Design for Manufacturing

“Begin with the End in Mind.” This well-known Steve Covey habit is especially true during product development. I recently had the opportunity to speak about the early stages of product design at the Design for Manufacturing (DFM) Summit in Brooklyn, NY, discussing that without a clear understanding of product requirements from the start (as viewed from ALL stakeholder’s perspectives) most products are doomed to fail. And one of the biggest failure points happens when a large stakeholder, the manufacturer, is unable to manufacture efficiently.

Let’s take a closer look at Design for Manufacturing

Design for Manufacturing (DFM) philosophies tell us to design our products proactively, optimizing all manufacturing functions. The right process involves creating a productization plan before digging into the engineering and design, which forces us to address all requirements and trade-offs early on. But even though we all know we should be doing this, turning it into practice is a whole other story.

Let’s be honest. We only want to work on the “cool” and interesting parts of a design. We absolutely love creating things that add value to the lives of others, yet don’t want to do the grunt work to make it real. And it gets even harder when we’re working on a product that really piques our interest.

NixieFor example, take a product we are working on at IPS called Nixie. Nixie is a tiny wearable camera that can fly. It is worn as a wristband and when prompted the wrist straps unfold to create a quadcopter that flies to take photos or video, then comes back to you.

Our instinct is to dive right into the cool parts of the design, and skip over the productization planning. When anxious, excited entrepreneurs come to us looking for design help with their product, we’re forced to explain that first, we have to help them extract and document all requirements. Only then can we help them with the “fun” part of detailed work. This is especially true when it comes to applying design for manufacturing principles.

For example, with Nixie we first studied use cases to discover what technical challenges might occur. Here’s where rapid prototyping techniques really shine to push the envelope and also where one can find real, true innovations and align use cases with the technical challenges. Here are some examples:

  • Form factor – This is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the design; figuring out the practical requirements for ergonomics and performance.
  • Regulation – Involvement with the FAA might be necessary and could cause a whole host of additional safety and compliance requirements.

  • Safety and Navigation – Figuring out the safety aspects of navigation clearly generate several complex requirements for Nixie.
  • Image quality – Especially for video, we need to fully understand the requirements and feasibility of stable, jitter-free video capture. This requirement (like most technical requirements) needs to be quantifiable.
  • Materials Selection – It’s very tricky to find the right material to be rigid during flight yet flexible for your wrist, all while being very lightweight, flight friendly, crash resistant and hypoallergenic. But its also got to look GREAT. After all, people will be wearing Nixie!

Done right, there’s no reason why design for manufacturing principles can’t be completely compatible with the coolest, sleekest and most delightful products on the market.


Great product ideas surface every day. Sketches are drawn, teams are formed, new companies are born, business plans are written and everybody gets to work. The product varies – it could be a physical product, software, a new service or a complete solution – but the goal is always the same. A successful product.

Enthused entrepreneurs frequently delve right into the design and development process, often misunderstanding the importance of asking the critical question: Exactly what am I designing and producing?  Design teams may have well developed concepts, great sketches and lots of documented features ideas. But without a formal Productization Plan clearly delineating the required product features, use cases, user interface requirements, technical components (and other key considerations described below), the product development process is destined to undergo costly pitfalls, creating strain between developers and their customers, employees, and investors.  It is often difficult to recover from these unexpected glitches – especially for a startup, but for larger entities as well. Lack of this Plan is why many product developments fail.

A good way to understand Productization Plans are to first describe what they aren’t:

Productization Plans do not address “why”

Product requirements are often confused with product strategy. The strategy comes first, with roadmaps and business plans. Addressable markets, potential customers, financial models and competitive analyses. None of these activities drive the detailed product requirements.

Productization Plans do not address “how”

Product requirements are also confused with technical documentation. Documenting how something is designed –  its drawings, theory of operation, calculations, etc. does not explain the requirements. Often teams try to distill the requirements from how something works (or is supposed to work) but this ultimately leaves requirement gaps.

And then, what they are:

Productization Plans DO address “what”

The Plan defines the exact product requirements from the user’s perspective.  Here’s a great outline and summary of necessary content for a Productization Plan:

  • Executive Summary:  Briefly describe the product, the customers, how it is used, and the value it adds.  All of this should already be contained in your strategy.
  • Use Cases: Describe every possible way your product will be used by every kind of user.  Users are not always just your end customers, but could be support and manufacturing personnel along the way.
  • Human Factors:  Describe all the aspects of the product that interface with a user.  Ergonomics, buttons, shapes, graphics, look and feel, colors, texture, branding, sizing, layout, etc. 
  • Technical Definition:  Describe the technical aspects that are required.  Be careful to avoid actual design work in this section.  Examples may include operating systems, microprocessor performance, memory footprints, wireless connectivity, interfaces, etc.
  • Accessories and Peripherals:  Describe the ecosystem in which the product will exist. 
  • Manufacturing:  Discuss features in the product intended for manufacture, testing, modularity, scalability, etc.
  • Environmental:  Specify all of the environments the product must survive, including sealing, temperature, vibration, drop, shock, etc.
  • Regulatory:  Think through all the regulations the product must pass.  Some regulations are required by law while others are demanded by the market.  This includes UL, FDA, CE, and FCC regulations.
  • Quality:  Determine the quality and reliability of the product, explaining the typical lifecycle and obsolesce model.  Discuss warranty and mean time between failures.

