Go Back

Fri Nov 17 20233 min read

Stages of Hardware Product Development, and How to Navigate Them.

I decode various stages of hardware product development and the intricacies at each stage.

Photo from Hidde van Esch on Unsplash - black and gray automatic vehicle gear shift lever

In the initial stages of developing the SmartBoard at Next Home, decisions were like navigating through the fog—unclear and shrouded in uncertainty for the future. Some choices felt right at the moment but left us questioning their viability in the long run, and vice versa. Connecting with other hardware enthusiasts in the Hardware Mafia community and our customers at Makenica showed me that our challenges were shared.

Challenges like this inspired me to write about the intricacies of hardware startup struggles. Building on my previous article, The Hard Things About Building a Hardware Startup, let’s now explore the details of various stages of product development.

The Hard Things About Building a Hardware Startup
My thoughts on why building a Hardware Startup is harder than a pure Software one?

Every stage in hardware development comes with its unique set of demands. Transitioning from one phase to the next requires not just a change in gears but a fundamental shift in mindset. Although a lot of aspects of these stages are shared with “pure software” products, I will be looking at them in terms of a hardware product.

Proof of Concept (PoC) Stage

This is the phase when you have an idea and want to quickly test it.

  • Be as scrappy as possible — build with whatever you got
  • Don’t take too long to build; this is not the stage where you want to spend too much time
  • Always start with mockups rather than building the actual thing
  • Be honest to yourself, in terms of validating the idea
  • Don’t fixate on the product or solution yet; experiment with various technologies, form-factor, etc.

Prototyping Stage

Here, you iterate and move closer to your product.

  • Start showcasing to your potential customers, and let their insights shape product features.
  • Understand the problem space better, and build deeper insights regarding it
  • Optimize for iteration time and not unit cost, at this stage you are developing and not trying to make a profit
  • Maintain the specification of the product that you have in mind, each iteration should solidifying it
  • Each iteration should be a step towards the ultimate product

Pilot Stage

At this stage, you think you have a product that can sell.

  • Match production-grade parameters as much as possible—in terms of quality, cost, performance, etc
  • Mitigate failure cases, and minimize risks associated with it
  • Have product quality checks and standards in place
  • Validate your product in real-world scenarios
  • Meet customer expectations, as this phase is a critical bridge between development and full-scale production
  • Finalize Bill of Material (BoM), manufacturing processes, material, etc

Production Stage

At this point, you are producing replicas as fast and cheaply as possible.

  • Optimize Cost of goods sold (COGS), reduce the number of custom parts, assembly time, etc. go for anything that can reduce the cost without comprising quality
  • Plan for contingencies; ensure adaptability to diverse suppliers and components.
  • Have contracts and deals in place to secure better prices and ensure stable supplies.
  • Build solid partnerships with various manufacturers and suppliers for your product
  • Minimize failure rates during the manufacturing process.

Developing hardware products is like a journey with different stages, each telling its own story. Priorities and challenges change, requiring a constant dance of adaptation. Remember, success comes from moving forward in the development process, not getting stuck at any one stage for longer than is required. The ability to make correct decisions regarding it is what separates the better product builders.