Hear from guest columnist Onega Ulanova on AI and quality management systems in manufacturing. Photo via Getty Images

The concept of quality management is so intrinsic to modern manufacturing — and yet so little understood by the general public — and has literally revolutionized our world over the past hundred years.

Yet, in the present day, quality management and the related systems that guide its implementation are far from static. They are continuously-evolving, shifting to ever-changing global conditions and new means of application unleashed by technological innovation.

Now, more than ever, they are essential for addressing and eliminating not only traditional sources of waste in business, such as lost time and money, but also the physical and pollutant waste that threatens the world we all inhabit.

But what are quality management systems, or QMS, exactly? Who created them, and how have they evolved over time? Perhaps most pressingly, where can they be of greatest help in the present world, and when can they be implemented by businesses in need of change and improvement?

In this article, we will explore the history of QMS, explain their essential role in today’s manufacturing practices, and examine how these systems will take us into the future of productivity.

Quality Management Systems: A Definition

In the United States and globally, the gold standard of quality management standards and practices is the American Society for Quality. This preeminent organization, with over 4,000 members in 130 countries, was established in 1946 and has guided practices and implementation of quality management systems worldwide.

The Society defines a quality management system as “a formalized system that documents processes, procedures, and responsibilities for achieving quality policies and objectives,” and further states that “a QMS helps coordinate and direct an organization’s activities to meet customer and regulatory requirements and improve its effectiveness and efficiency on a continuous basis.”

From this definition, it can be understood that a good quality management system’s purpose is to establish the conditions for consistent and ever-increasing improvement through the use of standardized business culture practices.

Which QMS Standards are Most Widely Used?

The results of quality management’s remarkable growth since the 1940s has led to the rise of a number of widely-used standards, which can serve as the basis for companies and organizations to design and implement their own practices. Most of these modern quality management standards are globally recognized, and are specifically tailored to ensure that a company’s newly-developed practices include essential elements that can increase the likelihood of success.

The most widely-known entity which has designed such guidance is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a global organization which develops and publishes technical standards. Since the 1980s, the ISO has provided the 9000 series of standards (the most famous of which is 9001:2015) which outline how organizations can satisfy the checklists of quality management requirements and create their own best practices.

In 2020, over 1.2 million organizations worldwide were officially certified by the ISO for their quality management implementation practices.

However, it should be understood that the ISO 9000 standards are merely guidelines for the design and implementation of a quality management system; they are not systems in and of themselves.

Furthermore, the ISO is far from the only relevant player in this field. Many industry-specific standards, such as the American Petroleum Institute’s API Q1 standard, have been developed to target the highly specialized needs of particular business practices of oil and gas industry. These industry-specific standards are generally aligned with the ISO 9000 standards, and serve as complimentary additional guidance, rather than a replacement. It is entirely possible, and in many cases desirable, for a company to receive both ISO certification and certification from an industry-specific standards body, as doing so can help ensure the company’s newly-developed QMS procedures are consistent with both broad and specialized best practices.

A History of Quality Management

The concept of quality management is intrinsically tied to the development of industrial production. Previous to the industrial revolution, the concept of ‘quality’ was inherently linked to the skill and effort of craftspeople, or in other words, individual laborers trained in specialized fields who, either individually or in small groups, produced goods for use in society.

Whether they were weaving baskets or building castles, these craftspeople were primarily defined by a skill that centered them in a specific production methodology, and it was the mastery of this skill which determined the quality. Guilds of craftspeople would sign their works, placing a personal or group seal on the resulting product and thereby accepting accountability for its quality.

Such signatures and marks are found dating back at least 4,500 years to the construction of Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, and came into widespread practice in medieval Europe with the rise of craft guilds.

In these early confederations of workers, a person’s mastery of a skill or craft could become a defining part of their identity and life, to the extent that many craftspeople of 13th Century Europe lived together in communal settings, while the Egyptian pyramid workers may have belonged to life-long ‘fraternities’ who returned, year after year, to fulfill their roles in ‘work gangs’.

However, in the Industrial Revolution, craft and guild organizations were supplanted by factories. Though ancient and medieval projects at times reached monumental scale, the rise of thousands of factories, each requiring human and machine contributions to generate masses of identical products, required a completely different scale of quality management.

