In the first decade of my career, I worked for startups and highly innovative teams. Only recently, I accomplished an MBA in Italy, a country that is very experienced with manufacturing, and after starting to work for a car manufacturer myself, I had the opportunity to see what it means to actually take a product to mass production.
Here is a simplified description of the flow of tasks and key milestones in the product life cycle, from an early idea to the hands of a customer.
Phase A: Find a Concept
Companies vary a lot in the way they arrive to a new concept for a product. Some are more centric, and the concept arrives from one-man’s decision, while others have an extensive research process, which can be on the marketing department, business development, aftersales, or even UX. It usually depends on the company structure and core team.
This phase is described in many other articles I wrote, so I will not expand too much here. In the end of this phase, we have an idea with a business case worth investigating.
Phase B: From Concept to R&D Plan
Part 1: Realizing an Idea to a Product Concept
On the napkin, the idea is still in its early phase. There is a problem to a specific user, but the CONCEPT team has to figure out if the idea is feasible under a certain budget.
The first task is to evaluate the best solution to the problem from the eyes of the customer. The Concept team will need to find the application or product that could answer the product requirements gathered in Phase A.
The concept team should include: UX layout, technical feasibility, product requirement, legal constraints.
1.b. Visual design, Styling & UX
Once ideation cycles are done, and a feasible solution was found, the graphic designer could give a better visualization of the result.
Part 2: Specification Document
Finalize the concept phase by writing a requirement document, also called a specifications document. If a product is a beautiful cake, the specification document would be a recipe for how to make it.
Once this proposal is approved by the business department, a budget request could be opened.
Part 3: Cost Evaluation
3.a. Project Plan
Once a budget is assigned to the project, a financial project planner would create a roadmap of milestones.
3.b. Software or technical evaluation
Software developer can now evaluate the specification, and provide feedback or confirmation of feasibility.
3.c. Update the Specification
Often changes to the specifications are required and implemented, while restarting approval cycles of the concept team from part 1.
Part 4: Finalize a feasible specification document under the budget cap
Part 5: Production validation
Now, with a feasible plan, R&D department can collaborate with Production department to check the validity of the product in terms of manufacturing.
Phase C: From R&D Plan to Assembled Goods
Part 1: Manufacture Feasibility Validation
1.a. Assembly Plan
First, we need to test if we are able to assemble the product. A list of steps of assembly is created. Minimizing the number of stations saves a lot of money and time, and this is the purpose of this entire process.
1.b. Virtual Assembly
The stations are created virtually, and an assembly is simulated. Perhaps we need specific tools or machinery?
Also, we check if the workers are able to conduct the job in an ergonomic way. If half the time they will need to bend badly to place a screw, eventually this will create an additional cost for health treatments…
1.c. Handover of Responsability
Once the assembly is designed, a handover of responsibility from R&D to the Production department can be approved. R&D will no longer be responsible for the project, and resources can be freed for a new product.
Part 2: Building the Production Line
2.a. Physical Assembly
Once digital feasibility was approved, a physical one should be evaluated. Each station will be built, with the final tools.
2.b. Testing a Series
A full line is set up and tested for a specific period of time. This is done in order to evaluate the efficiency of the planning, as well as its percentage of error.
Here we also incorporate a logistics plan where the assembled pieces should arrive on time to each station (from the logistics department).
2.c. Budget Evaluation
Now that the line was tested and realized, budget should be reapproved. The actual cost of production, as well as its timing, are now known facts. If changes are required in the product pricing for the consumer, in order to assure profitability, now is a good time to do so.
Part 3: Mass Manufacturing
Once the budget has been confirmed, the production unit can be established, training can start, parts can be acquired, and the real work of the assembly line can start.
I will not go into much details here, but throughout this process, many issues may arise and a management system needs to be set in place. A continuous improvement of the link between the assembly line and the logistics department is also necessary.
Eventually, the logistics department will start having the ready consumer products on shelves!
Phase D: From Goods to the Customer
Part 1: Marketing
Reaching the potential customer is the responsibility of the marketing department. using various marketing channels, such as: digital networks, conferences, events, etc (depending on the product and the target customer), marketing should make sure the target customers know about the product and how to acquire it.
Part 2: Sales
Sales are responsible to actually sell the product. Eventually, everything is measured by the number of sales. profitability of the entire operation lies in their hands.
Sales department usually has a dealer network / chain store / supply chain of some kind. Each business need to have a sales strategy and it is not that easy to change later down the road. If you already have a network of dealers, its not so easy to one day come and say “we are not selling with you any more”.
Part 3: Aftersales, support and upsales
The last part in the chain is the after-sales department. They are responsible for the long-term relationship after the purchase. Complaints, support as well as future purchases. So if you need to pay for upgrades and extra services, its the after-sales department who will take care of that.
The insurance plans for a product, is one of the most basic upsales that this department can offer. They also collect information from the customers regarding complaints, and this info is transferred back to the product department, which uses this to generate new ideas and solutions, which in turn become new products.
I hope this rough and quick description would help you understand to which department you belong and where you see yourself along the process. Thank you for all those who taught me the little info about the process, in order to be able to explain it.