Product Development Processes: Exploring the Pros and Cons

Whether you run a startup or you founded a successful company with decades in your given industry, engineering and product development may be at the forefront of what you do. Bringing new products to market is one way that businesses can compete. After all, careers involved in product prototyping (including graphic designers, software developers, mechanical engineers, and others) accounted for 1.2 million jobs nationwide in 2016. In other words, there’s a demand for new and innovative offerings that can improve our lives.

However, getting to the final development stages is no easy task. Even determining the need for a certain product or the basic details of said product can be a challenge. And in many cases, the steps to creating a given product aren’t totally clear.

If all of that sounds familiar, your business could benefit from working with a product development firm. It’s one thing to have incredible ideas; it’s quite another to make them into a reality. All of that starts with identifying the right product development process for your business — and working with a product design and development company that can accommodate those preferences. Whether you need guidance on software design or you’re looking to receive step-by-step assistance on the development of new electronics from a product development firm, understanding the possible processes you might use for developing a new product can be a great place to start.

Waterfall Approaches

Traditional engineering and product development will typically align with “waterfall” approaches. It’s essentially a linear process, meaning that there are specific stages that need to be completed in a certain order before the next one can begin. After a stage is completed, the team generally can’t go back to a previous stage. Instead, movement through the development stages goes in only one forward direction (hence the name “waterfall”). In many cases, there’s a “gate” that exists between each stage, as well; these milestones need to be checked off before moving ahead to the next stage. The original model for waterfall product development featured the phases of product requirements, analysis, design, coding, testing, and operations, but subsequent models have included different variations on the initial process. Usually, waterfall product development approaches are structured as one large project that has well-defined requirements made before beginning any work. Waterfall approaches are used in all kinds of product development, from software and IT to manufacturing and construction.

Waterfall approaches have historically been a popular choice for engineering and product development due to their ease of use. The process is simple to follow and to manage, which also means team members don’t necessarily require any additional training to use it. It’s also a process that’s easy to share with clients. In fact, doing so is actually part of its design. That said, waterfall product development approaches do come with certain limitations. Changes are difficult to accommodate and because the process is so rigid, it can actually be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

Agile Processes

Agile product development processes, as their name might suggest, are more flexible in nature. Agile actually refers to a large category of several different processes, including scrum and Kanban (though there are distinct differences between them). Agile methodology forgoes detailed planning at the beginning of a project, instead favoring to changing requirements based on feedback and knowledge. It’s a more incremental approach that focuses on accountability, communication, and collaboration in order to achieve both the customer’s needs and the internal goals of the organization. Efficiency and frequency are prioritized, as are simplicity, sustainability, and competitive edge.

The adaptability of agile processes is a huge selling point, as are the values of consistent improvement, teamwork, and customer feedback. However, these processes do require highly skilled individuals and increased dedication to product development. By working with product design consulting firms, agile development processes are more likely to produce effective results.

When choosing a methodology for your engineering and product development, one type isn’t necessarily superior to the other. Your decision should be based on the needs of your customers, the capacity of your team, and your ultimate vision for your organization. To learn more about how our engineers can help streamline your company’s product development, please contact us today.