Most artists don’t start painting without a plan. In fact, they often sketch a complete outline before they put brush to canvas. They imagine, consider and frame their concept before they commit to the details. This is exactly how your business should approach procedural and product development.

Overview: What is concept engineering?

Conceptual engineering, or development, is a multistage process that sets the direction and lays the foundation for the full-fledged design of a system, procedure or product. It’s the first real step in turning imagination into reality. This process is fundamental to hardware and software development in engineering professions, but it has much broader implications and can benefit any kind of organization.

You launch this process with a framework that outlines the primary goals, secondary goals and failure standards. Then comes the data collection and analysis phase that focuses on evaluating information about existing products or systems. The final phase marks the moment when project leaders actually commit to a particular path as their design plan.

4 benefits of concept engineering

It’s hard to overstate the value of conceptual engineering, especially when the stakes are high. This is a prudent practice that every company should engage in before committing to any major investment.

1. Promotes faster development

When companies develop new products or services, the “time to market” can make a huge impact on viability and profitability. Going through a rigorous concept development phase may slow things down at the start, but the extra preparation and planning will ultimately speed up the design phase and get a polished product to the finish line much faster.

2. Reduces trial and error losses

Aside from speeding up overall design and development, engineering your concept can also cut down on professional and material expenses from misdirection or failed trials. Putting concepts to test against hypothetical and modeled scenarios allows you to eliminate obvious mistakes.

3. Identifies and mitigates risks

The data collection and analysis steps of the engineering process present a great opportunity to assess, evaluate and address risks. When comparing to existing products on the market, you have the advantage of examining their weak spots and problems so you can avoid them from an early stage in the design phase.

4. Keeps your options open

Conceptual engineering gives you a chance to thoroughly explore a system or product design without committing to it. This means you can keep your options open for longer before you actually start down a path that you can’t easily turn back on.

Why is concept engineering important to understand?

Concept development is a doorway for innovation and opportunity, so you should always strive to get the most you can out of the process. It can shape the future of your entire business.

1. It sets the stage for success (or failure)

Engineering your concept is the same as laying the foundation for a building. It will influence every other decision, expense and opportunity that follows in the design process all the way to completion. It sets informed benchmarks and other key parameters to keep the project on track.

2. Directing your decisions

Another thing you need to understand is that this entire process is about making decisions. Conceptual development is a place to get rid of bad options and narrow down the good ones. It informs decisions made at highest and lowest levels.

3. An engine for innovation

The conceptual engineering process is also the place where most of the innovation happens. For companies in high-tech and other cutting edge industries, it’s a window of opportunity that will make or break your market impact. You need to take this time to think, create, explore and discuss as much as possible.

An industry example of concept engineering

As an example of conceptual engineering, consider a hypothetical company that produces dog and cat doors. There are already many kinds of doors available on the market, but this company wants to deliver a technical solution equipped with modern technology. The framework for this concept is that the door must offer flexible features to accommodate the needs of homeowners without exceeding $200 in cost.

After establishing this initial framework, researchers begin by examining doors made by their competitors along with their features, price points and customer comments or complaints. The team also assembles a focus group of pet owners who can talk about the types of features they want or concerns they have. The research team learns that people want a door with a camera that selectively lets animals in or allows owners to open the door remotely, then lock it again.

The development team then tests various designs and models that incorporate different combinations of features. They prioritize owner control over doorway access as an indispensable design element, adding or removing other features until they arrive at a comfortable price point within the target range. Company executives then make the final decision based on several alternatives presented from this conceptual development process and proceed with actual design, implementation and production.

3 best practices when thinking about concept engineering

The value of your concept development efforts are entirely dependent on how you use them. This process requires creative thought, data analysis and running through lots of “what if” scenarios. It’s not something you should rush through as fast as possible.

1. Frame for your picture

The initial framework you establish for the concept sets the parameters for success and failure. These are the primary and secondary goals. They are the maximum and minimums that are acceptable. You need to get these numbers right to properly set the stage for the rest of the process.

2. Dive into data

You also need to leverage as much data as you can. Study all of your major competitors and similar products on the market or systems in place at other organizations. Learn from their successes and failures. Find ways to do things significantly cheaper or better. Remember that data drives innovation.

3. Connect with customers

Voice of customer (VOC) input is another major factor. Don’t waste this opportunity to talk to customers, create focus groups and bring end users into the concept phase. Listen to what they say, get second opinions and let them help you explore alternatives.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about concept engineering

1. What can you learn from engineering a concept?

Conceptual engineering can reveal all kinds of valuable information, including better comprehension of customer desires, potential pitfalls in design and price goals for competitiveness in the marketplace.

2. What are the stages of concept development?

There are no official stages of this process, although it can be broken down into several basic objectives. These objectives typically include framing project parameters, generating ideas, gathering market and customer data, conducting feasibility studies and comparing alternative solutions.

3. How do you choose a concept?

Ultimately, the decision is up to those in charge. Leaders must balance the goals of the stakeholders and the customers in a way that is feasible for the company to accomplish. There’s no way to eliminate risks entirely, so you should still expect to hit obstacles and make course corrections during the design phases.

From frame to fame

Even though concept development only describes the initial phase of the entire development process, it has profound implications on design and production. Framing yourself for success is the best way to ensure fame and fortune down the road. Time spent brainstorming, considering and comparing your development plans can cut your costs and leave you with a product that hits the market hard.

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