The emphasis on mass production necessitated the use of workers who were no longer crafts masters, and thus resulted in a decrease in the quality of products. This in turn necessitated the rise of the product inspection system, which was steadily refined from the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1760 into the early 20th century.

However, inspection was merely a system of quality control, rather than quality management; in other words, simply discarding defective products did not in and of itself increase total product quality or reduce waste.

As influential American engineer Joseph M. Juran explained, in 1920s-era America, it was common to throw away substantial portions of produced inventory due to defects, and when Juran prompted inspectors at his employer’s company to do something, they refused, saying it was the responsibility of the production line to improve. Quality control, in and of itself, would not yield quality management.

As is often the case in human history, war was the driver of change. In World War II, the mobilization of millions of American workers into wartime roles coincided with the need to produce greater quantities of high-quality products than ever before.

To counteract the loss of skilled factory labor, the United States government implemented the Training Within Industry program, which utilized 10-hour courses to educate newly-recruited workers in how to conduct their work, evaluate their efficiency, and suggest improvements. Similar training programs for the trainers themselves were also developed. By the end of the war, more than 1.6 million workers had been certified under the Training Within Industry program.

Training Within Industry represented one of the first successful implementations of quality management systems, and its impact was widely felt after the end of the war. In the ashes of conflict, the United States and the other Allied Powers were tasked with helping to rebuild the economies of the other wartime combatants. Nowhere was this a more pressing matter than Japan, which had seen widespread economic devastation and had lost 40 percent of all its factories. Further complicating the situation was the reality that, then as now, Japan lacked sufficient natural resources to serve its economic scale.

And yet, within just 10 years of the war’s end, Japan’s economy war growing twice as fast per year than it had been before the fighting started. The driver of this miraculous turnaround was American-derived quality management practices, reinterpreted and implemented with Japanese ingenuity.

In modern business management, few concepts are as renowned, and oft-cited for success, as kaizen. This Japanese word, which simply means “improvement,” is the essential lesson and driver of Japan’s postwar economic success.

Numerous books written outside Japan have attempted to explain kaizen’s quality management principles, often by citing them as being ‘distinctly Japanese.’ Yet, the basis for kaizen is actually universal and applicable in any culture or context; it is, simply put, an emphasis on remaining quality-focused and open to evolution. The development of kaizen began in the post-war period when American statistician William Edwards Deming was brought to Japan as part of the US government’s rebuilding efforts.

A student of earlier quality management thought leaders, Deming instructed hundreds of Japanese engineers, executives, and scholars, urging them to place statistical analysis and human relationships at the center of their management practices. Deming used statistics to track the number and origin of product defects, as well to analyze the effectiveness of remedies. He also reinstated a key idea of the craftsperson creed: that the individual worker is not just a set of hands performing a task, but a person who can, with time, improve both the self and the whole of the company.

Deming was not alone in these efforts; the aforementioned Joseph M. Juran, who came to Japan as part of the rebuilding program several years later, also gave numerous lectures expounding similar principles.

Like Deming, Juran had previously tried to impart these approaches to American industry, but the lessons often fell on deaf ears. Japanese managers, however, took the lessons to heart and soon began crafting their own quality management systems.

Kaoru Ishikawa, who began by translating the works of Deming and Juran into Japanese, was one of the crucial players who helped to create the ideas now known as kaizen. He introduced a bottom-up approach where workers from every part of the product life cycle could initiate change, and popularized Deming’s concept of quality circles, where small groups of workers would meet regularly to analyze results and discuss improvements.

By 1975, Japanese product quality, which had once been regarded as poor, had transformed into world-class thanks to the teachings of Deming, Juran, and kaizen.

By the 1980s, American industry had lost market share and quality prestige to Japan. It was now time for US businesses to learn from Deming and Juran, both of whom at last found a receptive audience in their home country. Deming in particular achieved recognition for his role in the influential 1980 television documentary If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?, in which he emphasized the universal applicability of quality management.

So too did kaizen, which influenced a new generation of global thought leaders. Arising out of this rapid expansion of QMS were new systems in the 1970s and ‘80s, including the Six Sigma approach pioneered by Bill Smith and Motorola in 1987. Ishikawa, who saw his reputation and life transformed as his ideas spread worldwide, eventually summed up the explanation as the universality of human nature and its desire to improve. As Ishikawa said, “wherever they are, human beings are human beings”.

