How to Optimize Design Collaboration for Success

Design is an activity unique to the human species. It’s a creative process requiring a combination of skills exclusive to the domain of humans. These skills are based on our ability to react to our environment with the creation of a tool, device or mechanism. And that enables us to change our lives and environment to better suit our needs.

Historically, individuals have developed significant inventions and designs. Today, however, most products are comprised of complex subsystems requiring specialized skills that can only be fulfilled by specialists. Consequently, successful products represent well-managed product design collaboration. These are individuals who cooperatively work as an integrated team with a common set of design objectives.

This idealized description is the real challenge of any product development program. Like a flavorful food recipe, it requires many good ingredients including a well-thought-out project plan, a competent development team, skilled managers…and some luck.

To begin, the project plan outlines the objectives, resources, schedule and specifications associated with the product. Establishing a clear set of project design objectives is essential for any team product development effort. It provides a beacon of light that directs everyone toward a common vision. This is essential for any collaborative project.

Design project objectives must be resource-evaluated, including funding, staff, expertise, equipment and supplies. Schedules are often governed by cash flow, but they are also influenced by events, crises or market conditions. A well-planned schedule is critical to the success of the project since it can have a major effect on project costs, risk and decisions made throughout the development cycle.

Many software tools are available to assist program managers to develop well-designed GANTT charts or PERT (Program Evaluation Review Technique) charts that provide a roadmap for completing a project.

Project Design Collaboration is Essential: A Competent Development Team

All the planning and strategizing is worthless without a competent development team. Selecting creative, well-educated individuals who can work together by openly exchanging ideas is no easy task. A great development team requires dedicated people who are self-motivated, resourceful and optimistic in their quest to achieve the program objectives. Assembling such a team requires time, and is often based on a selective process that reflects the values or corporate culture of a company.

Design innovations are often the result of the synergy derived from the creative exchange of ideas among individuals within a team. For example, an industrial designer may propose a revolutionary new concept that may include many extremely challenging technical parameters. These challenges could be overcome with competent mechanical engineers, materials experts and manufacturing engineers working together to achieve the desired (and breakthrough) results.

Attaining this type of cooperation is the responsibility of the program manager. It’s his or her responsibility to integrate all the ingredients of a project in a coordinated and efficient process. This collaborative effort maximizes the use of resources within all the project constraints. He or she ideally should be the type of person who accepts responsibility for everyone associated with the project. This person must have integrity, vision, and dedication and, most importantly, be decisive.