Project Management Basics – The Technology Development Project Plan

Written by Chris Pinter                                                                                     

May 13, 2010

Every time you develop or deploy new technology that takes more than a month to implement you should manage the project using a project management process.   A project management process helps you understand the risks, costs and time line before you start.  Creating a project plan is the first step in the process.

Create Project Scope and Requirements

The process of creating new technology starts with recognizing there is a need for the project by creating a project charter document where you outline the project scope.   The scope statement is intended to do one thing.

Limit the project to a specific set of goals and objectives so that time and costs are managed within the need.

The last thing you want to do is have feature creep and the uncontrolled risk enter the project to wreak havoc on your budget.  So it is important to establish your needs.  Outlining the needs is very important and is done by creating a requirements document.  (For a more detailed explanation of the requirements documents see the blog titled “How to write a good requirements document.”)

Review Technology Option

This is where you want to bring the engineers into the project.  Technology is always changing and selecting the best technology is important.  Even if the project has been on hold for a year, it is important to research the latest technology because new solutions are always coming onto the market.

Technology Risk

The development of technology always has a measurable amount of risk.  If you are attempting to start a project that you have any number of unknown variables then you are engaging in a risky venture.  The amount of risk you need to recognize depends on how new the technology is to you.  In order to reduce the level of risks you need to recognize and document the risks in your plan.   Some of the things you need to consider when analyzing risk include the following:

Identify each risk in a table – Some examples include technology requirements that do not exist, skills required that you do not have or environmental considerations that your system must operate.

Methods to managing risk – Describe the possible methods to reduce the risk and the costs of each method.  This can include hiring a consultant, buying a module or using a strategic partner to help in areas where you are weak.

Design Concept

After investigating the technology available, a design concept should be created as engineers review the options on how to accomplish the project goals.  Often times this stage will include a proof of concept to flush out some of the unknown risks of the project and provide the marketing department with an idea on how the product meets the scope of the requirements.

Project Plan

Once you have an idea on what you want to build, you then need to describe the project itself.  The project plan is not a gaunt chart, although it may include one.  The project plan describes all of the major tasks that need to be created in order to complete the project.  These tasks are called work packages and describe the key elements of the project at a level of detail so that a timeline and a budget can be reasonably estimated.

For example, if we know we need to acquire hardware, software and firmware for a project then we want to describe three different work packages.   Let’s take the work package hardware as the example.  To develop brand new hardware you will need to create test firmware, schematic design, printed circuit board layout, performance testing and certification.  In turn, each of these major tasks needs to be further broken down into smaller work packages until the package is small enough to determine a schedule and a budget.

The work packages have several pieces of key information to help describe the work, the costs, the time required and who is responsible for the work package.   All of the work packages are put together to create a work package dictionary which has all of the key information in one place.  A typical work package entire will look like the figure below.

This is good information to start out.  With the upfront work packages you can determine schedule and budget and further what the return on investment will likely be.

In Part 2 Project Management Basics – progressive elaboration, we will be discussing how the unknown project details and future work packages are developed and filled out during project execution.

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