Part 1: When to Hire a Product Development Consulting Firm

I have crucial product development work to do; when should I consider outsourcing it to someone else instead of doing it within my own company?

To begin, let’s look at an example of a partnership success story between Priority Designs and Cannondale. Cannondale had a challenge to defend and enhance their reputation as an innovative industry leader, by unveiling a bold new concept bicycle called the CERV (Continuously Ergonomic Race Vehicle) at the EUROBIKE trade show. Rather than use internal resources to execute this concept, Cannondale decided to utilize the services of Priority Designs because of our ability to integrate industrial design with mechanical engineering and prototyping. The challenge was steep: to design and build an engineering prototype that could dynamically adjust to different terrains (climbing hills vs. descending), to generate concept sketches and design CAD of the internal steering and drivetrain mechanisms, and finally to complete an aesthetic concept model for unveiling at the EUROBIKE show. It would require Priority Designs to simultaneously draw from its decades of product design, engineering, and prototyping experience

Designers at Priority Designs determined how steering and powertrain components could be concealed inside a carbon fiber frame and iterated concepts of a dynamically adjustable bicycle geometry, balancing function with aesthetic judgment and branding consistency. Engineers modified an existing diamond frame bicycle into a linkage-driven front wheel steering prototype. Prototyping specialists chose the most efficient method and best course of action to quickly build the final product, utilizing CNC machining, 3D printing, professional painting, fitting, and assembling skills. Project managers at Priority Designs worked with Cannondale to keep communication open, facilitating partnership throughout the project, and making sure our teams were meeting the goals of the project.

The result was a beautiful, sleek, fully functional concept bicycle that both Cannondale and Priority Designs could be proud of. The project was completed in time for Cannondale to show off the concept at EUROBIKE as desired, resulting in several write-ups across the bicycling industry. You can see Priority Designs’ project synopsis here.

Reasons to Outsource to a Consulting Firm

The Cannondale CERV project is an example of the win-win project that everyone strives for in the product development consulting world. A successful project, resulting in a satisfied client being able to the bring their exciting new concept to life while partnering with a talented consulting firm. However, this story begs a few questions: why would a company like Cannondale seek out an external partner firm like Priority Designs instead of doing the work internally? How does a company select an ideal partner firm once it had determined to outsource the work? There are two main reasons that a company decides to outsource new product development to a consulting firm.

Those reasons are:
1) to save time and money.
2) to gain access to a particular desired skill set.

Reason 1: To Save Time and Money

When faced with an impending timeline challenge that requires more personnel than a company possesses, an obvious solution is to hire more employees. Many companies developing new products take this approach, and it is efficient if the company already has competent product development personnel who have time to train new hires.

However, there are occasions when such internal personnel are not present. If most of a company’s time is spent maintaining and upgrading existing products, then there may not be a need for a large full-time internal staff of product developers. A hiring surge during a time-constrained period may not fix this problem.

If a company is already struggling to complete tasks fast enough, adding more people to the mix can cause a short-term productivity decrease (due to training time) that the company cannot afford. Consulting firms can step into this gap by quickly devoting their veteran team members to solving clients’ problems.

Reason 2: To Gain Access to a Particular Skill Set

What if, instead of a time crunch, the problem is insufficient internal experience or knowledge to complete a project? Perhaps the company has just lost a key team player who has retired or moved on, and the company is trying to back-fill the resulting skills gap.  Alternately, the company could be attempting to break into an entirely new market for which their existing employees’ skills are an incomplete match. In situations like these, a company may decide to reach out to a product development consulting firm for help.

The basis of a consulting firm is to operate as a repository of various skill sets. By utilizing a consulting firm, a company can save a significant portion of the money that would otherwise have disappeared into the inefficiencies and delays associated with learning a new skill. In extreme situations, benefitting from someone else’s knowledge instead of attempting to build an internal silo could mean the difference between a successful and a failed product launch. This is especially true for product development challenges that require in-depth knowledge of niche skill sets like the integration of soft goods with electronics for wearable devices. On the other end of the spectrum, perhaps the skill set required is not any one niche ability so much as a multidisciplinary team and resulting global perspective.

Some product development consulting firms, such as Priority Designs, have the capabilities for each group (industrial design, engineering, consumer research, prototyping, etc.) to collaborate with and benefit from the skills of the other teams within the firm. Finding a single consulting engineer or designer is one thing; finding a team of consultants who have gelled together and become greater than the sum of its parts is another thing altogether. The partnership between Priority Designs and Cannondale embodies this. With sensitivity to maintain their design intent, Priority Designs was able to make their concept a reality by providing industrial design and mechanical engineering input to ultimately create a visionary prototype. Many of our favorite success stories are those which highlight not one department, but all teams contributing equally to a shared vision.

Key Takeaway

There may come a time when new product development work goes beyond your company’s ability to handle. In some cases, it could be due to timeline, or not enough people. To get the work done, outsourcing to a partner firm can help get a tenured team up and running quickly. Hiring a consultant can also be a great solution to accomplish short term work while internal teams manage the ongoing day-to-day product development needs.

In other cases, new ventures may require different skillsets. By hiring a partner with varied expertise and diverse teams, projects that require integration of knowledge and processes can come together like a well oiled machine.

Do one of these challenges sound familiar to you? If you find yourself nodding along, it might be time to think about finding a great partner for the work ahead.

Want to receive new articles and updates? Join our email list.

About The Author

John Mullen, Sr. Engineer
With design experience in a multitude of industries (space satellites, defense, and metal 3D printing, to name a few), John loves taking on new challenges. If he doesn’t know something already, he’s keen to learn more about it, whether it’s component design, assembly design and analysis, assembly/testing, or project management. Outside of work, he makes wooden bows (archery… not hair).