The New Normal…for developing hardware and bringing products to production in China.

Written by Erin McFall

The last few months have seen an unprecedented change in the way the world operates. Operating in China for Product Development (PD) and bringing products to production is very different now than it was just a few short months ago.

Kaizen Dynamic (or, “KD” as we call ourselves) is a Shenzhen-based Product Development and engineering consultancy with offices in San Francisco and Hong Kong. Our technical team is based in the Futian District of Shenzhen (right across the border from Hong Kong), where we have 20+ people engaged in developing hardware, solving engineering problems, developing supply bases, and administering New Product Introduction (NPI) programs for custom hardware products.

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The Kaizen Dynamic (KD) office closed for Chinese New Year on Jan 24th, and our team dispersed throughout China. At the time, the coronavirus problem in Wuhan was not widely understood and no one appreciated how much the world was about to change. That week, the Chinese government imposed a lockdown of Wuhan which eventually included surrounding cities and a total of ~57 million people.

Soon after, the rest of China shut down and citizens were told to stay where they were. Although the number of COVID-19 cases in Shenzhen (and Hong Kong) remained relatively low—the city was locked down. Bars and restaurants were closed, business were closed, people stayed in their homes and waited.

The KD team began working remotely mid-February. Some team members were well situated for remote work—they had laptops, good connectivity, and they had the ability to focus on work. Some KD team members were not so lucky. But as an organization and as a team, we were supportive of each other, flexible, adaptive, and empathetic for whatever situation people found themselves in.

One KD team member (a Mechanical Engineer) lives in Hong Kong. He has great connectivity, access to materials, and good working environments—but cannot travel to China. What used to be a 1 hour commute to the KD Shenzhen office is now is an ordeal—with a required isolation period of 14 days upon crossing the border.

KD had two team members (a Mechanical Engineer and an Electrical Engineer) who were locked down in Wuhan for 76 days. They both made it through with their health, but one lost his father…not to COVID-19 but to an overburdened healthcare system and an unmet need for medical attention. Jimmy, our hearts are with you.

Darragh, one of KD’s founders, was in the Middle East for the Chinese New Year when the COVID-19 lockdown hit--and was not able to return to China (he has lived in Shenzhen for 13+ years). Darragh and his pregnant wife became “refugees” in the Middle East, then in Ireland, then in Cleveland (another story), then in San Francisco, finally returning to Hong Kong on March 3rd. They made it back to Hong Kong before the heavy travel restrictions were put in place and were able to get a VRBO in Hong Kong for a few months.

Both of them are safe and healthy (and working from Hong Kong) until the China travel restrictions lift and they can go home to Shenzhen. They packed for 2 weeks in Dubai and have been living out of their suitcases for 12+ weeks. As it stands foreigners are still not able to enter China or Hong Kong even if holding a resident visa and/or work permit or otherwise. There is no official date for when this ban is to be lifted.

The KD office was approved to reopen in late February. KD has to provide masks for all office staff and visitors, have hand sanitizing equipment available, have a thermometer to check body temperature and documented sanitizing protocols to open and close the office daily. Mid-March, KD did a phased reopening and are now fully operational. In general, the KD team made it through the brunt of the China COVID-19 wave healthy.

So what is The New Normal?

China is couple months ahead of where the US and Europe are on the COVID-19 curve. China reached its peak of COVID-19 cases in mid-February, and the number of active cases has been declining ever since. Today, there are around 1,000 active cases of COVID-19 in China.

The US and Europe are still looking for the backside of the COVID-19 curve (where active cases decline over a prolonged period) and are trying to figure out how and when to emerge from this unprecedented shut-down. We will get there. Active cases will diminish. Business will open. People will go back to work. China and the KD team can tell you that life resumes, you go back to work, and things become more normal. Maybe not totally “normal” but functional. A new “normal.”

The great news for KD clients, is that we are fully operational and supporting Product Development and New Product Introduction (NPI) programs. For instance--this week, we are supporting the Design Validation Trial (DVT) build of the FELLOW Ode coffee grinder.

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FELLOW is a San Francisco based coffee equipment company specializing in advanced pour-over systems and equipment. Ode is a countertop grinder designed for drip coffee, that is more precise and more beautiful than any grinder ever made. Check out their kickstarter page.

Fellow Ode Grinder 2

Anyone who has been through the NPI process knows that it means long hours at the factory, a conference room full of laptops, testing, verifying, and communicating. Fellow will be remote for the build, so the KD operations team will be their eyes and ears. This is The New Normal for NPI. This is the first build for which Fellow has not been physically present in China --and this is a BIG one.

This build is to validate the design before mass production. We are doing lots of Zoom, GoToMeeting, or WeChat calls, sending lots of reports, and spending many hours at the factory. We are supporting a client that has extremely high standards for performance and aesthetics. KD is raising the level of what was already a capable factory partner to something that did not exist in China before. That is not a small feat, especially when the people that will put their name (FELLOW) on the product cannot be there.

For KD, this is the new normal.

There is a different approach to developing and delivering products in the new normal. More than ever, companies need to rely on trusted partners to be their eyes and ears. It is a different way of working and communicating, but we must adapt. Now is not the time to give up, or to wait for things to go back to normal (the old normal). It is time to find YOUR solution and get ahead of the curve in these challenging times. People are going to need things to buy next year. KD can help you develop and produce them now.

Erin McFall, Founder KAIZEN DYNAMIC

About The Author

Erin McFall

Erin McFall

Erin McFall has been bringing hardware products to life for almost 20 years. As the 5th employee of PCH international, Erin helped grow that company to $1.5B in revenue and thousands of employees. Now 3 years into founding and developing KAIZEN DYNAMIC, we have focused our attention to the critical details of Product Development and bringing products to life in Mass Production. Our Shenzhen based Product Development consultancy is an experienced and technically capable team that is perfectly positioned to support your Engineering Development needs.

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