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Information technology high speed connection

Learn how to maximize your productivity and minimize costs by outsourcing your electronic system design and development.


In this recorded webinar by Fidus, learn about the key considerations for outsourcing your electronics system design and development services. Learn about the tools to be successful in researching, selecting, and best practices for working with EDS partners – from choosing the right partner to project execution and successful completion.

In this webinar Fidus’ CTO Scott Turnbull delves into the critical aspects of outsourcing electronic design services (EDS). From establishing the right mindset and approach to understanding the intricate process learn about the essential elements to consider when seeking external support for your engineering projects. Whether you’re navigating the complexities of FPGA design, hardware design, embedded software development, or signal and power integrity, this video will equip you with the knowledge to make informed decisions.

Scott shared insights on Fidus’ First Time Right commitment, emphasizing its significance in minimizing project timelines and costs. The video also explored the benefits of partnering or contracting with an experienced engineering team to navigate the complexities of high-speed, custom electronic design services, or product development outsourcing like schematics, layout, and prototyping.


Key Takeaways : The 6 steps necessary for selecting a successful electronic design services partner

Step 1: Define Project Needs and Culture

Explore critical factors such as subcontracting, project team access, and proven track records in projects similar to yours in complexity and requirements. This step is essential for choosing a qualified and compatible electronic design services (EDS) provider that aligns with your project needs and company culture.

Step 2: Assess Pre-Sales Considerations

Gain insights into the pre-sales stage, highlighting the importance of clear communication and establishing realistic expectations. This step is crucial for successful project execution and ensuring that both parties have a mutual understanding of the project scope and objectives.

Step 3: Navigate Project Execution Stages

Delve into the various phases of project execution, including team selection, project kickoffs, and effective client involvement strategies.

Step 4: Manage Projects Effectively

Learn best practices for monitoring project progress, managing resources efficiently, and ensuring successful completion within set deadlines and budget constraints. Effective project management is key to navigating challenges and achieving project milestones.


Step 5: Ensure Smooth Design Handover and Knowledge Transfer

Understand the importance of a smooth design handover process and efficient knowledge transfer. This step ensures project continuity, future maintenance, and the client’s ability to manage and adapt the project outcomes successfully.

Step 6: Building a Long-Term Partnership

Discover strategies for fostering a collaborative and successful partnership with your chosen EDS provider. A long-term partnership supports continued collaboration and project success in R&D, tech product launches, and custom engineering solutions, facilitating sustained growth and innovation.

Webinar Transcript

Introduction and Webinar Overview (0:00)

I see the attendee numbers have kind of stabilized, so maybe we’ll get started here. We’re going to be doing our next webinar in the Fidus Thought Leadership Series. Today, we’re going to be looking at design services and outsourcing the whole gamut, from process to mindset, to the approach that we take, to how it all works together. And we’ve got Scott on the line, and he’s going to kind of walk through that. So, Scott, would you mind proceeding to the next slide? I’m just going to do some housekeeping items, and then we’ll jump into the actual main event, the webinar. So, we are going to record this. If anyone’s missed it, then you will receive a recording. It’ll also be accessible on our website. I don’t think I have the ability for folks to turn the video on or to unmute, but just in case, please make sure that you hit don’t. And then, of course, we love questions. So, feel free to type in any questions via the chat box, and I will queue them up for Scott at the end.

Speaker Introduction of Scott Turnbull on Custom Engineering Solutions (1:08)

So today, we have online Scott Turnbull. He is the Director of Technology at Fidus Systems. He’s been with the company since the start, which is very impressive. That’s close to 20 years he’s been with Fidus. Scott holds an electrical engineering degree and leads the Fidus Advanced Technology Group, where he is responsible for leading technical sales programs, scoping, and estimation or sorry, effort estimation. So, he’s heavily involved in guiding our internal product development and R&D efforts. And if you’ve done work with us, or if you’re hoping to do work with us, chances are you’ve seen Scott’s face, or you’ve had a phone call with him already. So, let me pass it over to Scott, my favorite individual here at Fidus, and thank you again, Scott, for putting this presentation together for us.

