The concept phase in action

The concept phase in action

As any project manager will tell you, investing in product development without a business case is fool’s errand.

Now I don’t mean a financial business case. Indeed I find that I prefer the Prince 2 term ‘project initiation document’. Whatever you call it, preparing this document helps you explore, structure and succeed in your project. The financials are just one of many considerations.

A business contracted Delta Swan to deliver and bring forward two in-flight product development projects. I was looking forward to it, mainly because I assumed the projects had proper requirements and robust business cases. I was disappointed.

The two projects were different beasts. I want to quickly mention the second before getting onto the first. It was running and I joined the team meetings. Although their project management practices were a bit ropey, they were doing a good job of moving on tasks.

And that was the problem. They had no business requirements. So they were making assumptions all over the place. Very quickly, I suggested that the business review its strategy for this project and give proper requirements. While looking into my suggestion the business put the project on hold – later cancelling it.

Back to the first project

This was a straightforward product introduction. But…Sales had created the delivery date and it had no planning behind it. I set about understanding the project and documenting my findings. I uncovered five major risks and issues. As I managed these obstacles, the desired delivery date became increasingly less feasible.

Once I was confident in my understanding, I presented two options. Plan A – which relied on the early, less expensive resolution of one of the risks (travelling hopefully). And Plan B which assumed a late, expensive outcome (the probable result of travelling hopefully).

Plan A or Plan B
Presenting the project plan using two scenarios helped the business understand the implications of its assumptions.

I kicked off the key activities (items on the critical path if you want the lingo) with robust task definitions. Took the project through the concept gate and documented both scenarios ready for the definition gate.

However, I knew that the organisation wasn’t fully behind the project. The problem lay in a disjointed vision for the market sector. So I designed and led workshops to build a strategy, including the changes the business must make for success.

A successful conclusion

Having killed one project and pushed back the other, the business no longer required the service it contracted Delta Swan to deliver. So, I suggested we end the contract early. The business went with Plan C which is an early, negative outcome of the risk that drove the Plan A and Plan B scenario. By recognising the desired outcome was unlikely the business was able to go to market in its desired timescales.

Plan C

Choosing Plan C has enabled an earlier entry into the market.

On the face of it, these projects seem like failures. But the first project has delivered a product and many aspects of the sector strategy. And cancelling the second project gave the business time to reflect on its strategy.

Key skills

Business analysis – data analysis, insight, persuasion.

Risk/ issue management – used interviews and team meetings to identify risks. Researched technical and legal matters to develop probability and severity scores. Worked with subject matter experts (SME) to develop robust management plans. Budgeted for the risk management plans and built them into the schedule.

Governance – set up project gates and a steering group. Presented to the concept gate review and prepared the definition gate review.

Project management – Business Case preparation and team building. Scheduling and integrating sub plans in Microsoft Project. Budget preparation. Stakeholder engagement.

Strategy development – laid out the key requirements of a robust business strategy. Facilitated workshops and assessments to define a strategy and implementation plan. Wrote a strategy white paper and outlined a board presentation pack for the strategy owner.

Product development – integrated product team including purchasing and manufacturing. Introduced project assessments and built a New Product Introduction process.

Do you have a product development project and need top-class project management? Contact us today to discuss your requirements and learn how Delta Swan can help.