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Getting Engineers and Designers to 'Play Nice'

Article-Getting Engineers and Designers to 'Play Nice'

Here are three ways to help make it happen in medtech.

Tom KraMer, Kablooe Design

Rebecca 1917 BullyingThe stigma has been around for a long time. Engineers hate it when designers come up with concepts that can't function or be manufactured. Designers hate it when engineers ruin the design intent and make a square metal box to house all the components. Lots of time is spent throwing the concept over the wall to the other group and thinking that it is their problem now.

What can be done? There are a few best practices that give your designers and engineers common ground that allows them to work together to hit goals that they both share. 

Here are some to consider for your team:

1. Create a Senate Sub-Committee

Democrats and Republicans are in a constant struggle for power. How do they get anything done? They create sub-committees with people from both parties on board to make decisions. Apple does a similar thing with their product development team. They have an industrial design team, and they have engineering teams, but they also form a product development team with designers and engineers, and this team is tasked with some of the major responsibilities of the project.

Sharing responsibilities for decisions helps them to listen to and consider each other's needs on the project, allowing them each to weigh the respective importance of issues and make decisions that are best for the overall project.

See KraMer discuss best practices in product development at MD&M Minneapolis, September 21-22, 2016. Qmed readers get 20% off with promo code Qmed16.

2. More Broadening, Less Specializing

It is tempting to put each team member in a corner and make them only focus on one task that they do well. It is hard to pull a bunch of specialists together to make one cohesive item. Instead, consider giving your engineers some activities in the early design phases, such as involvement with ideation and industrial design reviews. Also give your designers responsibility for some of the design for manufacture and assembly tasks.

Letting them overlap in this way will surely drive conversation about important issues between the groups and lead to meaningful discussion and mutual understanding of needs.

3. Usability is King

Have them both involved in usability studies up front. I don't mean just have them read the usability report, but actually have both engineers and designers TAKE PART in the studies that lead to the customer and product requirements.

This firsthand knowledge of the user needs will give them what I call "a-priori" knowledge--the idea of knowing ahead of time what the device needs to be in order to be successful. Armed with this knowledge, both teams will often find common ground for design options, and actually support each other's activities knowing they are all driving towards a common goal.

Try to think of it as an archaic thing from the past for engineers and designers to not get along. In this day and age of rapid development and prototyping, things move fast and collaboration between departments has to take place on a regular basis efficiently. If they don't, your product and company will end up taking some lumps from the competition. 

Let team members from both groups be Leonardo DaVinci's and wear a couple of hats, and see how they begin to empathize with the goals and functions of the other group. You will be surprised how well they begin to work together when they have shared ownership of goals.

Tom KraMer is a UBM Medical Devices Group Advisory Board member and founder of Kablooe Design (Coon Rapids, MN). Tom is passionate about making medical device ideas become reality. 

[Image, from 1917 silent film "Rebecca," is public domain.]

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