A Team of Teams – 3 Ways to Make the Best-in-Class Model Work

Supercharge Your Product Development

You have a complex, multi-discipline product development effort with demanding schedules and quality goals.  You don’t have the internal bandwidth or expertise available.

You have rejected the One-Stop-Shopping model – engaging a single company that claims to be able to do it all.  You already understand that it’s very hard for a single company to provide excellence in software engineering and industrial design and regulatory affairs.  That’s why this approach nearly always results in compromised results.

Instead, you have chosen the Best-In-Class approach.  By selecting experienced companies that are the best available for their particular discipline, you’ll achieve superior results.  Each partner company will do what it does best for your project – a team of teams.  The challenge is how to best manage these multiple external partners in order to keep all the various parts moving in synch.

Syncro Medical has participated in many successful multi-partner projects.  In addition to using Syncro Medical for medical device software development, many of our clients also use external partner for other disciplines such as:

  • Instrument and Packaging Design
  • Control System Hardware Design
  • Human Factors and Industrial Design
  • Regulatory Affairs and Quality Assurance
  • Verification & Validation Testing

Based on our experience, here are 3 key points to keep in mind to ensure success when working with multiple, Best-in-Class external partners:

  1. Establish the Proper Structure – each partner’s team will have its own internal organization structure, with team management and divisions of labor.  For the overall project to succeed, however, there should be clear paths for communication, decision-making, and problem resolution between teams.  Specifics vary with every project of course, but one key factor is for you, the client, to provide strong central management of the effort, ensuring that all aspects are running smoothly and being available to clarify, prioritize, and resolve when needed.

It’s also very important that each partner team have a clearly understood role in the project.  Some areas are clear- the electronics designer and software team, for example, have different responsibilities.  But if you have a UI design team that’s separate from your software team, you’ll need to be sure they work out their respective roles carefully so there aren’t overlaps or gaps.

Each team should have a point of contact, who will be the primary (but not the only) interface to the other teams.  This person will generally provide progress and status communication, as well as communicating potential issues and resolutions.

When the overall project is structured properly, your vendor partners will work together as peers, keeping you involved with and informed of decisions. You don’t need to be the hub to the partners’ spokes.  Of course you remain the ultimate decision maker as the product owner, but detailed design decisions and interaction are handled directly between the partners.

But even the best organizational structure depends heavily on good communication:

2. Use the Right Collaboration and Communication Tools – For today’s product development projects, there is an incredible range of tools available to facilitate effective collaboration and communication across teams.  They support shared, peer-to-peer interaction and teamwork for information, ideas, project planning and monitoring, managing documents and design files, software source code, and test planning and management.

Recently, cloud-based services and secured, shared repositories have made this even easier.  It’s no longer necessary to install and manage complicated software applications to provide basic team interaction; instead, a range of affordable services are available that provide:

Using such tools, collaboration across teams becomes even more effective.  For example, human factors and user interface implementers can work together so implemented software matches expectations.  Embedded software engineers can collaborate with control system designers for more efficient integration and debug.  Testers can provide immediate feedback to developers, speeding the resolution process.

Where responsibilities intersect, direct communication helps to clarify details and minimizes the “whisper down the lane” effect.  This also frees you from needing to be in the middle of each communication, where technical details may become lost.

3. Plan for Regular Iteration and Integration – The most successful multi-partner projects Syncro Medical has been involved in have been those that consciously plan for regular iterations and integration checkpoints across all the partners.  Agile methodologies are very effective for this – each sprint provides an opportunity for functional demonstrations, reviews, and updates to the plan, and both our client and their vendor partners get a chance to work with the most current version of the software.

Project partners need to understand the dependencies among various components, clearly define when parts that need to be integrated will be available, and know how the deliverable will work (perhaps using a storyboard, a design document detailing software or hardware interfaces, a user story or use case).  Agile planning tools such as JIRA or YouTrack can greatly assist with organizing the iterations.

This iterative approach injects integration points throughout the project so that systems come together during development instead of waiting for the end.  Even with the best planning and documentation, complex systems often have issues that impact system behavior in an unforeseen way.  Or a user interface design may look great on a story board, but the dynamic behavior and user interaction may need to change once the pieces come together.  That’s why it’s critically important to schedule integration points in order to make course corrections when the cost of change is low

Multi-partner product development can provide you with the highest quality and most effective results when planned for and managed appropriately.  With the right partners, organization, communication and iterative releases, you can achieve your company’s product goals effectively.  We at Syncro Medical have successfully engaged in many such projects, and can help guide you through the best approach to meet your specific project needs.

Rick Fisher is Vice President of Software Development at Syncro Medical. Rick oversees many of the company’s largest and most complex development efforts, including those in which Syncro Medical is one of several development partners. Starting at Syncro over 20 years ago as a Project Engineer, Rick has progressed through roles as Technical Lead and Project Manager. As VP of Software Development, he ensures that all of Syncro’s projects are utilizing effective and appropriate tools and techniques throughout the software life cycle. After graduating from Penn State University with a degree in Electrical Engineering, he started his career developing software and instrumentation systems in the aerospace industry. During his downtime, Rick enjoys scuba diving and traveling.

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