FreeWire Technologies is an emerging clean tech company that designs and manufactures industrial capacity charging units for electric vehicles. In late 2018, FreeWire engaged Product Realization Group (PRG) to help scale up production of their Mobi® EV Charger before year’s end.
FreeWire had solid funding from not one, but two strategic investors. It had a product ready to be manufactured in high volumes. Or so it thought.
The full story of PRG’s partnership with FreeWire to bring the Mobi® EV Charger to market is here: Speeding Up the Transformation from Prototype to Full Scale:The FreeWire Success Story.
PRG’s work with FreeWire to scale production of the Mobi® EV charger was targeted toward the following areas:
- leading the transition to NPI with a seasoned technical program manager;
- helping FreeWire build New Product Introduction (“NPI”) processes;
- integrating quality and reliability into its manufacturing through robust manufacturing test processes; and
- building out a team of on-demand subject matter experts, led by a technical program manager.
In a recent panel at the SV Hardware Product Development Meetup hosted by PRG and moderated by CMO Jessica Ching, panelists Martin Lynch, FreeWire’s COO, Jeff Rosen, principal with JSRosen Consulting;and Jay Feldis, Technical Program Manager for PRG, discussed the NPI transformation at FreeWire.
What is NPI?
As Martin explained NPI, “NPI is the process of taking a product that we think is done and actually getting it done.” The NPI processes transition the product from “cool product” or “science experiment” to a one that is functional, repeatable, with a high level of quality and reliability. For Martin the NPI process began with “freezing the BOM (“Bill of Materials”).” As Martin explained, this was critical: “Just getting a BOM and getting everybody to agree to what that BOM was, was [critical] because everybody was operating in a different area that they believed was the product.”
Requirements Documentation, Controls and Processes
According to Jeff, product documentation was another important element of the NPI process for FreeWire: “Getting one product documented in a system with some amount of change and revision control, and then alongside of that, starting to build out a product life cycle process.” FreeWire needed to document the requirements and put the processes in place to start managing them. Part of managing the requirements is having processes in place to control change. Jay explained: “You should have a very clear document at all times about what it is you have agreed upon as an organization that you are building. Then if you decide to change it, you change it, and there are implications … we had to go through a process of revisiting those requirements so that the engineering team and everybody downstream knew what they were actually building and trying to do.”
Getting the Right People at the Right Time
Hiring the right people to support the NPI process was a challenge for FreeWire. As Martin explained, when he joined FreeWire, it was a very “young” engineering organization– great engineers, but young. In some instances FreeWire built up its team with permanent hires. Martin kept the young team and hired more senior team members. “Today we have kept all our young engineers, but we coupled them with a lot of mentors and people who really understood design and development from a mature perspective, and it’s made the team really good.” In other instances, it wasn’t necessarily economic to hire. As Jay explained, that’s when they looked to consultants for short-term projects and special needs: “If you’re not necessarily in a position to hire the most senior person, bring in someone on a short term basis or spot basis. That person can come in, educate your team, and help you solve that problem, so then you can move on.” PRG helped FreeWire identify experienced consultants who could start immediately, add value and hit the ground running. PRG also helped vet candidates for some of FreeWire’s open senior positions.
Jeff noted that another way to fill a skills gap and support the NPI process is to piggyback on your CM or supply chain resource: “There’s a whole heck of a lot they can do to give you resources in the near term and some guidance and assistance to overcome your gaps.”
Using Technical Program Managers
FreeWire brought in Jeff and another technical program manager from PRG to lead their two development teams. Both TPMs brought years of experience in project planning and execution, enabling them to help FreeWire leaders ask the right questions, do the risk analysis, and make the hard decisions. According to Martin,”somebody’s got to own the program– You’ve got to put a program manager in charge, like Jay.”
Finally, creating structure in the FreeWire organization promoted efficient use of the limited product team. Jeff felt that one of Martin’s early accomplishments was to introduce structure and operational efficiencies to FreeWire: “First and foremost, it’s a basic operating structure, program teams, clear roles and responsibilities. The immediate thing that Martin put in was a structure.”
FreeWire Success Story
As the PRG Success Case Study details, the FreeWire / PRG collaboration was an NPI success story for FreeWire.
- FreeWire accomplished its year-end shipping milestones, overcoming numerous challenges.
- FreeWire ramped up production to fulfill pre-booked orders for 2019.
- PRG established NPI processes that ensured high quality product without defects or reliability issues for high volume scale.
Below are links to videos and transcripts of the completed panel discussion:
- Why was NPI important to FreeWire? (video & transcript)
- Where does a company start NPI? (video & transcript)
- What can go wrong in the NPI process? (video & transcript)
- How do you manage the resources needed? (video & transcript)
- Audience Questions Part I – Advice for blending an experienced team with an inexperienced team and advice on managing strategic investor relationships. (video & transcript)
- Audience Questions Part II – Go to market advice and IP advice. (video & transcript)