Webinar Content Overview: Insights into Electronic Design Services (2:01)

Yeah, for sure. Okay, thanks a lot, Mike. And good morning, good afternoon, good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining us. This webinar, the content itself, will be around half an hour, and then we’ll open the floor to questions. Please feel free to enter any questions that you may have in the chat box, and we’ll address them following the content portion. So, over the next 30 minutes, we’ll be focusing on outsourcing electronic design services and the things you need to know. Now, I have to keep my marketing department happy, so I’ll give you a 53-second introduction to Fidus. So, I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to give it a shot, 53-second introduction to Fidus. So, I’ll let you know at the end if it was actually fun to try. I’ll let you, and then we’ll jump right into what we’re all here for, a discussion on the activities related to outsourcing and my personal favorite, how to be a good customer. Frankly, 29 minutes on outsourcing does sound a little bit boring, but it’s such a critical tool these days that I think it’s really important that everybody understands how to do it. To make sure you can stay awake, I’ll add a little spice and give you a little inside view, a real candid approach of how design services companies operate. And as a lead technical sales engineer at Fidus, I’ll also tell you what I’m thinking at different stages, what I’m hoping for, and sometimes what I’m afraid of. We’ll even start by discussing the questions you should be asking a potential design services partner. A lot of these questions, you know, used to make me squeamish and stuff, so you know I have it in good faith that these are proper questions.

Defining Electronic Design Services and Outsourcing: A Partnership Approach (3:46)

Now, for a little wordplay, I guess, before we begin, so some definitions: an electronic design services company is a third party that you contract to undertake electronic design work, being related to hardware, software, signal integrity, FPGA, PCB layout, et cetera, et cetera. I will also use the words “outsourcing” to mean partnering with an electronic design services firm. Throughout the presentation, I’ll use the word “partner” often, in the context of partnering with an outsourcing company or partnering with an electronic design services company. Now, of course, I don’t mean “partner” in the legal sense of the word. But I do intentionally use the word “partner” or “partnering” in the true meaning of the word, people that work together to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. I’m sorry, you’re going to hear the word a lot through this presentation, but it’s super important.

Finding and Selecting an Outsourcing Partner for High-Speed Electronic Design (4:44)

So, here’s the first lesson of the day: always take a partner approach with outsourcing. So, why is that important? Well, here’s the first insider tip of the day: You’re much more likely to get what you need from an outsourcing company when you take a collaborative, positive, and connected approach than if you treat it as a simple transaction. Here’s why: First off, we’re all people and naturally respond to others when we feel like we’re on the same team working towards a common goal just makes sense, right? The other thing is, and this is critical from your point of view, I’ve seen very few projects over the years that come to us with bulletproof specifications or requirements. This means that you will need to work together and inform each other of such shortcomings or even hidden intent. So, certainly, it’s a lot easier in a partner-like environment. And lastly, if you sign a big check and then disappear or become adversarial with your outsourcing partner, communications will undoubtedly suffer, and you will never really know what is actually going on until a design appears on your desk, which is what you asked for, but may not be what you actually needed. Of course, you know, you can blame the outsourcing company for it, but that doesn’t solve your problem, and nobody’s happy in the end. So, stay involved, work collaboratively, and rest easy knowing that if you’ve done the work and carefully selected your outsourcing partner, they will do a good job for you. And frankly, you know, we’re a company of over 100 people, and everybody in the company wants to do a good job for their partner, for their customer.



Introduction: Fidus Systems – Electronic Design Services Partner (6:43)

Okay, with all that nomenclature out of the way, let’s jump right into the 53 seconds of Fidus. And like I said, I haven’t done this before. So, let’s see what happens. So, Fidus was established in 2001. So, we’re nearly 20 years old. We advertise what we do as electronic product development solutions for high-speed, high-complexity systems. We work across all industries, all markets, all verticals, and all company sizes, whether it be startups or large multinationals. Three office locations: Ottawa as our headquarters, got an office in Fremont in the Bay Area, and an office just outside of Toronto in Kitchener Waterloo. We’re over 100 folks now. So, we’re pretty sizable. We can do anything from hardware, software, FPGA, you see them all there. We can do the full turnkey, or we can do an a la carte offering, whatever our customers need. Over the 20 years, we’ve done tons of projects. And we’ve interacted with tons of customers. Our claim to fame is “first, fastest,” so I’m out of time. So, anyway, that was kind of fun, but maybe I’ll make it 55 second’s next time.

Evaluating Potential Partners: Key Questions for Embedded Systems Design Services (7:56)

Okay, now on to the outsourcing flow. Let’s assume that you’ve got a project you need to outsource. First, you have to find an outsourcing partner. Well, how do you do that? Where do you start?

