should be the latest, but may or may not. So, then . . . while the projects active, Current Design should always have the up-to-date files. And that’s not necessarily released, but that’s the current working files. And by working files, it means the ones you’re working on; maybe if you just released and maybe those are the latest (same as the released). But if you’re between releases and your current design is your . . . is the directory that you’re using to pull files out of.
Now, once you get a lot of hands working on a project, it’s always good to have a gatekeeper. And the gatekeeper is the person that controls what goes in Current Design. So, he may have ten people providing files to him; then he turns around and puts those in Current Design.
We also have a directory called “Released”. Released contains files that have been released. And what released means is its gone out to the vendor. Because most of the time we’re operating in a development mode, our release policies may be a little different than your released policies in a large manufacturing facility. Or in any manufacturing facility. Because what we do is every time a drawing goes out to a vendor, we bump up the Rev. In absence of a specific revision policy, what we do is we go up by numbers. So, we’ve got a part number, and then the revision starts at 00; goes to 01, 02, 03, 04, 05. So, we can have a release at 07 or release at 12, a release at 99.
So, one of the things is I think it’s important to keep in mind is that your revision number structure is something that someone eventually picks. And as long as it works for you it just doesn’t matter. It just needs to be consistent. You can do A.1, A.2; we’ve seen that. You can do . . . a major release as A, a minor release is numerical. So, it could be A.01 or A01. We just think it’s easier just to use 01, 02, 03, 04.
Now, whenever we release a drawing to a vendor, or send it out to someone who . . . may use that to make a part, then, if we make changes to that drawing, we revise that drawing. If the change is very, very small, i.e., does not affect the final result that you get back (and maybe it’s not rev’d at that point) . . . so, for example, if you add a comma to a note that cannot possibly affect the outcome of the part (it’s just to fix some grammar), then maybe you don’t release that if you’re in the middle of development. At the end of a project, everybody has drawings; I’m sure you’ll need to rev that.
So, the release directory . . . so, we’ve got a directory called Released, under our Induction directory. And so then underneath that, we’ll have “Rev (R-E-V) 01”. And so that’s our first release, when we first send out drawings to someone, or to the client, call it Rev 01. The next time we have a release, we’ll call it “Rev 02”. It’s important to note that part numbers and assembly-drawn numbers may not necessarily align with this Rev 02, Rev 03; it just means it’s the next time we released a set of drawings. Now, it may (depending on the client, depending on the client’s needs) there is a possibility that we may rev the assembly to match the top level assembly to match that revision in the directory. It kind of depends on where we are on the development process. But that way you always know that here is the latest and greatest that we’ve sent out. The . . . Release directory also gives you a historical reference for what you’re working on. So, that way you can go back and look at earlier versions of files if you need to. Hopefully you never need to, but if you have a corrupted set of files, or something along those lines, you could.
We also create “Concept” directories. And that Concept directories will then have sub-directories underneath that indicating which part of the project. So, maybe if you did . . . sketches for the rear-mount, or the fascia, they might have separate directories. Usually we name concept sketches by date, which seems to work well, but that’s up to you. So, usually what we’ll do . . . so, we’ll do “2014 Sept 24 – “ and then the name of the concept . . . “Rounded Fascia Concept”, not PDF or what-have-you.
If you have any questions about this, please don’t hesitate to give me a call. It’s kind of a long section here and technical, but happy to entertain your calls, questions. It’s 1-800-722-7987. That’s Montie Roland. Email – montie (M-O-N-T-I-E)@montie(M-O-N-T-I-E).com. Or you can visit our website – www.montie.com. You can see the results of client work we’ve done at the montie.com website. Or you can see some of our projects that we’ve done for ourselves at montiegear (M-O-N-T-I-E-G-E-A-R).com.
I hope this has been beneficial. Montie Roland, signing out.
What Do World-Class Design and Profitability Have in Common? (continued)
Who made the decision to concentrate so much engineering and design effort on the door? Who made the decision to concentrate effort on the handle and the blade, not just tweaking a centuries-old design? In smaller companies, many of these decisions are not addressed by marketing and end up being shrugged off onto engineering. The problem is that engineers are usually better at meeting specifications than prioritizing softer issues (such as look, feel and usability). In larger companies, the bridge between marketing and engineering often comes in the form of an industrial design group. In smaller companies the industrial design portion of the development process is often neglected. The result is often products that are specification-centric instead of user-centric.
