As one year ends and a new one begins, many people stop and take a moment to reflect on the past. Since the road behind me is longer than the road in front of me, I have collected an array of knowledge through my past experiences. My intent is to share some of the most pragmatic and valuable learnings in hopes that it can help others be more productive.
Anyone who has ever been involved in a new product development project has experienced their share of pitfalls. Applying learnings from these experiences is what separates mediocre development teams from great development teams. As a wise person once stated:
“Good judgement comes from experience. And experience? That comes from poor judgement.”
There’s no magic pixy dust that creates a great project outcome. It comes down to doing fundamental things well. With this concept in mind, I’ve chosen to break down the insights collected into a series of blog posts so that the reader is not overwhelmed.
For the first release in this series, the fundamentals of communication and work definition are covered.
Good communication is at the core of being effective.
I’ve collected project retrospectives for years and the most common theme that surfaces for a project being successful or unsuccessful come down to communication. This principle was further verified when I queried my colleagues for their thoughts about key lessons they learned from past projects. Over and over the concept of effective communication surfaced. Most of us will acknowledge the reality of this truism so here are some pragmatic ideas to foster strong communications:
- Utilize active listening during critical conversations
- Capture important items in writing so they can be referenced later
- Setup communication channels that allow information to be both pushed to the team (e.g. email) as well as channels where the team can pull information (e.g. SharePoint)
My advice to anyone involved in product development is to communicate, communicate, then communicate some more. Communication can take many forms (formal or informal, oral, written or visual, printed or electronic), so it’s imperative to match the communication method to the person(s) receiving the message. Consequently, it’s critical to know your audience so that you can provide information in a meaningful way to them.
Moreover, effective communication within a project team helps bond the team together and creates a culture of inclusiveness. The best results come from the interactions among the team, and close communications ensure that everyone is aligned and moving in a common direction.
There may be times when unexpected events occur during the development of a new product. Maybe a technical issue has appeared during initial development, or the initial prototype didn’t work as well as expected, or some activities are taking longer than planned. In these types of circumstances – act quickly! Delaying these conversations will not make the circumstances go away; it only compounds the problem and further limits available options. During these occurrences:
- Remain positive and calm
- Use data (not judgements or opinions) to work through the issue
- Analyze the root cause by using the 5-whys technique
- Define options (look for win-win possibilities)
- Communicate directly and concisely
Relaying project progress and performance is part of the communication exchange. Keep status updates concise and at a depth that is needed for the person receiving them. Convey project performance data in a manner that is easy to understand. Graphs make it easy for people to digest complex data and dashboards allow a multitude of data to be shown in a singular location so the reader does not have to spend valuable time looking for it. Don’t make your reader work to understand your message.
Clearly define the work
Many teams want to rush into the design phase and not pay enough credence to the requirements and architecture phases. Defining value-added requirements and creating an architecture to meet those requirements is extremely important for the success of a project since these items become the framework for the project. Details matter, so it’s worthwhile to take time to define them. It’s substantially less expensive to do a thorough job with the requirements and architecture, even if it costs a few weeks of schedule and labor time than paying for it in rework later down the road.
Together with the person sanctioning the development, define the project scope, goals, and deliverables. Over-communicate initially and keep verifying for understanding. Never assume you and the other person both said and heard the same things. By echoing back what you heard the other person say, you affirm their message and you create an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings that occurred. In the end, the objective is to provide clarity for everyone involved. By providing clarity, people can take ownership and are able to make decisions during the project execution that support the product objectives.
There are three focal points that I’ve found helpful when defining a project. First, define the “problem statement.” In other words, what need is the product or service attempting to solve? By answering this question, it grounds the remainder of the definition efforts and provides a means for the team to gauge if ideas and concepts being discussed directly aid in the solution. Second, define “done.” Clearly state when the solution is acceptable to stop developing further (at least for now). Third, don’t forget to define and record performance parameters when defining the product. There’s nothing worse than spending months developing a design to discover it’s not fast enough for the intended use, it has too many operational steps, or the communication range is subpar.
Getting the right balance of product features, product cost, development cost, and development schedule is a key goal for any project. Taking the time to talk through these key attributes will keep the team focused and empowered during the development phase.
Our product development team has learned the importance of communication over the years. Indesign, LLC is a multi-discipline engineering design firm that provides full turnkey electronic product development to allow clients to get their new product ideas into the market quickly. Indesign offers complete product development capabilities, starting with a product concept and finishing with a ready-to-manufacture design. Indesign has an ISO certified product development process and a proven track record for on-time, on-budget, high-quality product realization. To learn more about us and our services, contact us at (317) 377-5450 today!
The topics discussed above set the foundation for a sound product development experience. Next month I’ll discuss project planning and project execution tips that can keep a project from becoming one of “those” projects.