Three Ways to search for Design Company – Referrals| Tradeshows | Web Search (8:11)

There are many ways to search for a design services company to help you out. You could look at your previous experience, ask your colleagues about their experience, existing partners, trade shows, or just a web search. Now, I actually listed these in my recommended order. Referrals are always best followed by trade shows. And lastly, a web search.

Referrals (8:34)

To qualify things a little more, if you’re asking for a referral, make sure that the referrer’s experience is valid in the context of your needs. There’s no point in taking a referral from a person that used a software company when all you need is hardware. In that situation, I would say, “Thanks, I’m glad they write good C code,” and then continue the search on my own or ask somebody else. Asking existing partners, this is a really good one. So, think about suppliers like Avnet and Arrow. I find this to be a pretty prudent approach. The reason why is that the supplier has an established reputation to maintain. They have a vested interest in you being successful because that’s how they get paid. They also know everyone, right? So, chances are they know the best companies to talk to for your needs. The other thing is that suppliers understand the risk they’re taking by referring someone to you. So, they’re going to point you to people they trust and that are likely highly capable and have a good degree of integrity. So, I really like that one; I really like asking existing partners or suppliers.

Tradeshows (9:57)

Now, trade shows can be good, as you often get to meet the real, sort of, in-the-flesh company employees. You can hopefully see demos of what they do and talk about and ask them how they did it. And you can also start off by asking them about the development of the demo. Ask about their scope of work. I’ve seen this a lot where companies will show you a big, impressive demo. But once you sort of ask them a lot about it and how they did it and everything like that, you realize that all they did was make the cable that connects the serial port to the PC. Get as much information as you can from the mask, roughly because nobody will be able to tell you exactly how much an undertaking like that would cost, how long it took to deliver. If it’s hardware, how many spins did it take to reach a workable demo? Ask them about the status of the design today. Did it go into production? Did it die at the prototype stage? What happened with it? So, these are all great things, great conversations to have at trade shows.

Web Searches (11:08)

Now, web searches are like anything; they’re going to be hit or miss, kind of shooting in the dark. But if you do find a company or two interesting, nothing wrong with that, do some due diligence. So, before you reach out, find out: Is there a list of customers on their website? Because when you eventually do talk to them, this will give you something concrete to ask them about later. Do they have close partners listed? Are the partners highly prestigious companies? And then conversely, do the prestigious companies have design services company listed on their website? I get a little bit suspicious sometimes if I see companies listing all sorts of partners, and then I go to the partner site, and it’s not there. So, it makes me wonder, not necessarily that anybody’s lying or whatever, but are they? How deep is that relationship? How important is that relationship? And then, try to find out: Where’s the work done? Will that meet your needs? Are they offshore? Does it look like they do everything in-house, or are they a staffing agency? What’s the actual approach to the way they do their work? At this point, if all is looking good, you want to continue your due diligence by reaching out.

Evaluating Potential Partners: Key Questions for Embedded Systems Design Services (12:36)

And then, here are some sample questions you should always ask the prospective design services company and why they’re important. Now, all of these questions, if anybody’s on iPhone, you probably can’t read these right now. Not super important, we’ll send it out. But all these questions are important to ask. And a lot of them are obvious.

So, I’ll only focus on the value you’re trying to glean from the ones that are actually marked in orange. So, as I go through these, please note I’ve done this for over 20 years, and it is extremely rare that one potential client asked all of these, and we’ve done a great job for these companies. But still, ask these questions; you’re going to look like a superstar. So, you’ve got a lot riding on this, right? So, do this work. And the interesting thing is, don’t be upset if the design services company asks you some questions in return. You probably actually want them to; it’s sort of a level of interest that can be shown. But remember, we’re going for a partnership, and the design services company is also taking a risk working with you.

Potential Questions Scenario (13:44)

So, let’s look at a couple of these orange questions. “Are you going to subcontract any of my work?” So, you ask this because you want to know who you’re working with, what their approach is.

Do they have the expertise all in-house? Who’s going to be responsible? Is there going to be finger-pointing, stuff like that?

The next one, “Will I be able to have regular contact with the designers working on my project?” This is an important one. A lot of companies will hide their designers behind, say, a project manager, a single project lead, whatever, so you don’t actually really know who’s working on what. But I encourage you to find out because that way, you can talk directly with them. You can convey intent, you can convey priority better, and there’s no chance of a broken telephone thing.