As demonstrated by the Oxo knives, user-centric products aren’t limited to high-end luxury products. User-centric products tend to build loyal customer bases and repeat sales. The key element in developing a user-centric product is to insert the task of industrial design into your design and development process. Industrial designers take into account the various issues of function, form, available technology, manufacturing cost and users to synthesize a design. The external appearance is only a small part of the industrial design process. This is also the part of the design process where the vast majority of the product innovation occurs. By looking at the product wholistically, the design team gets a glimpse of the entire life cycle of the product. This is a step in the design process that has a tremendous amount of impact on the economical manufacturability of the product and the success of the product in the marketplace. A well-executed initial product concept leads to drastically improved manufacturability and usability.
Today’s reality is that products are becoming more sophisticated. Sophistication can come in many forms, such as advanced technology. Sophistication can also come in the form of a more usable or more visually attractive design. So even a technologically unsophisticated product can benefit from a more robust design process. Making your products better and more successful may be easier than you think. Investing in world-class design to ensure product profitability is key in a cautious economy.
Montie W. Roland is the President of Montie Design, a product development and industrial design firm headquartered in Morrisville, North Carolina. Montie can be reached at 1-800-722-7987, www.montie.com, or email@example.com.
What Do World-Class Design and Profitability Have in Common?
by Montie W. Roland,
President, Montie Design
In today’s uncertain economy many companies and consumers delay purchasing even high priority items. With corporate expenditures at a low, just being competitive is not enough. If a new product is to succeed, it must be compelling.
In good economic times the perceived need for industrial design often decreases. Instead, the emphasis shifts to issues that engineers place as priority, revolving around specifications and meeting legacy requirements. If a product doesn’t meet the customer’s requirements it will not succeed in the marketplace. However, if we don’t look at the product wholistically the purpose of the product – to serve the user – may get lost in the rush to get the product out the door.
“Good Enough” is a phrase that makes many engineers wince. When we go to engineering school we are taught to do exact calculations. The engineer can then apply tolerance to a nominal value and see if the calculated value falls in the acceptable range. Unfortunately, many of the variables and issues inherent to product design are not easily quantifiable. It is often a struggle to determine what is truly important to the user and to the marketplace. When specifications are challenged, it is common to either find legacy specifications that are no longer relevant or specifications that greatly exceed the end user’s real needs.
Product managers must take a critical look at every line in a specification. They must also be willing to expand their expectations and create wish lists. Items on wish lists are often easy to incorporate into a product if they are known about at the beginning of the design cycle. These are some of the reasons why the dialogue between the product manager and the members of the design group is so important. Unfortunately, many design groups spend a large portion of their time and effort trying to meet irrelevant specifications, while never even attempting to include valuable features that could be inexpensively added if they had known about them up front.
An example is shutting a car door. Anyone who commutes to work opens and closes their car door at least four times a day. If you multiply that by the number of days in the year and then by 60 years, you find out that you will probably open and close a car door more than eighty-seven thousand times in your life.
Now imagine going to the car dealer. You get out of your Yugo and shut the door behind you. You walk across the parking lot and open the door to a brand new Lexus. Will you notice the difference in how the Lexus door opens and closes? The answer is YES! You may not stop to think about the differences such as the weight of the door, the silky motion and the smooth closing action of the door catch. However, you will definitely notice the Lexus’ luxurious feel.
Both car doors meet the basic functional requirements. They open and close with a single motion. They keep the rain out and provide the user with a sense of isolation from the outside world. Both doors have windows that raise and lower. However, there are some significant design differences. The Lexus’ door is much heavier and sits on more precise hinges. The Lexus has electric window lifts. The Lexus door is much thicker and has better sound insulation. Even the door handle and door latch action on the Lexus are significantly smoother. In a luxury car, great care is taken in how the door looks, feels and operates. Those subtle differences are part of the reason why marketers of the Lexus are able to justify the cost difference between the Lexus and other vehicles. Now imagine what it would mean to the sales of your product if you were able to differentiate your product as dramatically in its market space!