In no small part due to the influence of the thought leaders mentioned, quality management systems are today a cornerstone of global business practice. So influential are the innovators of these systems that they are often called ‘gurus.’ But what are the specific benefits of these systems, and how best can they be implemented?

How QMS Benefits Organizations, and the World

The oft-cited benefits of quality management systems are operational efficiency, employee retention, and reduction of waste. From all of these come improvements to the company’s bottom line and reputation. But far from being dry talking points, each benefit not only serves its obvious purpose, but also can dramatically help benefit the planet itself.

Operational efficiency is the measurement, analysis, and improvement of processes which occur within an organization, with the purpose of utilizing data and consideration to eliminate or mediate any areas where current practices are not effective.

Quality management systems can increase operational efficiency by utilizing employee analysis and feedback to quickly identify areas where improvements are possible, and then to guide their implementation.

In a joint study conducted in 2017 by Forbes and the American Society for Quality, 56 percent of companies stated that improving operational efficiency was a top concern; in the same survey, 59 percent of companies received direct benefit to operations by utilizing quality management system practices, making it the single largest area of improvement across all business types.

Because operational improvements inherently reduce both waste and cost, conducting business in a fully-optimized manner can simultaneously save unnecessary resource expenditure, decrease pollutants and discarded materials, and retain more money which the company can invest into further sustainable practices. Efficiency is itself a kind of ‘stealth sustainability’ that turns a profit-focused mindset into a generator of greater good. It is this very point that the

United States government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has emphasized in their guidance for Environmental Management Systems (EMS). These quality management system guidelines, tailored specifically to benefit operational efficiency in a business setting, are also designed to benefit the global environment by utilizing quality management practices.

Examples in the EPA’s studies in preparing these guidelines showcased areas where small companies could reduce environmental waste, while simultaneously reducing cost, in numerous areas. These added to substantial reductions and savings, such as a 15 percent waste water reduction which saved a small metal finishing company $15,000 per year.

Similarly, a 2020 study by McKinsey & Company identified ways that optimizing operations could dramatically aid a company’s sustainability with only small outlays of capital, thereby making environmental benefit a by-product of improved profitability.

Employee retention, and more broadly the satisfaction of employees, is another major consideration of QMS. Defined simply, retention is not only the maintenance of a stable workforce without turnover, but the improvement of that workforce with time as they gain skill, confidence, and ability for continued self and organizational improvement. We may be in the post-Industrial Revolution, but thanks to the ideas of QMS, some of the concept of the craftsperson has returned to modern thinking; the individual, once more, has great value.

Quality management systems aid employee retention by allowing the people of an organization to have a direct hand in its improvement. In a study published in 2023 by the journal Quality Innovation Prosperity, 40 percent of organizations which implemented ISO 9001 guidance for the creation of a QMS reported that the process yielded greater employee retention.

A crucial success factor for employee satisfaction is how empowered the employee feels to apply judgment. According to a 2014 study by the Harvard Business Review, companies which set clear guidelines, protect and celebrate employee proposals for quality improvement, and clearly communicate the organization’s quality message while allowing the employees to help shape and implement it, have by far the highest engagement and retention rates. The greatest successes come from cultures where peer-driven approaches increase employee engagement, thereby eliminating preventable employee mistakes. Yet the same study also pointed out that nearly half of all employees feel their company’s leadership lacks a clear emphasis on quality, and only 10 percent felt their company’s existing quality statements were truthful and viable.

Then as now, the need to establish a clear quality culture, to manage and nurture that culture, and to empower the participants is critical to earning the trust of the employee participants and thereby retaining workers who in time can become the invaluable craftspeople of today.

Finally, there is the reduction of waste. Waste can be defined in many ways: waste of time, waste of money, waste of resources. The unifying factor in all definitions is the loss of something valuable, and irretrievable. All inevitably also lead to the increase of another kind of waste: pollution and discarded detritus which steadily ruin our shared planet.

Reducing waste with quality management can take many forms, but ultimately, all center on the realization of strategies which use only what is truly needed. This can mean both operational efficiencies and employee quality, as noted above. The Harvard Business Review survey identified that in 2014, the average large company (having 26,000 employees or more) loses a staggering $350 million each year due to preventable employee errors, many of which could be reduced, mitigated, or eliminated entirely with better implementation of quality management.

