There are a lot of factors at work in the OEM design process. One that evidently takes many designers by surprise is that, eventually, someone will have to build whatever has been designed.
This is one of those issues that I became aware of several years ago when I worked at a company that housed design engineers alongside editors, and both just down the hall from a manufacturing floor. I saw and listened to countless discussions in which the engineers would plan a board with the help of the production staff.
More than once, significant changes were made at the prototype stage, when it became obvious that a particular component just couldn't be installed as originally envisioned. I remembered those meetings and discussions when I read a recent article on the EBN website.
Douglas Alexander wrote an interesting piece with the provocative idea that design for assembly is critical for design success. This is, to be honest, one of the great criticisms I hear leveled against widely distributed engineering and manufacturing operations: It's difficult for engineers to walk down the hall and talk with manufacturing managers when the shop floor is 8,000 kilometers and a continent away. Of course, some industries are quite accustomed to the wide separation of design and manufacturing -- aerospace comes to mind. Thinking about it, airplane design might not be the best example of success just at the moment, but over the long haul it's worked well for quite a long time.
All of this really gets back to the most basic of OEM design questions: Who (or what) are you designing products for? "The customer" is the obvious answer, but it's obviously incomplete. There's a larger constituency for your designs and each member is ignored at your peril. We've just spent a couple of inches talking about the manufacturing group, so who else earns a seat around the product design table?
Regulators are the first to claim a seat, and in many industries that seat is at the head of the table. No matter how innovative your customer's ideas or your designs, without the blessing of regulators they won't see the light of day.
Insurers and intellectual property attorneys get seats at the table, too, for reasons that are related to those granting regulators access to the festivities. While they don't carry the weight of legal enforcement with them, the threat of adverse judgements in court can make the legal team's opinions matter as much as those held by your senior engineer.
Lesser seats might be granted to your supply chain, distribution arms, or other teams related to making and moving the final product. The point is, that small, simple table is getting pretty crowded about now, so managing the team becomes as important as managing the design process. And that, really, gets us back to the beginning.
If you want the entire process, from intial specification to final product shipment, to go as smoothly as possible, then you must involve all the partners early and often. Ask them to meetings at which you can imagine no role for them. Get their opinion on questions both small and large. And talk to them about what, in their experience, works and what doesn't.
In the worst case, you get to know quite a bit more about the entirety of your enterprise. In the best case, you've designed a better product -- and done that faster than possible with a divided enterprise. That's got to be considered the biggest design win of all.