“What are you really good at?” This was something that somebody asked me years and years ago because we were doing it all. And it was a hard question to answer, but it was a great question to ask. A lot of companies will say that they can do it all. And not many of them can. Or if they can, they can’t do everything well. So, press them on that: what are you really good at, and hope that it aligns with what you actually need?

“Will you have a project manager responsible for my project?” That’s always an important one. “Where exactly is the finish line for you?” Critical because what happens is that if you don’t have a defined finish line, we never know when the work is complete. And then things can drag on and everything like that. We’ll get more into that later. This relates to what are the deliverables, the documentation, how do we quantify the results, basically? And then, “Who is responsible for additional costs related to a design?”

Everybody’s going to make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. We can’t ever expect that. But we can expect things to happen without negligence. So, what happens if something was wrong that should have been right? Find out how they respond to that kind of question. “How are you going to support me should I have a problem or question?” That’s a similar one to the one above but also includes what happens after the design is delivered? And if you have a question, or you need a quick support question. And ask yourself, “How am I going to repatriate this design?”

These designs are so complex these days; you’re going to have to bring it back in-house and own it. So, find out: will they teach you how to, what they did, and how it works? Another really important one.

Okay, now that you’ve asked all the questions, you should be really comfortable with the company. If not, now’s your time to run. If so, recognize that you’ve done a great job, and you now highly suspect that you can work with these folks.

Pre-Sales, Execution, and Closure Stages for successful outsourcing partnerships


So, let’s start discussing your project. We now delve into the three major stages: pre-sales, execution, and closure. I have a massive bias when it comes to pre-sales, but, and I truly believe the importance of the pre-sale stages is often minimized. Here’s why: The pre-sale stage is the start or end of the new relationship, super important. The pre-sale stage is where the scope alignment or misalignment starts. The pre-sale stage is responsible for highlighting the risks of the project: what are we afraid of? What could go wrong? How are we going to mitigate these things, so things go right? The pre-sale stage also forms a framework by which the execution and closure happen, and how you work together, and the pre-sale stage is an excellent predictor of how you work together during the project.

Evaluates potential partners by assessing their ability to meet customer needs and mitigate risks (18:07)

In summary, from what I’ve seen, a weak, ineffective, or minimized pre-sale stage results in misunderstandings and disappointments down the road. Take the time to pour the proper foundation. Don’t rush because the project always needs to start, but don’t cut corners. So, what is this? Well, the pre-sales flow is a description of the events and milestones that enable each company to determine whether they can, but more importantly, do they want to work together. Never forget that you have to want to work together. And when I say that I mean it’s okay to be begrudgingly forced into outsourcing if you’re too busy, or you just lost your best designer. Whatever the reason, you can absolutely be disappointed, but you should never be entering into an outsourcing relationship begrudgingly. Always be happy with the company that you found to work with.

So, how does this all start, and what should both parties be thinking, and what are they thinking? So, the initial discussion is exploring the possibility of working together. To be successful, this is like a first date or first interview. The most important thing to keep in the back of everyone’s mind is that to be successful, this potential relationship needs to be a partnership between the two parties. Like I said, this is like a first interview or date where you’re seeing what your candidate is all about.

Project Execution: Team Selection and Development Process for Product Development Outsourcing (19:47)

But never forget: A partnership is a two-way street. So, as a potential customer, you are also being interviewed, so be sure to sell yourselves too. I’ve had a lot of good customers really do this to the point that I really wanted to work with them for a number of different reasons. They seemed like a great company, a great organization; they were doing cool stuff, whatever. But it’s really a different thing. Not everybody does that. So be sure to sell yourselves too. Okay, intros, the attendees, and the associated intros at this stage are more the organizational and management players, and usually not the actual teams. That said, everyone is busy. So, feel free to bring your technical leaders to the call to help in the initial assessment. You know, maybe that’ll speed up, you know, you’re falling in love with someone or eliminating someone quickly. Once again, we’re always thinking about partnership, the project overview, this is what you need done at the 40,000-foot level, you don’t have to have all the answers, but you should have the big ones ironed out. And you probably want to avoid the minutia at this meeting. This is more of a relationship meeting. And extreme details take too long and eliminate too many people from the conversation. And you want to know as many players as you can get to know on that call. Probability of success. So, we’re always thinking, Is there a good chance of mutual success? So, I implore you to listen for hints that your potential partner actually cares about your success as much as you do. That they will only feel successful when you are successful and not just when they get paid. So, a quick story here is that like, I’ve done a lot of designs for a lot of startups. And we all know the risks that startups take, and how most startups do fail. And the funny thing is, is that I can say that I’ve never felt successful, even though it could have delivered the best design possible. But I’ve never actually felt successful if the startup doesn’t make it. So, look for look for something like that in your partner’s look for them to be invested in your success. So, here’s a candid view of what a company like Fidus is thinking during this phase. So, like I said, it’s like a date. Is there a cultural fit? That is, will we really get along and work together? Well, any strong, overwhelming opinions or goals that are misaligned? You know, are they Leafs fans, or Habs fans, Red Sox, Yankees stuff like that? So, think about it, see if you think you can work with these people because you’re making a big commitment.

