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Network Expertise: How to Get the Most from Your R&D Spend

How rigorously are you challenging your assumptions about your product — and about your end user? Product companies/manufacturers: if you’re not doing so, you may be making common prototyping mistakes (and not getting the most out of your R&D spend).



To help Idaho companies improve their approach to prototyping, we turned to the expert product developers at SGW Designworks. SGW is a longtime friend and partner to Vessel, and Ryan Gray, the company’s CEO, has frequently shared his expertise with us via our Supply Chain Insights video series:


Developing a Product? Listen to the Market (Your Assumptions May Be Wrong!)

Supply Chain Disruption Presenting Product-to-Market Opportunities

3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping: Solutions to Supply Chain Challenges


During our recent conversation with SGW, Gray shared further insights related to R&D and prototyping (topics our companies will discuss during two sessions at Boise Entrepreneur Week) as well as suggestions for companies looking to build effective product development teams.


His advice? “Challenge your assumptions about how users interact with your product. Challenge the assumption that you’re representative of your market,” says Gray. “Small companies assume they understand the end user, and that can result in the wrong feature set and price point. Because of these errors, products may not succeed after launch. Prototypes are a great tool to challenge our assumptions — this is maybe the most valid reason for a prototype to exist.”


Continue reading for Vessel’s Q&A with SGW.


What are the top prototyping mistakes you see product companies make?

  1. Not thinking about the PURPOSE of a prototype before building it.

  2. Thinking of a prototype as a milestone rather than a tool.

  3. Rushing to launch without testing the product.

What is the right approach to prototyping?
  • Prototypes are tools for learning, and each version should have a purpose, and test method defined before it’s built. (There may be 20 prototypes built for any specific product, but it should always be an intentional process.)

  • Prototyping is more than a milestone, and it exists to test many things: feature sets, price points, user feedback. A disciplined approach is important to get results and have your dollars go further.

  • Rather than rushing to launch without testing, dedicate time to thinking through the product’s durability, how users interact with it, or if they care about the features you’ve baked into it. Those things matter.

What advice do you have for companies looking to build an effective product development team?

  1. Recognize that often, designers and engineers are either strong at ongoing product optimization / support (often called sustaining engineering), while others are good at development. There are exceptions, but typically any one individual won’t be strong in both of these things – they are different skill sets.

  2. Think of your development team not as just engineering, but as a team that will help define the future of your business. Foster deep interactions with marketing teams, finance teams, etc. so that the developers have a complete view of how product-centric decisions impact the broader business.

  3. Hire people with versatility: look for the specialties you need most, but fill positions with people that also have skills in adjacent areas. A team full of versatile people tends to collaborate more effectively – they are more likely to understand different points of view and be open to different approaches.

Thank you to Ryan Gray and SGW for sharing valuable expertise for Idaho manufacturers/product companies!

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