Author: Toni Grabinger Nosbush
A brilliant product idea and design are necessary, but insufficient to achieve commercialization. Equally important is a credible plan and a leader that drives to successful execution – especially when a development goes off-track. This paper describes a business practice that leads to recognition and correction of a troubled development.
Key to getting a troubled product development project back on track is recognition that it is off-course. Symptoms of an unhealthy project include:
- Missed deadlines
- Many surprises
- Dropped functionality
- Demoralized team
- Unhappy investors
One of the most common causes of a project not going according to plan is ambiguity. Ambiguity is the enemy - it will cause certain failure. Frequent forms of ambiguity include:
- Inadequate Definition: Poorly defined product requirements; lack of defined risks and inter-dependencies; or misunderstanding of the roles and responsibilities that lead to a single outcome – all team members are working on a “different” project.
- Misaligned Expectations: Stakeholders – e.g. management, suppliers, regulators, investors, team – have a different assumption of what defines a successful conclusion.
- Poor or Over-optimistic Planning: Guesswork, top-down pressure, lack of detail, and failure to account for risk can lead to financial disaster for companies of all sizes.
- Scope Creep: Uncontrolled addition of extra, often minor, requirements delays the schedule – often it renders the final product unrecognizable from the original concept.
It takes courage to call a timeout for an unhealthy project. You must objectively assess where in the process you really are; identify the causes that took the project off-track; and set a course correction. The steps to drive recovery are:
- Impartially define where the project is today
- Define a successful outcome » Review and gain agreement of stakeholders
- Assess the gap i.e. what is the difference between today and a successful outcome
- Prepare a predictable schedule
- Detail measurable, manageable tasks
- Define known risks and their implications
- Add buffer for unknown risks
- Articulate assumptions and their implications
- Allow for opportunities
- Review and negotiate schedule with stakeholders » Express options in terms of trade-offs and benefits
- Secure agreement with all stakeholders » Lock the definition and schedule
- Commit and execute
Planning and executing a predictable product development is crucial to satisfying stakeholders and maintaining credibility. Ideally, the first plan works, but in the environment of complex developments, this is rarely true. Recognizing an unhealthy development and taking the steps to drive recovery will get the project back on track with minimal pain.
Author: Toni Grabinger Nosbush
A principal at Project Leadership Services, Toni Grabinger Nosbush combines vast expertise in project leadership with the ability to apply the project management process across a wide variety of industries, including medical devices, medical instrumentation, communications, high-tech, non-profit and business process development.