Emphasizes the importance of aligning culture and capabilities (22:57)

Second one, do we have the capabilities to be successful? This is what I’m thinking, what customers explaining what they need? If so great. If not, I’m thinking what are the gaps? What are the risks? How do we mitigate them? Do we? Do we have a specialized? Or do we need to bring in a specialized contractor? Now, this is an important point here. I always am, I’m always very comfortable with a project. If I feel like we can nail eight or nine out of the 10 items, I think we can be successful. If I think seven or less, I really start questioning whether we should be doing this or whether we should be doing it in a different approach. So, I encourage you to think the same thing, the partner that you’re talking to, do you think that they can check eight or nine out of the 10 boxes that you have? Or are they more in the seven or less, they’re seven or less? Maybe you don’t want to be working with them? I also think, Is there a long-term relationship potential? Or is this a one and done? So why do I care? We’re generally pretty busy, which is awesome. But so, the question is, how much effort do we want to put into achieving mutual success? And this is coming back to sort of what I alluded to, that getting paid should be the reward for a job well done, and never be the sole reason that we take on a project. In the cases of small projects, I’m thinking, yeah, maybe a small project, but it’s really cool. So, I get asked all the time. Is there any project that’s too small? And I honestly say no. I want to do stuff. That’s cool. I want to help companies be successful. Look for that in a partner. Anybody that has like a lot Don’t touch anything under 50k, they’re probably not the right company for you. And while all this is going on, I’m also building a rough number in my head of how much this is going to cost, how long this is going to take? Are we all thinking the same thing? Do I think the company can afford to do what they’re asking us to do?

Shares a story, highlighting the potential for misalignment in outsourcing projects (25:24)

Funny story was a long time ago, when I first started, this company came to us and said, it was actually a love tester machine manufacturer, and they wanted upgrades to their love tester machine. And I had in my head that it was one number. And they said, “Okay, well, you know, I’ve got, you know, 500 bucks to do this.” And I’m like, “Oh boy, okay, there’s a big disconnect here.” Anyway, no love connection was made on that one. But, you know, you find out early, so that you can, you can cut bait and, and go do something else. That’s, that’s going to align better. So, after the initial discussions, this is where we reach the first go, no-go decision.

So, this is really driven on both sides by the three C’s: culture, capabilities, and cost. So, the first two, if I were a customer outsourcing something, these first two would be non-negotiable to me, I need to align culture, I need to align capabilities. So, bail, if you don’t think that you can align there. Cost is often the easiest one to address. Because at the end of the day, it’s just a number. So, I would never downplay the importance of cost and budgets and things like that. But that’s always third on my list. Can we make it work for them pricewise? If I like the culture, I like the capabilities, let’s find a way to make this happen. That could be adjusting scope or whatever.

Prioritizes finding a mutual NDA that demonstrates a desire for equal partnerships, rather than a one-sided agreement (27:07)

Most companies like to then get an NDA in place. They feel like it enables freer conversation, which is totally understandable. I always recommend a mutual NDA. Even though you’re coming in concerned about your own IP and protecting your own interests. A mutual NDA is an olive branch that demonstrates the desire to forge an equal partnership. We’ve seen lots of NDAs come in, and it’s just so one-sided, that, you know, it makes us question whether we can actually work with these people, not because we’re concerned about IP things at all, it’s just a corporate mentality that concerns us. So, with those out of the way, here’s where the rubber hits the road in the pre-sales flow, the technical discussion.

Avoids working with those who dismiss critical project elements or provide unclear answers during the technical discussion (28:03)

Now, the technical discussion is when the detailed project needs are conveyed by the outsourcer. And then shared, the design services company is responsible then for responding, looking for them to do this, by putting their capabilities in your project context, and then making clear that they’re a good fit for your needs based on their past experience. Be careful of the hand-waving and the dismissal of critical project elements as “no problem.” I find that, quite frankly, from my point of view, if I’m not giving a succinct answer, the reason is, is that either I don’t understand what you’re telling me, I missed something in the explanation, or I don’t have the experience or knowledge to take your project on.

