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Does Everyone Really Understand?
By Tom Dennis –
President, Effective Engineering
You’re a project manager tasked with
leading a critical development project. It’s a big project for your company
with significant complexity and a wealth of features. You’ve got a
time-critical deadline to deliver a high quality, fully-tested product to
market. You think you’ve nailed down the product requirements and project
plan so that all involved understand, agree, and are working toward the same
goals. But have you really? Does everyone really
We’re all familiar with the tire swing cartoon, shown above and in
an earlier Effective Engineering e-Newsletter (see
eN-030619 – What Do Your Customers Really Want?) showing the
various versions of different organizations’ interpretations of product
requirements, including the last one showing what the customer really
wanted and expected. And this is for an extremely simple project. How does
this compare to your really complex project? How do other organizations
involved see and understand the project? What do the people of the various
organizations involved really think they’re being asked to do? Do they
really understand the details of their assignments?
Every organization sees products and projects through their own prisms, and
their perspectives will color their understandings of their assignments and
• Product Management concentrates on defining what the product
should be from a feature/function requirements perspective and how it can
address demand being heard from prospective customers.
• Project Management concentrates on planning the tasks,
resources, timeframes, dependencies, costs, and other major and minor
elements of getting all the project pieces required in place in an effective
and sensible manner.
• Engineering concentrates on what it will take to design and
develop the product, including technologies, technical resources, staffing
profiles, capital equipment, development planning and scheduling,
dependencies, likely bottlenecks and ways to plan for and around them, cost
estimates, timing, etc.
• Marketing concentrates on how they will go about marketing
the product including how they can best present the product to show how it
will meet customers’ needs and thus spark customer interest and demand.
They develop marketing material and presentations based on their
understanding of what the product is and does.
• Sales concentrates on how they will be able to position and
price (and discount) the product in order to best make money for the company
and, of course, themselves. This includes defining the distribution
channels it will sell through and the pricing structures that will support
that. They’re also responsible for forecasting sales by channel, which will
help to determine corporate future revenue forecasts that are critical to
company success and favorable positioning in their markets.
• Finance concentrates on product costs, how and where the
product can best be built and distributed, how the product can be priced,
what margins it can achieve, possible discount structures, revenue and
margin forecasts, how it will impact other corporate revenue streams, how it
will shape corporate profitability and growth, etc.
• Manufacturing concentrates on how and where the product will
be built to minimize costs and maximize profitability, internal and/or
external resources (including local, domestic, off-shore, etc.) that will be
required, supply chain management, inventory planning, etc.
• Customer Services concentrates on what will be needed and
expected once product begins shipping, training for customer service
personnel, support for distribution resources, likely problems expected from
end customers, large and small distributors, etc.
• Other organizations will have their own specific needs and
concerns as well, each with their own unique perspectives.
So, when you think, from above, that “you’ve nailed down the product
requirements so that all involved understand, agree, and are working toward
the same goals”, have you taken all of the broad and often conflicting
organizational needs and concerns into account? Do you understand the needs
and concerns of each of the organizations and people directly or
peripherally involved in this critical project? The answer is almost
certainly no (see also
eN-070104 – What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate!).
What can you do to help to minimize the disconnect between what you
know, which is dominated by your own perspective, background, and approach,
and what all the other organizations and people involved need to know and
have clear understandings of? The challenge is likely far more daunting
than you may have initially thought. How do you best proceed?
Learn who will be involved, even peripherally, in this project and spend
some time with one or more people from each organization to begin to
understand what drives them and their organizations (their
perspectives/prisms), and to understand their needs. Do your best to answer
the questions they may have, and even to answer the questions they will but
don’t yet know they’ll have. You will likely learn a lot about what is
actually needed to make sure everyone really understands.
This will take time you likely don’t think you have, but it’s far better to
spend time up front to enable you to do things right the first time, than to
have to do things over when ‘surprises’ occur (see also
eN-070705 – Doing Things Right vs. Doing Things Over and
eN-050303 – When Bad Things Happen To Good Projects). Then make
sure your project plan takes this all into account. This will almost
certainly complicate your project plan, but only in ways that should be
taken into account in the first place (see also
eN-041104 – Plan Based On What You Do Know, and On What You Don’t!).
Let your project be the exceptional one that goes well because it has been
truly well thought out and where potential concerns and considerations of
all involved have been addressed up front. The one where everyone
really does understand!
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