Project managers constantly strive to bring projects to a successful completion under challenging timelines and within a strict budget. We work with our clients to define what success is to them, not just for the project we are working on, but their program goals as well.
You would think that in order to get to the finish line, the fastest route would be the best way to achieve project success– compose a well thought out plan to achieve your goal, execute that plan, and cross the finish line. Unfortunately in product development there is rarely a straight line, and best laid plans can quickly run into unforeseen issues. Before you know it, you have spent a portion of your limited budget and you have something that doesn’t work the way you thought it would, possibly even risking the success of the project.
Engineers and designers, like entrepreneurs, are enthusiastic about solving problems and optimistic about its success. A good project manager can help guide the client and the team to consider potential pitfalls and mitigate project risks. If something about your project is going to fail, you want to know about it as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Here are 3 ways that you can make that happen:
- Proof of concept on the cheap
You have an idea in your head of what your design looks like at the finish line. What is the minimum viable product that we can use to learn something right now? Sometimes this can be as simple as cardboard and duct tape or a mock graphical user interface. The point is you invest the absolute minimum amount of time and money to learn something, assess, and proceed based on what you discover. If you uncover a problem with your assumptions you address it, while minimizing wasted efforts.
- Get feedback from stakeholders
Who is going to use your product, what is important to them, and would they buy/use it? What we think people want is not always accurate. Often times we get so invested in an idea that it seems like the best thing since sliced bread met Nutella (which is really a delicious combination and if you haven’t tried it you are missing out). Of course people will love and appreciate your product, because that is what we think. Instead you should proceed with the assumption that you may be wrong, and you need to engage with the end user. This should be an array of people inside and outside the company.
Input from designers, engineers, suppliers, and manufacturing can tell you how your product could fail to get to market. Input from potential distributors, customers, and end users can tell you how you could fail once you get to market. You should listen to all of them, not just the people that are positive about your product, and make sure you address their concerns in a business risk assessment.
- Learn how to pivot
Don’t think about how much money you have put into your project already. That money is spent, and you can only go forward from where you are right now. There can be times when discoveries are made that put the project at risk. Consider if the feedback you received from stakeholders challenges your assumptions and the likelihood of success. You can make the decision to press on and attempt to solve the problem, but you may be risking good money after bad. You should stop, assess, and decide if you can pivot. If you have your eye solely on the end goal you may have your blinders on. Instead, consider what all your options are at that moment in time and tweak your strategy. If you change course, make sure you repeat steps 1 and 2 above to confirm your new path.
As I described at the beginning of this blog, a good project manager helps guide the client and the team achieve project success by considering potential pitfalls and mitigating project risks. Be aware of, and address, the 3 pitfalls above and your project will likely develop faster and more successfully.
Jason Evans is a StarFish Medical Technical Project Manager and this is his debut blog for StarFish Medical. He successfully applies his 3 tips to keep projects on track while fostering innovations.