So, it’s a very awkward kind of time when we get into those situations. And they do happen. But just look for what you’d expect as a good answer. I always avoid the people that talk about, you ask a question, and then they talk in another direction. And your kind of like, “Well, how does that pertain?” If it doesn’t make sense, they’re probably dodging something. That said, you also have to be realistic. You are going to be the experts, right? In what you do and your technology.

Emphasizes the importance of understanding the customer’s needs and expectations during the initial consultation (29:38)

And you’ve been working on this for a long, long time. So not everybody knows everything about everything. So, this comes back to the company showing you that they can check at least eight out of the 10 boxes. Unless the scope of the program is extremely narrow. Never expect to check 10 out of 10. It just frustrates both parties and is probably fairly unrealistic. So, one of my thinking, during this activity, I think, “Okay, do we understand what is being asked for? Does the customer understand where they are in the development process? Or do they think they’re much farther along than we do?” This happens quite often actually. “Does the customer’s asking make sense? Is there a difference between what they’re asking for and what we think they actually need? Can we hold a technical discussion on a fairly even playing field? Or is it tilted one way or the other? Is this conversation aligned with previous conversations?” Because I think if there are significant deltas, there might be a communication problem, either on our side or on the customer side, that worries me a little bit. “Do we still believe that we can be mutually successful after hearing about the project description? And are they pushing us for cost, schedule, and perfection?” After all that, if everything’s still looking good, the customer will usually provide a set of written requirements or a statement of work.

Emphasizes the importance of establishing a clear finish line and acceptance criteria in the pre-sales flow to ensure successful project completion (31:11)

Now, based on the completion of these documents, the services company should submit a list of questions for you to answer. Nothing’s bulletproof, right? So, use this, rather than getting annoyed because you think, “Okay, the requirements are pretty clear.” Use this as a great demonstration of the service company’s understanding; it also will tell you a lot about their experience. And then both parties usually meet to assess whether expectations are aligned. This test is primarily about the initial cost assessment. If all looks closely, the detailed proposal will get created, or an answer to the RFP is submitted. And then if all goes well, paperwork is signed, and things kick off. So, that is a fairly standard part of the process. But one thing I want to stress is always, always, always make sure that you and your partner have established a finish line. And this finish line is established in this phase. So, how do we both know when the work is complete? You need hard deliverables and hard acceptance criteria. And this is super important and complicated when you’re doing something and your outsourcing partner is doing something, and then the two pieces need to be integrated. So, this is probably the hardest part of the pre-sales flow, is developing the acceptance criteria, and they have to be meaningful acceptance criteria. So, here’s some more thoughts. So, what am I thinking now? Really, I kind of start hoping, hoping they believe we can do this job because I think we can; otherwise, we wouldn’t have bid it. I think either these are really excellent requirements, and all make sense, or these requirements are pretty rough. So, there could be a lot of discussions along the way. I’m thinking simply I hope they like our cost number. I think if this is a competitive bid situation, I really hope they’re making sure that they’re doing an apples-to-apples comparison. And that they understand that cost is a huge driver, but it shouldn’t be the main driver. I also hope if they have a budget lower than the estimate but like our culture and capabilities, they’re open enough to discuss what they need their cost to be. So, I can have a look and see if I can adjust cost via scope. I also hope if they disagree with some of my assumptions, the understanding won’t take offense, and that they take the time to tell me so we can hone our understanding. And then I think, is the finish line perfectly clear? Are we going to be wrapped up in a mutually unhappy, never-ending cycle of finger-pointing? Luckily, that doesn’t happen very much. So that’s the pre-sales flow when we’re outsourcing. And the main thing to understand is that you’ll get the best information to plan if you’re open, honest, and willing to share.