This is waste on an almost unimaginable financial scale. Waste eliminated through practices which emphasize efficiency and sustainability, as noted in the McKinsey & Company study, can also yield tremendous savings. In one example, a company which purchased asphalt and previously prioritized only the per-ton price found that, when examining the logistical costs of transporting the asphalt from distant suppliers, they were actually paying more than if they purchased it locally. The quality management analysis they performed yielded them a cost savings, and eliminated 40 percent of the carbon emissions associated with the asphalt’s procurement. In this case, not only was wasteful spending eliminated, but literal waste (pollution) was prevented.

In taking these steps, companies can meaningfully improve their bottom lines, while at the same time doing something worthwhile and beneficial for the planet. That, in turn, helps burnish their reputations. A remarkable plurality of consumers, 88 percent of Americans surveyed in a 2017 study to be exact, said they would be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues.

It is therefore clear that any steps a company can take which save money, improve worker satisfaction, and yield increased positivity in the marketplace are well worth pursuing.

What is the Future of QMS?

Until the 2000s, quality management systems were just that: systems of desirable practices, outlined by individuals and implemented individually. That was the age of the gurus: the visionaries who outlined the systems. But what that age lacked was a practical and easy means for companies, sometimes located far away from direct guidance by the gurus, to implement their teachings.

In the intervening years, technology has radically changed that dynamic. Today, QMS software fills the marketplace, allowing businesses small and large to design and guide their quality management plans. But even these software solutions have not yet solved the last great challenge: personalized assistance in putting standards into practice.

That is why the latest innovations, particularly in artificial intelligence, have the potential to upend the equation. Already, major companies have started to use artificial intelligence in connection with QMS datasets managed by software, utilizing the programs for statistical analysis, suggested improvements, and even prediction of potential faults before they occur.

These are immensely valuable opportunities, hence why huge players such as Honeywell are spending billions of dollars to bring innovative AI technology companies into their platforms to refine existing QMS systems.

But while AI has already begun to significantly affect the biggest players, small and mid-sized companies remain eager, but not yet able, to take full advantage. It is thus the next great revolution for a new evolution of QMS, one which will bring these emerging technologies to all companies, regardless of size or scale. The future of QMS, and therefore the future of efficiency in business, rests upon this shift from companies being the recipients of ‘guru knowledge,’ to themselves being the designers of their own quality-minded futures.

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Onega Ulanova is the CEO of QMS2GO, a provider of quality management systems leveraging AI in manufacturing.

There's no quick and easy path to product development. However, these tips should help set you up for success. rawpixel.com/Pexels

Houston innovators: How to succeed in product development

guest column

Product success is not accidental. It takes a lot of time, tools, and commitment before one can create excellent products with market success. Creating the product itself is a huge milestone, but it's also just the beginning of the journey. It takes commitment, dedication and perseverance to successfully bring a product to life and get desired ROI.

Today, we will walk you through what you should do to increase your odds of success in bringing your product idea to life.

How to get comfortable with being uncomfortable with pursuing your product idea

You will not always feel comfortable pursuing your dreams. Likely, challenges are bound to discourage you and you will have moments of doubt on your way to success. You need to have that North Star guiding you, and one of the first steps to having that star is to firmly believe and know that this product is what you want to work on.

Ask yourself if you are comfortable with not developing that product idea. If you discover that even a thought of not giving it a try makes you feel sad — try to understand why, write it down, and get ready for the journey. Equally, it is better to pull out from the start if you are comfortable with not working on such an idea. More so, don't make the plan too hard on yourself. While it is applaudable that you are getting it right, you shouldn’t see yourself as a failure if something goes wrong, especially if it's your first product. Thus, you should see the process as an experiment. Having a contingency plan will help you navigate failures. It is dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket like regular investments, so think of ways on how to utilize the developed resources in other avenues or explore that avenue simultaneously. Have an exit strategy if things go south. Knowing how to repurpose your resources is very crucial.

As we mentioned in a previous guest column, How to Take Your Product From Idea to Reality, having a board of directors or Advisors with experience in the product field is a huge plus. Build trust with them, because trust is the currency of business. They will always be by your side in the moment of doubt. Schedule a meeting with them, one or twice a month to share the progress and have brainstorming sessions.

