The CEO of a sizeable tech startup recently presented their latest product to me, a marvel of engineering that had taken millions of dollars to develop. When I asked what the plans were for this product, I was horrified to learn that it had been shelved because it was too expensive to make. So, I asked, “Why didn’t you cost it to begin with?” to which they answered, “Can you do that?”

The fact is, we live in a competitive world where the expectations of users are extremely high. They have been spoiled by decades of incredible product design and they demand that your product will be as good if not better than the rest. But it only takes one negative characteristic, a single misstep, and your product is likely to be unsuccessful. So why is it that so many designers and engineers rush into development without fully considering the critical factors vital for their product’s success?

The key characteristic of a brilliant product is as much about “designing the right product” as it is about “designing the product right.” I’m going to share a few insights I have gained over the past 25 years in product development that, if followed, will not only lead to outstanding products but will also save you time and money along the way.

User Needs

What does success look like for you? For some, success is about making life easier, more productive or more fun. It can be about connecting people, providing meaning or delivering better health outcomes. It can also be about making money which can be used for all the above.

There is nothing wrong with any of these drivers. However, before embarking on your next product development, consider what success looks like for you, your company and your stakeholders. Then, use this information to guide what you prioritize in your product design. Chances are that, to a large degree, your success will align with what users think about your product. It’s within this context that you need to consider “who” your users are, “what” they need and “why.”


Once you have understood your user’s needs, the next step is to translate them into engineering requirements compiled as a written specification. Good engineering requirements are unambiguous, comprehensive, achievable and measurable. To ensure your requirements are achievable, you will want to develop them in conjunction with sound engineering that investigates risk areas and addresses key technical and commercial questions. Once defined, the specification should be used to direct your product’s design.

It’s important for your team to maintain critical thinking and to update requirements as they innovate and learn new things.


The further along in the development process you are, the more costly it is to make changes and the harder it will be to pivot. For this reason, it’s vital to assess everything critical to your product’s feasibility as soon as possible. Assess your technologies, select your key components, estimate your power consumption, confirm your functionality, estimate your product size and confirm; usability, manufacturability, reliability, serviceability, aesthetic and any applicable regulatory standards.

It’s critical to know what can be achieved and understand the trade-offs. In many cases, you can do this early on using simulation, analysis, estimation and concept modeling.


Imagine designing your first home. No one would sensibly say to their builder, “Please build me a house,” and not provide an architectural plan. A plan is even more essential for products that are even more complex. Effective planning involves formulating at least a high-level architecture of how the various parts of your product will go together and interoperate. This may involve defining interfaces, functions and components.

Planning is an important part of the development process because it guides the product’s design, reduces unnecessary iteration and ultimately saves time and money.


Once your planning is complete, it’s now time to begin detailing your design. Draw your schematics, lay out your PCBs, draft your enclosures and write and compile your code. The result of this should be a design that you can make, leading to the construction of functional prototypes. These prototypes need to be high-quality and representative of the final production units. If they are not, then you risk missing design issues and multiplying them 1,000-fold during production.


Now that your prototypes are ready and working, you can begin to comprehensively verify your design. This involves testing your product against your specifications. Verification can involve rigorous bench testing, life-cycle testing, compliance testing and various trials. You will want to fully document your testing process, results and conclusions so that you can prove the testing was conducted and repeated if required.

It’s not uncommon to uncover issues during prototype testing, but the good news is that every issue you uncover is one that your users will never see.


With your new verified prototypes in hand, it’s now time to prepare for production. This involves compiling a package that clearly and systematically identifies the relevant documents and files that your manufacturer needs. If you plan to manufacture in volume, you should consider developing automated production test systems and jigs that ensure each product works as intended as it comes off the line. This is how you can ensure quality, whilst also reducing costly manual labor.

Treat your first production run like you would any part of the development process and allow room for errors and time to refine your process.


So, there you have it! You have determined the elements which are fundamental to your product’s success, defined your requirements based on user needs, confirmed technical and commercial feasibility, prototyped and verified your product and prepared it for production. Whether you are an industry-leading CEO, a design engineer or an entrepreneur, this approach will help launch your product on a path to commercial success.

Copyright (©) 2023 Forbes Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved