At MBX, our mantra for 2014 has been “Customer, Customer, Customer”. In Project Management, it means three things:
- What is the scope of the customer’s project, including timeframe and business strategy?
- What are the milestones MBX and the customer need to hit?
- What customer-facing project tasks carry the most scheduling risk?
Answering these questions and creating a project management plan determines the flow of a project and allows foresight of obstacles that may prevent the project from finishing on time. In this series, I’ll describe how MBX Project Management aims to define the importance of these questions and how we lead the new project onboarding process and establish the product’s ultimate launch date. I’ll also describe what to expect during the onboarding process. (We’ll talk about questions 1 and 2 today and follow up with 3 in Thursday’s blog post.)
First Things First: Establishing the Scope
When we begin the product development process with any customer, we bring together an internal team consisting of business and technical resources. The objective is to scope out the project in order to form a full product development team. Frequently, we set up a collaborative workspace, such as Basecamp, so that we can create punchlists and deliverable-oriented meeting agendas.
In these early conversations, Project Management typically will have questions for the customer about their plans. We are trying to widen the scope of the project immediately so that we can have technical discussions within the context of the customer’s larger business strategy. Customer, Customer, Customer.
Creating the Schedule
When creating the schedule, I like to plan backwards, starting with a finish date. Our customers have their businesses to run, their own marketing departments, and their own plans. We want to know as much of that information as possible to develop the schedule for the project.
One question we want to understand is, “Do you have a date by which you want to be shipping systems to YOUR customers?” Having this goal as part of the project plan creates a sense of urgency; it creates a common target for both MBX and the customer to pursue together and helps streamline the entire product development process. From this common understanding, clear priorities get set, and the product launch date becomes a motivator for people to put in extra effort, if necessary. If you are coming on board or bringing a new platform into production, you can bet there is a Gantt chart I can share with you.
Step Two: Hitting Milestones and Avoiding Delays
Our MBX teams frequently execute onboarding projects and are already conditioned to be focused and punctual. With organization and effort, we hit our controllable marks and contain the risk of things we do not control.
Our customers, on the other hand, go through this process infrequently, perhaps rolling out a new product line once a year or less; they may have only gone through an onboarding process with a contract manufacturer once before. Customers may not realize the impact their decisions and deliverables have on the schedule.
As an example, picture a project with the end goal to ship new products in six months. To ensure a high-quality and repeatable deliverable, we need to go through the full product development lifecycle: prototype, first article (pilot) and production release. To help keep all these tasks on schedule, we break down each phase into all its substituent tasks and build a cohesive plan that incorporates the customer’s scope and strategy. For each customer there are many product and operational goals, such as custom bezels or EDI, that have unique requirements and dependencies. By helping customers identify and understand these complexities, our team creates a robust partnership of raving fans.
To help alleviate potential delays, the schedule shows all milestones that rely on the customer to provide input. You’ll find that I’m usually on calls asking how things are going and reminding people about possible ramifications to missing milestones. The earlier I find out about a change, the faster I can replan the schedule to mitigate the impact. For larger, more complex projects, I’ll write full risk management plans.
With this inside view to how we create and follow a schedule, you’ll have a better understanding of the process during your onboarding project. When your hardware provider is focused on you and has a clearly planned schedule, you’ll find that the road to completing your new server appliance project is smooth and simple.