Finally, you must learn to trust the process. Don't put too much of your focus on the final product, be open minded at every step of product development. Knowing the process and what to expect next lets you stay ahead of the game. Following the Product Development Map mentioned here [https://lanpdt.life/pdp], you will stay focused while maintaining some flexibility.

Plan on How to Minimize losses if  product development will not go as planned

At every major point of product development, developers must have a review of their set milestones and evaluate the next step which might be an investment or involvement of a new contractor or partner as an example. Make sure to set those milestones with measurable values which will help you with go/no go decisions.

When you notice that the results are deviating from the set goals (and they will), you only have to take action in minimizing losses. And making the stop decision not at a late stage. One of the ways to minimize losses is to sell resources to similar companies or those who share the sma target audience with you. It is a smart way to make enough profits to cover your losses. In the same vein, you could try to repurpose your resources to other ventures or sell the idea on Flippa-like sites. Or you could share knowledge with others as a coach or mentor in the form of a course. In essence, you must be able to think on the spot and also learn to diversify.

What tools can I use to feel more confident to start working on the idea?

Developers need tools that can help them develop their ideas better. You can get tons of information and resources online, some of the tools worth looking at are Realizr, Notion, and our favorite Demand Metrics.

Every product developer preferably needs to acquire skills in CAD, Photoshop, etc. And if your idea relates to developing an app, you should learn some basic JavaScript, however we recommend a zero-code approach for testing MVP. Getting to know the basics of 3D printing is also fantastic. And Calipers with other measuring tools are equally important.

What if I don't have enough money right now?

It's okay not to have everything figured out at the moment. You don't need to have the whole sum at the beginning. You are in a marathon and not a sprint. The most practical step is to manage your income and see if you have monthly spare to invest in your idea. If you can get partners who love your idea, you can ask them to join you and ensure you have a cash reserve.

If the capital is insufficient, you can get in touch with investors and search for grants since you're just starting. A conventional loan is the least preferred option, be careful with that.

On top of this, you should gear up and participate in pitch competitions. But make sure to practice repeatedly before attempting to convince sponsors.

Final thoughts

No successful entrepreneur has ever been made by doubting themselves. If you are not convinced about your products, how do you intend to sell that idea to prospective investors and customers? Hence, the very first step is to get comfortable with your yourself and your capabilities.

Above all, trust will take you far in business. Make sure you deliver on your promises and watch yourself blossom into something big. Good luck bringing your ideas to reality and solving the world's problems.

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal and partner at LA New Product Development Team.

Product development is not easy, and there's no one right way to go about it. Here are some tips and considerations to take into account. Photo via Getty Images

Houston innovators: Tips for turning your product idea into a reality

guest column

Successful entrepreneurs are strategic business people. It is one thing to conceive an idea and another to know how to bring it to the market. In a competitive world, you must learn to think ahead of other entrepreneurs. This is the only way to stay on top of your game.

Here’s a guide on how you can pursue that great idea.

How to go about your product idea development if it’s not your primary business

Not every product developer or inventor designs products for a living. It may be the case that product development is a side-hustle for you. However, you should look before you leap. It is not in your best interest to dive straight into product development without first mapping out a plan.

The first step is to carry out comprehensive research on the product you want to design. Online, there's an abundance of information on similar products. Also, you get to see companies that have tried to create similar products and failed. Take out a notepad and write down why they failed.

Next is to find how to include such a project in your schedule. You must be able to keep track of the progress and also set milestones. In addition, new developers must learn to measure gaps in their skills and resources. So, you can write out what you need to do to cover these lapses.

After you have learned the basics of developing a new product, you should talk to experienced developers to guide you. Just make sure that your notes and reference materials are organized.

Later on, you can develop a plan with milestones where you have to define your responsibilities. You must make a list of one-time and recurring tasks to see what can be delegated or outsourced.

How to determine if your idea is worth it

It is unwise to spend time, energy, and resources on a project that will most likely not materialize right from the onset. Hence, you should probe the potential of a product and know if the idea is worth pursuing.

First, new developers ought to do a proper guestimate on the market size of a product. You've got to determine the Total Addressable Market (TAM) and the Serviceable Addressable Market (SAM). But note that these are not the only indexes to guestimate. Once the guestimation is done, you should estimate your potential sales and profits. This is a smart way of decoding what amount to pump into your project as capital. And don't hesitate to check out market data about trends looking upward.

If your products have already been developed, you should try to sell them on platforms like Etsy or launch a Kickstarter. This process is called Pretotyping or pre-sale launch. You are merely testing the interests of potential customers and acceptance of your products on the internet.

​How to develop a plan for creating a product

Having a plan helps you achieve your goals faster as an entrepreneur. If you are set to draw out a plan for your project, using the LA New Production Development Team's product development map is a good idea. Also, some pre and post-production activities and expenses will go a long way in determining the success of your product. Some of these considerations include legal, marketing, and other factors.

When entrepreneurs find it hard to succeed, it is not because they are not brilliant. In most cases, new developers lack consistency. You must determine how much time you can allocate to a project per week and ensure you meet that target. And don't beat yourself up when it's taking longer to develop a product. It usually takes time to turn in excellent products if you are not yet a professional.

Moreover, you need to talk to potential engineers and manufacturers to find out lead times. Then you can look forward to the best time to launch your new products. You may decide to make Christmas sales or consider other strategic events.

​How to find providers for product development

Remember we said earlier that you can’t develop a product alone if you want the best? You need business partners that you can collaborate with. Developers need to consider what kind of areas they need help with. It could be Marketing, Sales, Engineering, etc.

Your next assignment is to write a job description for each of the potential partners/suppliers. This is to let you have a clear understanding of what you need from each of them. At this stage, you have to make Google your best friend. Open your PC and search for the best partners you can ever get. They are all over the internet, including Quora, Reddit, Linkedin, Facebook groups. And you can also rely on the words of mouth of professional developers, accelerators, and incubators about potential partners.

How to define the end goals of product development

Before committing to product development, there are metrics and indicators you need to set for yourself. Knowing when you would stop product development motivates you to target milestones in your career. If the product idea is not sustainable, you shouldn't even consider making it your primary source of income.

You also have to estimate the lifetime of your product. When will you need to raise additional capital, if need be? Likewise, you must determine what it means to you if the project is successful or not.

How to set yourself up for success

Funding is the backbone of any successful project. You should be on the lookout for perfect investors or clearly evaluate your monthly allowances for the project (like a spare cash). Notwithstanding, you can waste money on a product if the project suffers attention. Your energy should be channeled towards actualizing your goals as a developer. I cannot overemphasize why you have to create a special time for your project.

And, of course, things might not go as always planned. It is a given that entrepreneurs experience challenges in their journey. There will be bad days just like the good days. But tough times don't last; only tough people do. So, you have to stay motivated and keep your head in the game.

Wrapping up

Having a plan is crucial if you must survive and succeed as an innovator. Sooner or later, you will encounter some challenges. But these challenges will be a walk-over for you. And why is that? This is because you would have identified such bottlenecks and also mapped out how to navigate them right from the beginning.

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal and partner at LA New Product Development Team.

When approaching prototype creation, you have options. This expert weighs in with her guidance. Photo courtesy

Lessons in prototyping: Figuring out the best type of prototype

guest article

As you continue your journey of developing and bringing a new product to the market, you have a series of decisions to make when it comes to prototyping — whether you're going to launch a hardware or a software product, or the combination of both — you need to have a prototype made.

Before you begin, there are a number of things to consider. In an article for InnovationMap last week, I looked at major choice points and their implications that will help you navigate the process in the most efficient way.

After you successfully laid the foundation for the development process and got you CAD models ready, you arrive at the next choice. Prior to making a prototype of your invention you need to decide what type of prototype you're going to build. Whether you're making it yourself or hiring a rapid prototyping company, you need to know the purpose your prototype will fulfil because it will help to select proper methods, techniques, and materials for building. With that in mind, let's go through the types of prototypes and purposes behind building them.

Types of Prototypes

Mockup

This type is usually used as a simple representation of your product idea, to gauge physical dimensions and see its rough look. It's especially useful for making physical models of complex and large products without investing a significant amount from the start. Mockup is perfect for initial market research and various types of early testing.

Proof of concept

This type of prototype is built when you need to validate your idea and prove that it can be realized. It comes in handy when approaching potential partners and investors.

Functional prototype

This kind of prototype is also called a "looks- and works-like" model because it has both technical and visual features of the product presented. It is used for testing product's functionality, conducting consumer surveys, and fundraising campaigns.

Pre-production prototype

This is the most complex type that is made at the latest stage of product development. It's used for ergonomics, manufacturability, and material testing, as well as to minimize risks of defects during manufacturing. This is a model that manufacturers use to produce the final product.

Choosing to Partner with Prototyping Company

It's important to note that prototyping is an iterative process. It is a fusion of art and science that helps you to uncover the full potential of your product, which in turn increases its chances for market success. Therefore, you will likely go through several types of prototypes, with each kind usually requiring a few versions to achieve the parameters you set for the model.

And this process also requires help of a company that builds prototypes or of a professional product development team. You can start looking for the one after you made your first mockup or proof of concept. It is recommended because creating more complex prototypes implies the use of sophisticated equipment, sourcing of materials and components that could be too expensive or complicated to do without an established network of suppliers. Plus, skills and experience play a huge role in creating quality prototypes. Taking all three factors – equipment, experience and skills - into account, it's smart to outsource your prototyping needs to a professional company.

This article is a follow up article to my post from last week. I have also previously contributed to guest columns on the following:

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal.

When approaching prototype creation, you must make a series of decisions. This expert weighs in with her expertise. Photo courtesy

Lessons in prototyping: Choosing the right approach to product development

guest column

When embarking on the journey of developing and bringing a new product to the market, you as an inventor have to consider a multitude of aspects that add to the overall market success of your final product. And prototyping is one of the key product development stages that helps you achieve that.

Whether you're going to launch a hardware or a software product, or the combination of both — you need to have a prototype made. First, it allows you to validate your idea and see if it's worth investing time and money into. Second, it creates opportunities for product improvement, detection and elimination of design flaws, and cost reduction, especially during manufacturing.

Therefore, you will need to make a set of choices before you actually build a prototype to ensure that it results in a viable, cost-effective, and quality market-ready product. Let's look at major choice points and their implications that will help you navigate the process in the most efficient way.

To begin, let's look at the various options you have.

The success of any process lies in its foundation. Hence, before anything else you need to decide on the product development approach you're going to follow. Some inexperienced inventors, for instance, choose to go from product idea straight to having a prototype made. They skip three initial steps that are crucial for building a sound road map of the development process and creating a product with a maximum market potential.

In most cases, those inventors end up coming to companies that build prototypes to start from scratch. Usually, it's because they hit a dead end with their prototype or a product was manufactured with many defects. The latter is always a result of improperly optimized pre-production prototype, if optimized at all.

The extensive experience of our product development team shows that a methodological approach to the entire process, prototyping in particular, yields the most effective results. That's why we always recommend it to those inventors who choose to DIY their prototype. If you're one of them, here is a short version of the approach with steps it implies that you can use prior to prototyping. You can find the in-depth version here.

1. Product discovery

To set the path for the development of your idea you need to identify your product's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. In other words, you need to conduct a SWOT analysis, which will help you learn about:

  • intellectual property opportunities
  • your competition and target market
  • features your product should have
  • time and cost of your idea development.

2. Concept design

Based on the results of the SWOT analysis, you can establish the road map of the development of your product and get to creating a concept or industrial design. Concept design is a virtual representation of your idea translated into 2D renderings and 3D CAD models that show you a rough look and functions your product will have. These should be built in accordance with preferences of your target audience to ensure the product's market fit. Concept design is usually made by a professional Industrial Designer. But if you have a basic knowledge of how to use industrial design software applications, then you can make it yourself.

3. Market and prior art research 

Another important step before prototyping is gathering and analyzing feedback from potential consumers. This is done through market research. With a concept design developed, you can conduct focus groups and consumer surveys to understand if the audience likes your idea. The information you get will give you more opportunities to improve your idea and add necessary changes to the design before prototyping, thus reducing the cost of the process and increasing market potential.

Prior Art Search, or research of existing patents, provides some of the benefits as market research. But its main purpose is to identify similar product ideas that have already been patented, so that you can make your product stand out by adding unique features to the design, as well as avoid a conflict of patent rights.

In a follow up article next week, we will discuss more decisions you must make during the prototype process. I have also previously contributed to guest columns on the following:

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal.

What startup advice and observations trended this year on InnovationMap? Founder lessons learned, the pandemic's effects on the workplace, and more. Photo via Pexels

These are the top 5 Houston innovation guest columns of 2020

2020 in review

Editor's note: InnovationMap is Houston's only news source and resource about and for startups, and some of this year's top stories were penned — or, more realistically, typed — but the Houston innovation community itself. As we get ready for 2021, let's see what guest columns were most read in 2020.

