Mike Rainone has a background in both psychology and design; his wife Donna, in architecture. Together they founded PCD Works, a product concept development firm situated on a 25-acre campus in East Texas. Interestingly, it has purposefully been sited off of the beaten path: "if you want out of the box thinking, you have to step out of your box," the company writes. "That's why PCDworks is set far away from the distractions of every day corporate life. Our 25-acre campus offers guest quarters, a brainstorming studio, and home-cooked meals. But don't let the serene and majestic setting fool you. PCDworks is also equipped with a full complement of state-of-the-art engineering, prototyping, and testing facilities, and staffed with some of the finest minds in the business."
The first thing we wanted to show you was Rainone's take on how diverse, interdisciplinary product development teams provide the key to innovating while reducing risk:
Rainone's got a background in ID but didn't mention our hallowed profession, miffing us a little, but we'll let it slide. Because what really brought Rainone and PCD Works to our attention is this blistering article on PDDnet he wrote stating "Our military couldn't do proper product development if their lives depended on it." While we've all read tales of military incompetence—unarmored Humvees in Iraq, female soldiers with ill-fitting body armor, et cetera—most of us can just shake our heads. Rainone has more skin in the game: Four of his sons are enlisted in the military.
Many of us who've worked at design firms have experienced nightmare clients. That pales in comparison with what Rainone's talking about:
Sadly, the U.S. military and their military procurement counterparts have been glaringly incompetent for many years.
For example, take U.S. fighter planes. Unlike British warplanes, at the beginning of WWII, U.S. fighter planes did not have adjustable gun sites. If you were taller than 5’ 8”, you had to scrunch down to shoot. If you were shorter, you had to sit on a book to aim comfortably. Why the "minor" oversight? It's fairly obvious that the procurement team had never experienced a dogfight and didn't understand that in the middle of a life and death struggle, scrunching down to aim was just not a reasonable demand.
During that same war, we also lost more aviators to frostbite from flying high-altitude bombing runs than we did from the Luftwaffe, because it took three generations of electrically heated flying suits from the Army's Materiel Command to get the technology right.
Lest you think it's all negative, the central thrust of Rainone's article is that the U.S. military has found a way to do product development right: Hire people who know what they're doing—and then get out of the way. Read about it here.