Products fail for a number of reasons.  Sometimes the strategy is wrong, other times the technical execution is subpar. Often the up-front market analyses and user studies have not been thorough or aren’t current. Thorough productization planning won’t solve these underlying issues.  But quite often, the failure to properly define the requirements up front is the main reason some amazing products never seeing the light of day.

Coupled with great strategy and execution, products that create a Plan enjoy a much greater chance of being successful. While no one has a crystal ball to predict everything that can go wrong, the Plan can help mitigate those risks. Ironically, creating the Plan usually takes only a few weeks depending on the complexity. But it reduces significant waste and resource inefficiencies down the road. When your clients, engineers, designers, investors – all your stakeholders — have the Plan spelled out in front of them, the professionally executed Productization Plan brings refreshing clarity to an otherwise difficult process. Fewer Surprises =  A Happier, More Successful Process.


Critical thinking techniques teach us to be very mindful of our own cognitive biases. Unfortunately, these biases are rooted in human nature and are hard to overcome, but being aware of them is our first defense.

Have you ever completely missed the mark on an important project? Or witnessed others make bad decisions that seriously impact your company? While we all wonder why things go terribly wrong, it’s also wise to consider why things go absolutely fantastic. The answer usually boils down to the quality of decision-making. Great decision makers know how to really think about a problem, and actually learn about how to think better!

Suppose requirements change halfway through your project causing serious ramifications. What do you do? Most of us would react with “course corrections,” trying to adapt what we’ve already done. Maybe the schematics already drawn, the financial analysis is already complete, marketing materials are already printed. We become blinded to the fact that starting over, or at least taking a few steps back, might actually be better! Whether you are an investor, manager, engineer, politician, or a gambler, this phenomenon called the sunk cost effect, is sure to get you. First demonstrated by Barry Straw in 1976, he showed how people naturally, “…escalate commitment to a course of action where they have made substantial prior investments in time, money or resources.” So next time you’re faced with a situation that requires a change, try to step back and make sure you’re not suffering from previous sunk costs! Would you make the same decision if you were starting the process today?

Do you know someone with “selective memory?” The kind who only remembers certain parts of what they hear. Maybe your spouse or friends accuse you of behaving this way? One of the most prevalent biases in the world, the confirmation bias is to blame. Defined as “The tendency of people to favor [or remember] information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.” It can infect every decision you make.

Managers performing job interviews can easily fall victim to their own biases. They may be so desperate to fill positions that they subconsciously ask only questions that support the candidate (confirmation bias). And starting over after a “so-so” 3rd interview is painful (sunk cost), so sometimes the wrong person is hired and the company suffers.

So how can we combat these biases in our decision-making?
1) Be aware of them – try to reflect on past work or known mistakes to see where you may be vulnerable.
2) Seek out contrary evidence by looking for answers that you don’t necessarily “want” to hear and learn more critical thinking skills.
3) Create or look for a group that engages in candid dialogue and vigorous debate to become more comfortable dealing effectively with conflicting or contrary information.
4) Identify and tap into unbiased experts for feedback and assistance.


Professional Engineer Magazine recently referenced this 1922 chart “Essential Qualities of an Executive.”

For starters, some of the words here definitely sound odd in 2013 – e.g. does anyone still use the word ‘industry’ to describe perseverance? Also, an exhaustive online search yielded not one definition for ‘domination of will’ but it sounds kind of scary. Maybe they meant ‘persuasiveness’. But weird words notwithstanding, the importance of exhibiting the above listed qualities in the workplace still rings true — even 90+ years later. One thing that has changed since 1922 is that these qualities are now required of all professionals, not just executives.

It’s fun to consider the list and reflect on how we think we stack up to it as individuals. For services companies and consultants, it’s even more important to understand how your entire organization stands this test of quality. Whether you’re a product design firm, law firm or a cleaning company, if your products are your people and the services they provide, then these qualities must always be evident individually and collectively. At my company IPS we continually hold ourselves to these standards in our behavior towards each other and towards everyone we encounter outside the company.

In 1922, the Professional Engineers were encouraged to ‘Study this table for suggestions’. How do you and your company strive to maintain these “Essential Qualities”?