Houston expert shares why prototyping is so important to startups

Making a product that is worth further investing in, one that customers will want to buy, requires several prototypes, sometimes tens of prototypes to prove the concept and perfect your idea. Photo courtesy of OKGlobal

Written by Onega Ulanova, founder of OKGlobal

Rarely in life is anything perfect on the first attempt. Writers write drafts that are proofed and edited. Musicians practice over and over, and athletes train for years to perfect their skills before becoming pros. So, it only makes sense that a product developer would develop a prototype before manufacturing their products.

But why? Why can't a perfectly designed product go straight from CAD to production? In reality, making a product that is worth further investing in, one that customers will want to buy, requires several prototypes, sometimes tens of prototypes to prove the concept and perfect your idea. Success comes through practice, just like with the musicians and the athletes.


Click here to read the full column.

To office or not to office? Heading toward post-pandemic, that is the question for Houston workplace strategy

Far from irrelevant, today's workplace has evolved to support and foster precisely the behaviors and interactions that are missing in remote work. Photo via Getty Images

Written by Erik Lucken, strategy director at San Francisco-based IA Interior Architects

Since the advent of the modern office over a century ago, its design has continually evolved, adapting to new needs driven by changes in the ways people work.

COVID-19 introduced massive disruption to this steady evolution, displacing millions of office workers to fulfill their job roles from their homes. The question everyone is asking now is what happens after the pandemic — if we can all work from home, is the office irrelevant?

Click here to read the full column.

COVID-19 has affected how office space will be designed, says Houston expert

Here's how this work-from-home experiment has affected the office space — from a design perspective. Photo courtesy of Joe Aker

Written by Larry Lander, principal at PDR

The last nine weeks have thrust businesses large and small into an experiment unlike anything we might have ever imagined. The impact has the potential to separate businesses that will stagnate versus those that will accelerate and thrive.

Our workplaces may become smaller as we realize we don't all need to be there at the same time, but they certainly won't go away. They will, instead, be more human-centered, more technologically robust, and more resilient for the next time. So, a warning too: If the office is unsafe, scary, or demeaning — if it doesn't put people first — employees will vote with their feet.

Office workers have been empowered with the sudden ability to choose where, when, and how to work. And, certainly there have been starts and stops and plenty of stories of less-than-ideal execution, but by and large, the experiment has opened our eyes: Work has not stopped, our people are trustworthy, and, in fact, we found out they have kids, dogs, pictures on the wall, bedrooms, and kitchens just like us.

Click here to read the full column.

Houston expert: The Astrodome should be reimagined for the future of the energy industry

A Houston real estate expert suggests that the icon that is the Astrodome should be restored to be used for energy conferences and other business needs. Photo courtesy of the city of Houston

Written by Frank Blackwood, senior director of Lee & Associates - Houston

Over the past several years, there's been a continuous conversation about the iconic Astrodome and what should be done with it. Dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World," Houstonians certainly don't want to see the Astrodome go, as it is a landmark deeply embedded into the hearts and minds of our beloved city.

Ideas have been thrown around, yet none of them seem to stick. The $105 million county-approved plan to renovate and build a multi-story parking garage that was approved under Judge Ed Emmett's court in 2018 has been placed on hold until further notice.

Click here to read the full column.

6 things this Houston entrepreneur wishes he’d known before starting his company

Learn from the mistakes of a successful Houston entrepreneur — from teamwork tips to reasons why you should network with other startups. Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

Written by James Ruiz, founder of Houston-based Q Engineering

Recently, I was asked what it took to build a startup in Houston. It has taken me three attempts to create a successful startup, and there were a few things that I wish I'd known right out of the gate.

Whether your goal is to exit through a sale, an IPO, or turn your team of pirates into something that looks like a company, your business model will determine how you earn revenue and profits, and you want it to be repeatable and scalable to survive. With that in mind, here are the things I've learned along the way and what I wish I had known before I started my career as an entrepreneur.

I can't emphasize how difficult starting a company can be. By reflecting on the points I mentioned here, I believe that I would have avoided some pitfalls, and maybe even made it a little farther in the journey.

Click here to read the full column.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.