Managing Innovation in Product Development Engineering

By admin

Product development engineering in practice, as we have seen, relies heavily on the application of creative ideas into innovative products/processes. How these concepts are supported is where the magic happens in the design development consultancy field. Creative and innovative engineers are a great asset, but basing a business around selling the time and knowledge of those assets requires a process of its own.

It’s also worth noting that the process should be refined through creative ideas and innovative strategies that maximize efficiency, idea generation, prototype iteration, and knowledge sharing. (Bessiere, et. al., 2008, p22.) The goal for development teams is to remain fluid, adaptable, and open about how development projects are approached internally.

The business practices of product development engineering firms (necessarily) span more than just the design tasks of professional engineers.

“By integrating various skills, combining general designers and specialists … many engineering companies have for a long time also demonstrated their ability to work in the employer’s sphere, from the statement of a requirement to the decision to proceed.”


“Apart from this upstream role, engineering can play the role of adviser in all phases of a project. In fact, an employer (client) is not expected to possess skills in all of the areas or even have access to all of the necessary resources to perform his tasks correctly. That is why it is sometimes necessary to utilize “employer’s assistants”, whose role is to clarify and assist in certain projects.” Bessiere, et. al. (2008, p20.)  

Overall business success relies on the above concepts. Product development engineering companies need to be able to sell the service, manage the project resources, handle external pressures, maintain client and vendor relationships, and close the project.

Understand That Product Development Engineering Processes Are Fluid

It may be helpful for readers to look at a possible process template for the initial designs to project close. The following is an entry level project management methodology, which can (and should) be modified for each project. Possible steps include:

  1. Client Intake (cold calls, referrals, internet search, publication)
  2. Determine Client Wants and Needs (mechanical engineering vs electrical engineering)
  3. Draft Proposal (layout required resources, time, budget)
  4. Analyze Internal Asset Requirements
  5. Initiate Client Feedback Loop (refine the proposal)
  6. Finalize the Proposal (timeline and budget, project requirements, deliverables)
  7. Facilitate the Client Decision Point
  8. Close the Sale (contract in place)
  9. Kickoff Meeting (internal AND/OR with the client)
  10. Assign Tasks and Monitor Progress (internal continuous feedback loop)
  11. Brainstorm and Information Cross-Level (internal continuous feedback loop)
  12. Monitor and Control Project Information and Discoveries (internal continuous feedback loop)
  13. Maintain Client Relationship (continually communicate findings, decision points, progress)
  14. Present Initial Deliverables (iterate until convergence on an acceptable solution)
  15. Facilitate the Client Decision Point (acceptance of solution)
  16. Present Final Deliverables
  17. Vendor Sourcing and Manufacturing Process Management (project dependent)
  18. Project Implementation Management (project dependent)
  19. Project Closeout and Documentation (internal)
  20. Project Closeout and Documentation (client external and contract close)

Because of the fluid nature inherent in the product development consultancy business, the above steps for managing a development project are also fluid. Some steps require more attention and detail than others from project to project.

The big takeaway from the list above is that of the 20 steps laid forth, only 10, 11, and 12 deal specifically with the artistic and technical aspects of product development engineering creativity and innovation. Of course, the specific methods involved in each step and the project management methods themselves can be analyzed and innovated upon, but only those three steps deal with the details of creating an innovative product or process for a client.

The other process steps above are the support structure needed to get that innovative deliverable to the client and ensure that deliverables meet the client needs and expectations.

Within the scope of this document, it is helpful to look in more detail at steps 10, 11, and 12.  As noted above, that is where the creativity and innovation, related to the actual engineering, occur within the breadth of the consulting project management process.

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