Can Enterprises do Nimble Product Development like Start-ups?
Andrew Wheeler posted on March 31, 2015 |

Large product development teams are looking over their shoulders these days. That doesn’t always help, because the competition isn’t coming from the usual directions.

Not long ago you knew who your competitors were. Now, disruptive start-ups can change the game by introducing a product that takes your market in a whole new direction.

Tesla is an extreme example. Who was expecting a new start-up in the auto industry? Tesla’s innovation isn’t just about an electronic drive train. Their upgradeable car concept also changes how customers think about their entire lifecycle experience with a car.

How do start-ups generate and iterate product development ideas that are so different? One of the things they do differently is they unshackle themselves from legacy IT systems. Instead, they rapidly adopt software-as-a-service solutions that are Internet-based. These platforms have collaboration inherently built-in, and that can make all the difference in product development.

Start-ups don’t have to deal with the rules of an internal IT department

Start-up teams launch virtually all aspects of their critical business systems on the Cloud. Security concerns aren’t pressing enough to deter them from using cloud-based storage for company documents, email, VoIP, shared documents, calendars, design elements, as well as working versions of company code.

Three big reasons for adopting cloud-based systems are i) quick set-up, ii) ease-of-use and iii) collaboration. Cloud services enable teams to work remotely and communicate effectively. This means marketing files, administrative files, product models and code are being hosted over a cloud server with version control being used to manage and monitor access.

Compared to a cloud solution, on-premise applications take way too many resources to select, wait for, and configure once they arrive. They are also more difficult to change once configured and set up. With CAD on the cloud, for example, teams can include collaborators using an integrated design management tool that manages branching and merging way more efficiently than naming variants by hand. By identifying which components of an assembly have been changed and what have stayed same, the user can manage and merge the branches back together in a very UI friendly way.

Broader collaboration early in the process leads to better products

Remote access is a game changer when companies need to share design concepts widely and quickly. Teams using cloud-solutions can share with people who you wouldn’t normally consider part of the team – people in Finance or in Customer Service. And start-ups almost always extend collaboration beyond their internal teams. They access the expertise they need when they need it. Cloud-based solutions make that possible by opening up and shutting down access to documentation on the fly.

Opening up your product development processes in the concept stage is not an incremental difference. It’s a sea change. Bringing in expertise from different people can add perspective to the entire product lifecycle, rather than just the physical product. People outside the industrial design or engineering teams ask questions we often would rather not hear like, “How can I monitor this from my smartphone?” or “Why can’t we offer a guaranteed up-time for this machine?”

This is not a pleasant experience for most enterprise product development teams. They don’t want to deal with these sorts of questions. But to be nimble like a start-up, enterprise teams have to take a whole-product view. That cultural shift is difficult, which is why so many enterprises shy away from it until it is too late.

Cloud vendors are developing enterprise-ready solutions

According to analysts like Forrester Research, SaaS vendors will continue to focus on vertical expansions that appeal to enterprise customers. CIMdata’s Stan Przybylinski points out that the, “subscription-based business model of cloud services makes it very tough for an IT team to maintain control. If a manager in a multi-national enterprise wants to set up a pilot project, they can do so with only a browser and a credit card.” Companies like Workday are offering enterprise applications, and Salesforce is continuing to add enterprise analytics to their CRM system. They are also making collaboration over mobile devices easier and more powerful.

On the product development side, cloud-based programs like Autodesk Fusion 360, allow product development teams in start-ups and enterprises alike to share and collaborate on design concepts with virtually anyone in or outside of their companies.

Cloud based services for product design offer some additional advantages, such as automatically storing all of the design history and product lineage. Any collaborator can see what design decisions were made and what was edited. Designs from any given point can be brought back to life. Maybe a certain design was chosen because a simulation worked particularly well. A user can start up a collaborative session and work on the real model in real-time. If you are invited to collaborate, you just click on a link and join the project.

Product development advice from a successful start-up

At startup, Karmic Bikes CEO Hong Quan explained the usefulness of workgroup-level data management functions, saying, “We only have limited capacity for a machine shop. Building and digitally prototyping things in 3D is whole lot cheaper than building physical prototypes in the shop.”

Cloud-hosted platforms that use a lightweight client to operate the CAD program simplify the way in which Hong and his team in California share design ideas and collaborate with their Taiwan based manufacturer. These meetings are conducted over a typical cable internet connection. “Since it’s online, I can actually make a change from my end, and it’s reflected right away overseas. Sometimes they make changes because the design is difficult to manufacture, and we see them right away, so we can approve or reject them. It’s as if we have the people from Taiwan right there in our room.”

Karmic Bikes uses Autodesk’s Fusion 360 to provide a repository that offers the features of industrial and mechanical design while eliminating the hassle of balancing too many tools.

This design environment can allow design teams of all sizes, with multiple locations, to explore how the product looks, functions, performs and is built. One-click collaboration could at the same time streamline, isolate and unite key industrial and mechanical designers from any location. Having near-instant visual feedback from customers could allow for a super-fast implementation of changes to a particular product design.

Three key takeaways for enterprise product development teams

Enterprise product development teams have a lot of hurdles to overcome to be as nimble as a start-up. Here are three key takeaways:

1. Collaborate with a wider range of people at the concept stage
2. Consider the entire customer interaction rather than just the physical product
3. Leverage cloud-based solutions to speed development and collaboration

Autodesk has paid a fee to to promote their design solutions. They have had no editorial input to this post. All opinions are mine – Andrew Wheeler

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