Successful projects require that teams carefully manage the specifications
for three interdependent variables. These variables are product availability
(time), product functionality (capability), and product cost in production
Any one of these three could be chosen as the subordinates variable, depending upon factors such as customer requirements, the state of the art, or the competition. If absolutely necessary, the two subordinate variables could be changed to accommodate any problems that occur with achieving the key variable.
Project management tips. If a project is properly managed and meets the following criteria, it will not require tradeoffs between the three variables.
Use a structured project-development process to provide a framework for activities covering everything from developing the product concept to volume shipment. Include system architecture, hardware and software engineering, marketing, field service, documentation, and manufacturing. A core project team, consisting of representatives of these various functions, should consider all of these elements early in the planning process.
Plan your project well and avoid a fuzzy front-end. The planning stage is critical. Over a third of all projects fail because insufficient resources, in terms of time and talent, are devoted to developing a decisive front-end objective.
Establish a "right size" cross-functional core project team early in the process. Make sure the team makes all of the important project decisions under the guidance of the project manager. Adapt the process framework -- with its various stages, phases, and check points--to fit the size and complexity of each project. The framework should have sufficient detail for large projects, but remain flexible enough so that it does not overburden small projects with excessive structure.
Match the extent of the deliverables and other aspects of the development process to the project's parameters. These parameters usually include the project's importance, its size, its complexity, its technical risk, its market risk, and its market/customer situation. We don't want to drive spikes with tack hammers, and we don't want to drive tacks with spike hammers.
Encourage accurate and timely communication among everyone involved with the project. The process framework indicates how the various development activities relate, provides a common terminology, and provides tools to ease the communication process. It recognizes that iterative loops and an emphasis on parallel rather than serial activities reduces time to market.
Provide the human and financial resources required by the plan.
Postpone making any changes that will improve one variable beyond the plan's specifications, if the other two variables have not been satisfied. Include those improvements in a later version. Keep everyone involved with the project focused on the designated key variable. Consider this as working within the time box, or the capability box, or a cost box.
Employees often fall back on their former employer's process, and consultants sometimes push their own processes. Avoid such chaos and form your own process framework.
Ask the Manager
What will happen if we don't establish a project development process framework at our company?
The lack of a process framework often results in the following problems:
Fuzzy front ends, because the planning phase is cut short to "get on with the real work."
Too much serial processing, which converges too slowly to produce good, timely solutions.
A project that follows its own process, according to the individual manager's personal experience. This can create great confusion among those involved in the project, especially technical gurus and support people who are involved in more than one project during a particular time period.
Confirming specifications late in the process, sometimes even after the product has been approved for production.
Too many downstream changes, requiring iterations back to the system-level design. Such revisions create significant delay and additional costs.
Incomplete planning, which occurs when only the engineering and marketing aspects are considered and other elements, such as manufacturing, sales, documentation and field service, are ignored. This, too, will create significant delay and additional costs.
No core project team. Such a team ensures that sufficient resources will be devoted to the project and exerts the authority/power to achieve the project's objectives.
Inefficient and ineffective use of scarce human and financial resources.
Proper tradeoffs are not made between the three critical project interdependent variables -- time, capability, and cost. This can create serious negative consequences for the project and the organization in terms of market share and profits.
In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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