Another example is the Oxo Good Grips utility knife. The knife was designed for Oxo International by an industrial design firm. Since the introduction of the Good Grips knife, there has been a trend to more user-centric knives. Why was this knife so successful in a very crowded and very mature market space? Was it because of the fact that the handle of the knife was soft, easy-to-clean, ergonomically-designed and very comfortable-to-use when marketed against hard, wooden-handled knives which haven’t changed for hundreds of years? The answer is a resounding no! The knife combined all these wonderful traits with a state-of-the-art blade that was incredibly sharp. Its success wasn’t just because of some really cool handle design, but because it does its job incredibly well. It is easily useable by the widest possible range of people. The industrial designers worked with the engineers to create a superb product from the ground up. There were no racing stripes added at the last minute for market pizazz. Just a product designed, from the beginning, to do its job superbly well.
Would a traditional, wooden-handled knife with the same blade technology as the Oxo knife have been as successful? Would it have gained the same amount of market share in the same short period of time? The combination of great engineering and great industrial design resulted in a knife that worked so well that it established an entirely new genre of knives in a crowded and very mature market. The finished product gave consumers a compelling reason to purchase this knife. The Oxo type of success is what we want you to achieve for your new product.
Montie W. Roland is the President of Montie Design, a product development and industrial design firm headquartered in Morrisville, North Carolina. Montie can be reached at 1-800-722-7987, www.montie.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Customer Feedback – Up-Close and Personal
Product reviews (especially online) are increasingly important in helping customers make purchasing decisions. A study by CompUSA and iPerections discovered 63% of consumers indicate they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews. According to a Forrester study, 71% of online shoppers read reviews, making it the most widely read consumer-generated content.
The beauty of the internet is that even small companies can integrate online reviews into their website. Companies such as RatePoint (www.ratepoint.com) provided neutral, third party management of online reviews. They also provide tools (called Widgets) that simplify the integration of the collection and display of customer reviews into the seller’s website. We use RatePoint as a way to give our clients an outlet to rate the services and products from Montie Design.
Customer reviews are a great way to encourage sales, especially of a new product. However, you have to have sales to have customers who can write the reviews. Strategic users are the early adopters (often cultivated by the product manufacturer) who test the product and write a review. These reviews help drive customer sales and they also help encourage resellers and distributors to carry the product.
Strategic users can include writers and product evaluators for magazines and blogs. Thought leaders in the industry are also candidates for strategic users. Anyone who is in a position to influence the opinion of the marketspace is a possible strategic user. Carefully selecting the strategic users and getting product in their hands is an effective to way to begin to shaping the opinion of the marketspace as early as possible. The reviews generated by the strategic users should be a planned part of your public relations strategy. Excerpts from the reviews can also be used in your advertising campaign. The links from published reviews also help drive traffic to your website. A potentially bigger benefit occurs as the links drive up the PageRank of your website and help potential customers find the product through search engine results.
Earlier this year we launched a product called the X-Rest. Part of our launch strategy for the X-Rest shooting rest involved identifying strategic users to evaluate the product and help form a positive opinion of the X-Rest within the shooting community.
Here are some rules for soliciting reviews from strategic users:
* don’t interfere with the review process, it has to be honest and genuine
* stay open to criticism, not all reviews are 100% positive, bad reviews can lead to great product improvements
* look for new ways that users interpret how they should use the product and find new markets
* have faith in your customers, they have a perspective that can help you create even better products
The following is an example of a review from one of our strategic users:
FIELD-TESTING THE X-REST
By: Peter J. Kolovos
INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND:
Peter J. Kolovos, was a Deputy Sheriff with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department in Illinois, before retiring. He has been involved in the shooting sports for well over 40 years. He is currently the Secretary-Treasurer and Director of Training for the North Suburban Police Pistol League, Inc. With over 200 members, the NSPPL, is probably one the largest police shooting clubs in the country.
His credentials are many but my most noteworthy are the following: Pete is a highly competitive rifle and pistol shooter. He is Certified as a Rifle Coach (Level-2) and a Pistol Coach (Level-3) with the National Rifle Association. He is a NRA Training Counselor and Certified Instructor in several shooting disciplines. Pete has been certified as a Police Firearms & Sub-Machinegun Instructor with the State of Illinois. He attended the FBI’s Sniper/Observer School in 1994, and shot a perfect score during the final qualification course. He has hunted extensively in 15 states including Alaska, and has hunted in Canada.
The first thing I noticed when I received my sample of the X-Rest, was how compact and light weight the unit was. Made of Aluminum, it came nicely tucked into a 14.5” x 4.5” digital Camo carrying bag with a draw string closure. The disassembled unit was approximately one-inch thick.