Hopes that the outsourcing partner will be open and honest during the pre-sales process and warns of potential issues if they are not (34:24)

The outsourcing partner should reciprocate; if they don’t, another warning sign. And lastly, when it comes to cost, schedule, and perfection, only push a maximum of two of the three. Otherwise, it’s a huge warning sign that you won’t be a good customer. Oh, and the last thing, I often ask, where do you need the price to be? People sometimes assume it’s so I can scope the minimum work at maximum pay. And it could be that, but for me, when I do it, it’s not about that at all. So, I can customize the scope and the deliverables to your timelines, needs, and budgets. But don’t get me wrong, we absolutely want to use your budget if we are delivering value to you. So, this is another thing you look for, right? Is that you’re going at value for your money. I’m extremely happy to do the job for half of your budget. If we get you what you really need in the end, it doesn’t matter to me at all, actually makes me feel better, because I think you’ll be happier. We’re always looking out for each other’s best interests, ultimately. Now, like I said, this is sort of the attitude the right partner should have.

Emphasizes the importance of open communication and understanding the customer’s needs to deliver value and ensure a successful project (35:41)

And lastly, feel open to this discussion. A lot of customers are very guarded about this. And frankly, it is a bit frustrating, because I know why they’re guarded. And it makes sense, but I think I can do more for them when I have that information, get you the best value for money. So again, you know, super pre-sales are super critical, and for me, the foundation of the project.

Highlights the challenges of determining the project team, including managing bench strength, and handling variable workloads, and the need for a good match between project requirements and team skills (36:09)

But let’s talk about the actual project execution now. So, before the project officially launches, the services company has to determine the project team. This is the hardest part of what the management team does. It’s hard because services companies can’t have people sitting on the bench; otherwise, you’re not generating revenue. So, when your project comes in, we could be super busy. The other reason is that services companies see a huge variety of work arriving. This is a really important one, at unknown intervals. So, it’s not always possible to assign the absolute 100% most technically aligned person to your project. We always go for the best match first, but we can’t always guarantee that. It’s unfortunate, and I shouldn’t say it, but being candid today, it’s just a fact. Now, you never accept a lab technician to do a huge software development, and a good services company would never suggest that. But keep in mind, keep an open mind. And if you’ve selected your partner well, they will be open about these limitations and their mitigation strategies for it. For example, if we end up in this situation, we often backstop the project team with the expert. So, we’re not putting the expert fully on the project. But we’ll backstop them in case they need to, to answer any questions or whatever. And they keep apprised of what’s going on in the project. And once again, we’re talking about checking eight or nine out of the 10 boxes in terms of technical expertise.

Project team selection involves assessing technical expertise and personality compatibility (38:03)

Then, following team selection, we’ve got the hard part out of the way. Most services companies will provide all available customer reference information to the team for their review. Once it’s reviewed, an internal kickoff occurs. The reason why we do an internal kickoff is so we can convey all the information that the pre-sales team has discussed with the new project team. We don’t want to be wasting the customer’s time by bringing the team up to speed with stuff they’ve already shared with us. Then we hit the customer kickoff. This is typically led by the project manager, involves human customer interactions, and a technical summary of the customer needs and goals. Although the team was briefed in the internal kickoff, there’s always value in hearing this from the customer themselves. So now that you’ve been exposed to the team, do you have any concerns or reservations about the team members, technical or personal? If so, this is your time to address it with the project manager. Hopefully, the PM can assuage your concerns; if not, the PM can consider an alternative team member. Now, this rarely happens. And when it does, it’s not because of technical capabilities but because of personality conflicts. So don’t be shy. Ask if there’s something that doesn’t feel right. Okay, if that’s all, it closes off the team alignment portion of this project flow. Now everything’s well aligned, and development begins. It pretty much goes like every other project that everybody works on. But here’s where I want to make something perfectly clear: Stay involved in the project.

Emphasizes the importance of staying involved in an outsourced project and regularly receiving updates to ensure alignment and avoid misunderstandings (40:00)

It was an internal project for you. You would be natively involved with important players. But when outsourcing, resist the urge to say, “It’s their problem now.” Keep it as your project. Keep up to date, understand everything that’s going on. This way, your Spidey senses will start tingling if something isn’t great. If you disappear, you may get what you asked for, not what you need. So, the idea of outsourcing was to offload yourself or your team to free up time for their priority tasks. But it’s usually not that simple. You usually have to assign a few hours each week. And the number of hours depends on stuff like project size, scope, importance to stay involved with your partner. Absolutely require weekly or bi-weekly status reports and look for hour’s reports. These are the reports that show which people did work on the project and stuff like that because this will give you great insight into the burn rate. And then you can assess whether the achievements within the status report align well with the burn rate. And then you can rest easily, track more closely, worry, or, hopefully not, panic.

