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Project Management Series: Architecture Design and the Value of Identifying and Reducing Risks Early

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Whether creating a consumer wearable or developing a potentially life-saving medical device, risks are ever-present. As a whole, product development can be a risky endeavor. There are many unknowns, and failing to take potential issues seriously can lead to ill-conceived concepts, misguided product launches, and a severe hit to a company's bottom line.

A big part of project management is identifying those risks and mitigating them as early as possible. Navigating the complexities of product development isn't easy. Things can change as you progress, unveiling unforeseen delays and creating new obstacles to overcome.

At Voler Systems, we manage project risks in many ways. We've already discussed using well-defined product requirements to stay one step ahead. However, we also use other aspects of project management to obtain a deeper understanding of risk areas. These include architecture design and dedicated risk mitigation.

What is Architecture Design?


In this phase, the designers figure out the basic functional design and key components. Engineers and developers use this phase to understand the bigger picture and to identify critical areas and risks.

Architecture design is about mapping the function to form and determining how the numerous elements interact to make your product possible. In most cases, architecture design involves creating a block diagram to understand the relationship between different components. Key components are chosen. The key components determine the key parameters of the design.

How you hook things up and get everything up and running isn't crucial at this time. Engineers will figure those details out later. What matters here are important decisions like what type of processor you'll use, how fast it can execute, what battery it requires, how that affects charging, and many other key parameters that may be specific to your design. Every device has a different set of key parameters.

There are two types of product architecture:

  • Modular Architecture Design

    Here, you'll focus on how well-defined functions work together to achieve the product's purpose. It's about figuring out how those various components can interact to create a successful final product. A block diagram is all that is needed.
  • Integral Architecture Design

    This is the opposite of modular architecture because it details the inner workings of each function. In addition to a block diagram, you may do a partial schematic. The modular nature of schematics lets you pay attention to both the big picture and more refined details.

Why is Architectural Design Important?


Architecture design is about planning the product development cycle as clearly and efficiently as possible.

Coming up with ideas is just a tiny piece of the puzzle. But how are you going to turn those ideas into a reality? It's easy to say you want your device to do X, Y, and Z. However, it takes many complex processes to achieve X, Y, and Z.

Architecture design maps everything out, defining those core functions and determining how a product's various components work to make it happen.

There are many benefits to architecture design. The most significant is eliminating unnecessary elements, methods, and functions that don't serve your vision. When you map things out via a block diagram, it's easy to get a clear-cut view of design choices.

You can also use it to clarify overlapping features, contradictions in the design, and more. Voler Systems uses architecture design to determine areas that can cut costs, save time, and enhance a product's functional performance.

More importantly, we utilize architecture design to spot potential risks before going further in the development process. Identifying risks at the design phase grants greater flexibility moving forward. We can better understand how those risks affect the project and take steps to mitigate them entirely.

Here’s an example where the initial plan calls for a specific microprocessor to be used in a wearable device.

After creating the architecture design, you realize that the microprocessor requires a large battery that's heavy and too large to wear comfortably. Without the architecture design, you can easily miss that issue. It requires selecting a processor chip, understanding the software that it will have to run, and calculating the power consumption. It also requires estimating power consumption in sensors and wireless communication.

There are trade-offs between the power used for data compression and the power saved in wireless transmission. If you skip this step, by the time you're well into the development cycle, you may have to go back to square one.

Unfortunately, that example is far too common in the real world and often forces projects to go way over budget and schedule.

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Architecture design plays a big part in managing expenses. You can spot areas where you can cut costs. We'll discuss designing for your intended production volume in another part of the project management series. But know that architecture can help you spot cost-saving measures that eventually add up during manufacturing.

The beauty of identifying risks through architecture design is that we're able to make modifications before a single component goes into the design. The modular nature of architecture design also lets us make corrections without backtracking the entire process.

Ultimately, architecture design makes a huge difference and helps you avoid costly mistakes.

Identifying Risk Areas


One of the most critical aspects of project management is identifying and communicating risks early in the development process. As mentioned earlier, there are many uncertainties when creating a new product. While you can't avoid risks entirely, you can take steps to avoid major surprises and delays.

You can recognize potential issues through defined requirements, architecture design, and collaboration among multiple teams and stakeholders. Risk areas are plentiful, but most obstacles fall into three distinct categories.

1. Market Risks


Market risks are common sources of problems. They revolve around your consumers and how they respond to the product you create.

Before an idea even enters development, there should be general information about the needs of the market and the general customer point of view. This information should be in a well-written Marketing Requirements Document or MRD, providing you with the valuable insight you need to shape product development.

However, in some cases it's a good idea to go beyond the MRD to understand potential risks. You can perform market tests, feasibility studies, and more to gather as much data as possible. From there, you can make essential development decisions from a business standpoint.

For example, you don't want to create something that doesn't meet market needs or utilize components that price it out of reach of your core demographic. Additional factors to consider include competitor innovation, potential profit margins, and more.

According to Harvard Business School, roughly 95 percent of new products fail each year. A big reason for that is failing to address and mitigate market risks.

2. Technical Risks


These risks revolve around the technical and financial feasibility of project elements. What are the potential ramifications if one of the technical aspects of the project is impossible to implement as planned? How are you going to move forward with the project.

Understanding the technical risk is crucial. Technology is constantly evolving and improving, but it's easy to have ideas that are far too complex and impractical to execute. Many projects seem to progress smoothly through the simpler details. But suddenly, they hit complex roadblocks that nobody even considered. Now, these projects must go back to square one, wasting valuable time, money, and resources.

If you don't have planned trade-offs and contingencies, the project could come to a screeching halt or go way over budget.

For example, one client refused to acknowledge the technical risks we identified. They asked us to proceed with the development despite the potential for problems. In the end, they were unhappy with the high development costs. But most of those added expenses could have been easily avoided had we worked to mitigate the technical risks early.

3. Manufacturing Risks


Finally, we have manufacturing risks. These center around problems that arise and can be related to the supply chain, material shortages, disruptions, or many other manufacturing-related issues.

What happens if a manufacturer unexpectedly can't meet its contractual obligations? Or worse yet, what if a core component is suddenly unavailable? The ongoing chip shortage is a perfect example of a manufacturing risk that can be mitigated early in a development project. There are many steps in setting up manufacturing, and each one has risks

During the architecture stage the availability of key components can be checked. A change at that point can be handled quickly. Later, it could require major redesign, costing time and money.

Another way to mitigate part availability is to stock a large quantity of critical parts. There is a cost to stocking the parts, but it’s often a good way to avoid being unable to ship your product.

Preparing for Every Possible Scenario


Voler Systems understands how important it is to prepare for any potential setback. Developing a new product has many risks. An unexpected risk can halt your progress and force you back to ground zero. With so many elements in play, you must account for every significant risk.

That's why we take architecture design and risk mitigation so seriously as part of our approach to project management. We have the experience to help you identify and reduce technical risk and manufacturing risk early and complete your project on time, on budget, and to your unique specifications.

Don't forget to come back for the final article in our Project Management series. There, we'll talk about prototype strategies and designing your product for your production volume.

Contact Voler Systems Today

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