Each of the unit’s three legs measured out at 9” x 1.5”. The legs join together through a rectangular slot in two of the sections and are held in place by the third leg which has a half-round section with a hole in it, and a pin which is attached to the main section via a split ring affixed to a short length of plastic coated wire cable. This system virtually guarantees that you’ll never lose the joining pin even in rough conditions. I also liked the fact that it was made in the USA.
Once the three sections are assembled, the rest seemed extremely steady. The cross sections, where you’d lay your rifle measured out at approximately six-inches high, making it best suited for either Bench or Prone work. Both of the cross-sections that actually formed the cradle seemed to have an ample amount of a protective rubber coating applied them to keep the rifle steady and to aid in protecting the rifle stock from being damaged during recoil.
INITIAL RANGE SESSION:
On Sunday, May 31, 2009, I took the “X-Rest” to the Racine County Line Rifle Club which is located in Racine, Wisconsin. My club was holding it’s monthly F-Class rifle match, so I would be able to better evaluate the rest at distance from the Prone position. The weather was overcast as we had a lot of precipitation during the last week. The ground was still somewhat soft from all the rain we had, so these conditions would prove interesting for the “X-Rest”.
RANGE SESSION EVALUATION:
Being that I would personally use a this rest for Predator hunting, I chose a Remington Model 700 Varmint, bolt-action rifle chambered in .223 Remington for the evaluation. This particular rifle was equipped with a 6.5 x 20 power Leupold target scope.
I set up the “X-Rest” at the 300 yard line, placed a small sand bag near the toe of the stock, took careful aim and fired. Since I wanted to be totally impartial from the get-go, I decided that if I muffed a particular shot I would not consider it as part of the evaluation. I would only consider the shots that I felt I broke cleanly.
I fired twenty (20) rounds at this distance and put all of the called shots just under a minute of angle (three-inch group at 300 yards), which is exactly what I was hoping for. I only muffed two of the rounds. Several other members then gave the rest a try and we also quite impressed with it’s construction and how steady the rest was.
This neat little rest is simple, well made, and quite solid when assembled. I feel it definitely has some law enforcement and military applications, as well as the civilian market. This is a nice item for someone who’d like to have a portable rest available but not necessarily have a Bi-pod constantly attached to their rifles. This would be a most excellent tool for a Rancher, or a Predator hunter. It is also a very nice item for the casual shooter who’d like to have a solid rest to sight in their rifles but don’t necessarily want to pay several hundred dollars to do so.
If I were a school teacher I’d give the X-Rest a solid “B+” for it’s innovation, light weight, ease transport and of assembly. My only recommendation would be to dip the lower part of the legs in some type of non-slip coating to resist scratching a vehicle’s paint-job if it were placed on top of the roof or hood.
Peter J. Kolovos
——— End of Review ———–
Reviewers can connect with potential customers in a very intimate way through an honest evaluation of the product. Reviews build trust in your product. Small flaws in grammar or composition in the review help convince that the reader that the review was not a corporate fabrication from a paid talking head, but rather an honest evaluation from someone they can trust. Less than stellar reviews are often more believable that glowing reviews. Customers understand that no product is perfect and can be suspicious when reviews are overly flattering.
Product reviews are part of the precious dialog between you and your customers. Embracing user reviews can give you an advantage over your competition. Finding strategic users is the first step in encouraging the creation of third party reviews. The next step is to get your product in their hands for them to test and evaluate. Trust them to take it from there, using their reviews they create as a part of your website, public relations and marketing campaigns. After all, you worked so hard to get that product out to the market, now is the time to let the strategic users tell potential customers what a great product you’ve created.
Give me a call, or send me an email, if this was helpful or if you have topics that you would like to see in future updates. Don’t forget to call when you are ready for us to contribute to the success of your project!
President -Montie Design
About Montie Design
Montie Design is a collaborative product design and development firm with core competencies in industrial design, mechanical design and fuzzy front end services. Implementing a client-centric approach in taking products from concept to marketplace, Montie Design balances vision with usability in realizing products that are economical to manufacture, elegant and robust. The firm operates out of the Research Triangle Park region of North Carolina with access to industry-leading technology, resources and innovative thought. For more information, visit www.montie.com.