Product Design Across Borders: Working and Collaborating with a Product Design Consultancy Over Distance
Here at Cambridge Design Technology (CDT) we take pride in two things above all else. The first of these is the quality of the product and technology design consultancy services which we offer.
The second is the fact that we offer that quality on a truly global basis.
We don’t see any reason why the quality of service we provide should be limited by geographical factors, and that’s why we have clients based across the whole of the UK and as far afield as Florida, Connecticut, Illinois and European countries including Belgium and Holland.
In addition to this geographical spread of client work, we also work with far eastern manufacturing partners when realising our products, and on many occasions we have been able to deliver an entire project using wholly digital means.
From first meeting to final sign off, we’ve worked with clients thousands of miles away using only email, video and phone calls and without either party having to travel.
How we do it
The growth in teleworking, homeworking and distance conferencing in recent years has been fuelled by two things. The first of these is the demand from the modern workforce for more flexible conditions, with forward thinking employers recognising that successful delivery is more important than clinging rigidly to traditional working methods.
The second aspect is the exponential growth in the technology required for this kind of working to be feasible.
Developments such as video calling, desktop sharing and CAD viewer tools have made it possible for teams to collaborate across continents (more quickly and just as efficiently as face to face meetings). Meanwhile, we can use file transfer apps to share massive amounts of data, and enable real time co-working via the cloud. All of this means that the kind of close co-operation which was once only possible within a single physical space can now happen virtually, anywhere and anytime.
This isn’t simply a case of Cambridge Design Technology getting excited about the potential for technology to deliver at some point in the future.
It’s about the things we can achieve today, and the projects which we’ve delivered via this approach in recent years.
These have included no fewer than 25 individual large scale complex experimental and development projects on clinical technologies such as renal dialysis, aseptic disposables and spinal anaesthesia, as well as mass production designs for the likes of fibre optic trunking.
In all these cases, the technology being used was only as effective as the approach we took and the personnel in charge of delivery. Flexible distance working of this kind can only bear fruit if communication is placed front of centre. To this end, every project manager working for us enjoys complete transparency, and the ability to monitor the progress being made at every stage of a project.
The flexibility inherent in collaborative remote working is only possible if there is a strongly project-oriented framework underpinning it.
This includes not only the technical aspects of delivery but also effective back office administration designed to enable project managers to closely monitor the progress of a project through individual phases, the costs of the project and the timescale of delivery.
During a project, it’s vital to keep a close eye on:
⦁ Project scope
⦁ Project planning and management
⦁ Management of inputs from project contributors
⦁ Quality management
⦁ Delivery deadlines
⦁ Final result.
As designers, we take great pride in consistently delivering on all of these factors and, on having systems in place to spot if any areas that may be at risk. If there is an issue with any of these, our constant monitoring approach throughout the project allows us to identify and address it before it becomes more of a problem and poses a risk to delivery.
Tools we use
During the course of most projects, we need to perform regular large data transfers, which means that in no more than 5 minutes at the end of a day we can send a URL link to a client and, via this link, they can download large CAD files. This link can be shared by the client to other parties in their organisation if required.
We can use Dropbox to do this, but opting for a single URL rather than sharing folders eliminates the risk of the wrong files being picked up, or of there being any doubt as to what we wish the client to see.
If a client is unable to access a CAD drawing, we can provide information using tools such as eDrawings or PDFs. At all times we work to maximise the ease with which a client can access the work we do for them, and to that end we provide downloads such as NDA, product design specifications and TeamViewer to facilitate the smoothest possible teamwork and lines of communication.
Our collaborative tool of choice is TeamViewer. By using a virtual whiteboard, clients in any location can take part in sessions, pointing and clicking on a single desktop and ensuring they have a full understanding of the project – all in real time.
To underpin accountability and provide a reference point in the future, these sessions can be recorded.
TeamViewer app is available for iOS and android platforms from the iTunes and Play store.
Why it works
Some people reading this may wonder if zones impacts on the effectiveness of long distance collaboration. After all, time difference between the UK, Europe, the US and China can be anything from 1 to 10 hours – ahead or behind, depending on where you are. In reality, however, this can often be an advantage.
Presentations given in the late afternoon UK time, for example, will be watched at the start of the day in the US. At the same time, a designer in the UK can send their work over at the end of the day, giving the US client a full working day in which to absorb the progress made, review the project internally and report back via email to be picked up the following morning.
The UK designer can then respond to any feedback, and respond at what is the start of the next US working day.
On longer projects this working pattern offers progress virtually round the clock, while for shorter projects we’ll adjust our working pattern to suit the needs of the client.
More broadly, we can receive and answer emails at virtually all times, other than when we’re actually asleep.
As stated, the technology we use to facilitate work of this kind, however impressive it might be, only represents the tools of the trade. What makes our approach so successful is the transparency with which we work.
We understand that clients may initially be nervous about working with product designers who they can’t physically visit (at least not easily). However these fears are easily overcome by working with complete transparency and updating every client with the information they need without them having to ask.
If a client has a question, we’ll have the answer, and if a problem arises we won’t be caught out.
Our experience, allied to the expertise of our team, means that we’ll always have a solution, alternative approach or action plan waiting to take effect before any problem costs time or money or impacts on the end result.
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