Over the years I have worked as a RF consultant or Electronic Design Consultant on many products. My colleagues have worked as Package Design Consultants and as Design for Manufacturing Consultant. I have also hired numerous consultants. Here are the lessons that I have learnt.
1. Must have a passion for what they do
Very few people who do design work as a job become really, really good at it. It does not matter if they have a degree from MIT or one of the Indian Institues of Technology. It just does not happen. A good degree acts as a reference for their formal training, hard work and intelligence and shows that the potential is there but it does not guarantee that they will be awesome at design. The reason is that
2. Experience in similar design work
This will save you the biggest time and cost.. An experienced person will know the right choices to make. This will end up saving you more time and money than anything else. It is important that you validate this experience during the hirng process.
3. Broad Knowledge of all branches of Engineering
When you are designing a product very rarely can you work inside an isolated bin. You must have knowledge of the entire product and the entire product lifecycle to makeI like all my embedded programmers to understand electrical circuit design.
4. Ability to understand and work according to business objectives
Very often the best product technically is not the best product for the market. For example the best packaging material may be too expensive for the segment of the market that you are in, or implementing some features may take too long causing you to miss the market window. It is important that the consultant is able to understand not only technical tradeoffs but also business tradeoffs.
5. Work with their hands in the lab
All great engineers and consultants are able to perform basic lab work. They may not be as skilled as the technician who works on it day in and day out. but they can all do some basic work. I would be very suspicious of an electronic design consultant who cannot solder or an RF consultant who cannot put together simple circuits using the dead bug technique or the mechanical consultant who cannot machine.
6. Knowledge of theory
Experience will allow a consultant to rapidly solve the common issues however there will be aspects of the product that are different from the norm. For these the optimal solution is arrived in a pain staking using first principles.
7. Cheerful Commitment to see the product through and work long hours
As you work on getting your product in the market you will realize that Murphy has taken residence at your facility. Parts will go out of stock suddenly, the LCD vendor will declare the LCD that you have designed in your product obsolete, the top of the line PCB vendor will deliver defective boards and the enclosures will be made with the window for display being opaques. Dealing with all these issues will require long hours and a certain amount of cheerful commitment. Why did I put cheerful in there? You are going to have problems and if everybody is not cheerful the situation will become stressful.
8. Pick up new areas of knowledge independently
Not everything about a product will be known. Very often new advancements in technology will be required. I often think that the best way to spot a great engineer or a consultant is to have them design and make something that is completely outside their area of training. For example have a mechanical engineer put together a simple circuit, or have an electrical engineer design simple packaging for their product.or write a little interpreter that makes testing the circuit easy.
9. Own at least some of their own equipment
This demonstrates that the person is committed enough to spend cash. Of course depending on the field it may not be possible to own all the equipment involved. For example a good RF consultant may not own a 40 GHz spectrum analyzer but he will have a collection of cheaper spectrum analyzers picked from ebay, used equipment sales or Ham Radio flea markets (many good RF consultants are also Amateur Radio Operators). An electronics design consultant will have scopes and good soldering, desoldering stations. A good packaging consultant will have at least a small CNC machine and maybe even some 3D printing equipment acquired cheaply. My best work is often done at 4 am in my home lab. The space for the home lab being jealously guarded against encroachment by my wife and kids.
no matter how good it looks on paper or how good references check out. Always start a new consultant or employee a small exploratory project and see how he or she does.
I think I read this saying in a Dan Kennedy book a few years ago, and it has stuck with me and reminded me of its truth time and again. Always try and have two people who can do the same job. People fall sick and have personal issues. Having another person available to pick up the slack is especially important for time critical projects.
At Fast Product Development we have at least two people who can handle each critical task.
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