Need for a clear escalation path and acceptance criteria to define when the project is complete, and the design is ready to be inherited (41:13)

Both sides need an escalation path; that’s very important. So, if any problems arise, there’s somebody to talk to. And then typically, the most complicated part of an outsourced project is knowing when you’re done. As I previously mentioned, the proposal should define this with the acceptance criteria. Performance coaches or psychologists refer to SMART goals. Probably most of you know SMART goals. I won’t get into it here, but if you’re not familiar, just Google “what are SMART goals” for an explanation of the acronym. It’s hard to do, but it’s worth it. And then, after the acceptance criteria SMART goals are realized, the project is ready to be closed, and this means re-inheriting the design.

Sign of good partnerships (41:57)

Make sure when you’re looking for that design services partner, they’re willing to train you when they hand the design off. It’s not just like, “Okay, here you go, here’s the money.” This is the sign of a good partnership, the whole attitude of “work with us again because you want to, not because you have to.” So, with that, we’re almost done. But before we close it up for questions, I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss how to be a good customer. Of course, some people instinctively are good partners, and others have to work a little harder at it. So, some of this will sound like life advice. I’m sorry for that. But it just fits well into the context of outsourcing as well. So, here’s the recap of the approach that I’ve noticed over the 20 years from customers that I just love working with.

How to Be a Good Customer: Collaborating on Custom Engineering Solutions (42:50)

So, I’ve formulated these as do’s and don’ts:

  • Do stay involved. I made a big deal about that during the conversation and didn’t disappear.
  • Be collaborative; we’re working together, but don’t micromanage.
  • Be open to sharing your expertise. Don’t be guarded. The more the teams know about each other, the more synergy there will be between them, and the more likely you are to end up with exactly what you want.
  • Plan to re-inherit the design. Don’t leave this to the last minute. Have a plan. How is this coming back in house? And as a service, because the company that I’m picking, are they willing to help me do that?
  • Be empathetic when warranted. Recognize your limitations or shortcomings. Don’t overlook your errors.
  • Give the benefit of the doubt, but don’t be in the dark.
  • Own and learn from your mistakes. Don’t repeat them.
  • Be optimistic, but don’t fool yourself; stay on top of things.
  • Be a partner, not just a customer. That’s sort of the main message of all this.

So, with that, I thank you very much for attending. And, Mike, I think we’re good to take some questions if there are any. Yeah, that’s a fantastic presentation, Scott. Really, really good. When you were coughing there for a minute, I thought, gosh, I should chime in about water, but you powered through.

Q&A Session: Addressing High-Complexity Electronic Design Concerns (44:24)

Mike: Q1. We have one question. And it’s really about the biggest errors that companies make when they’re looking to outsource. (44:24)

Scott: Yeah, so I think the biggest error that companies make when outsourcing is not staying involved. The idea that outsourcing means, “I don’t have to do anything anymore,” is just a complete fallacy. I think if you want the best results, the best value for your money, you want to build a longer-term relationship. Doing this over and over again, staying involved is your best way of being successful long-term.

Mike: Q2. Another question just came in. We have a PLC board design we want to upgrade. How would that be considered? Is it a new project? (45:15)

So, a PLC board design that needs to be updated would be considered a new project at the highest level, but the way we would approach that, the way I would approach that, depends on what the updates are, first of all. But we’re not going to reinvent the wheel. If everything’s working well, and it’s about some obsolescence or it’s about adding a new feature, something like that, it won’t be scored or scoped as a big, massive undertaking where we’re developing all-new stuff. I don’t know if that answers the question, but that’s a stab at it. Happy to talk after too.

Closing Remarks: Ensuring Success in Embedded Software Development Projects (46:22)

Mike: Fantastic, Scott. We’re a few minutes over but it was a really great presentation. If there are any more questions, please feel free to type them in. We can follow up. No more questions have come in as of yet. So, I think we’ll end the webinar here. And thank everyone for their time and specifically, Scott, thank you for the presentation; it was great.

Scott: Thanks, everyone. Have a good day!


Scott Turnbull, Chief Technology Officer

He is responsible for understanding Client requirements, generating estimates, and authoring proposal content. Scott also leads the Advanced Technology Group that understands technical trends and advises on strategic next generation technology and methods to attain the requisite experience. Fidus relies on Scott’s creativity and marketing aptitude, as well as his 25 years of experience in the Design Services industry, to inform important corporate decisions. Scott holds a degree in Electrical Engineering (Telecommunications).