When companies get started with a new product design project, the first question the HS Design leadership team will ask is, “Who will be your product champion?”
Inevitably, the answer is, “What is a product champion?”
Most are familiar with a project manager, but the emphasis here is actually one-step farther. A product champion is more focused on the product itself. “The product champion is the person that is there on the front lines that really can say, “’I’m going to push the product forward and I’m going to make sure that this is the best product that it can be,’” said Robert “Bobby” Boyer of HS Design. The product champion really becomes that driving force, the knowledge base, and the person that wants what is best for that product. That person is not necessarily the person that is driving the schedule or deliverables but is most focused on driving the product to success.
A project manager on the other hand, in the most basic of terms, is the person that understands the budget, drives the schedule, and puts the team together. Typically, that is where their role ends. The project manager is talking with the client, they’re driving deliverables, but they are not the person that is saying, “This is the best product design, technology, and this is the right direction to see this through to success.”
Who provides the product champion?
The product champion depends on the client needs. At HS Design in Gladstone, NJ, Bobby Boyer points to a longtime client, Canfield Scientific as an example to describe who the best product champion is. “I would say that their product champion is their CEO, that is Doug Canfield. He is the one, that every time we’re in a meeting, he says, “This is the product I want, this is the right path, I like this, I don’t like this. He’s really driving the product forward.”
Bobby explains further that, “…on our end (at HS Design) because Doug is not there at all times, we have a specific person that is designated as the project manager to drive timelines and specific details. That person is able to say, “Okay. This is what I heard from the client and so this is what we need to do in order to meet their goals and their ideas of what the product needs to be.”
The project champion has to have some specific attributes to be successful. They are the ones that are going to lose sleep at night because they really want to make sure that it’s the best product. If something comes up, they are responsible for finding the best solution to the issue that arises. The champion also needs to be able to explain and showcase their vision of the product to the rest of the team. Having someone that’s directing people and can see the results well before they come together from both the 30,000-foot view and in the line of fire on the ground.
The most successful product champions are both creative and leaders within their group. They have to articulate all of these unique details without alienating the team but also pushing them to be at their best all the time.
Culture is another driving factor for product champions. It is important to make sure that a company has the right team in place that is collaborative and that asks the right questions. If the culture is not open and not fluid, there could be a situation where the product champion is not paying attention to all the details. If they miss something and an engineer, for example, starts working on a new feature that hasn’t been cleared, it could lead to mistakes in function, design, or worse; being denied by the FDA.
Culture is something that needs to be created in such a way where folks feel secure about coming forward with new ideas or solutions. This type of environment allows for change and modification should a concern for the product come up. Culture is really about having that leadership in place that can galvanize a situation where three or four people working on different aspects can come together to make the right decision and are not afraid to turn to that product champion for help.
Bobby shared his personal feelings saying, “I’d say the product champion needs to be that person that cares about your product as much as you do. If you’re a company that’s coming in or you’re a startup or even if you’re in a team environment for a college project, you need to find that person that will give it the love that it needs and that will be thinking about every aspect of the product itself. That’s really what you want and that’s something that we love to do here and we’ll have discussions on it from time to time but it’s having somebody that cares and whenever we take on a project, we’re selective because we want projects that we care about.
At times HS Design will pass on the project because we don’t have that driving force to make it the best it could be, and other times we’ll go out of our way to try to get a project because it’s just something that we just love and we really want to make it as good as it can be.”