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PM Essence
Lifecycle Management - Product Development –
from a Project Management Perspective

- Chitra Varanasi, PMP, Atlas Copco India Ltd.
One of the first definitions we hear about Project Management is “It is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirement”. Similarly we hear that a “Project is a temporary endeavor taken to create a unique product or service”. While examining the applicability of these definitions to new product development projects for Life Cycle Management i.e. when we reskin or redesign a product for the same application and create the new version, is that product unique? Is it still Project Management or Operations Management? The response can be both Yes and No.
The response can be “No” because, as far as the market or the purchasers are concerned, it is the same product and same application and made available at the same or even different price. In case of mobile phones and other consumer durable items, we can clearly see the difference in versions. But say in a product like a grinder or a drilling hammer or even a wall clock, it will be slightly difficult to make out the difference. The response can be “Yes”, because, from the company’s perspective, the redesign actually means that the whole development cycle starts afresh. In this context, we are speaking specifically about a product that would replace the existing version and not about new or innovative products for the same application.

Typically the product development work packages and activities are pretty much the same for a set of similar products. They also start with an Initiation phase and end with a Closing phase. Lessons learnt, Risk Management, Quality gates are all part of product management as defined by the PMI guidebook PMBOK. The methodology, procedure, tools are all the same. So how is it different or same when compared to the new product development process? Let us examine this in detail.

1. Scope Management – Though the end use of the product is the same the conditions are totally different. It is important to know why the Life cycle management is being applied here. The project sponsors are usually marketing or engineering heads and it is almost entirely an internal activity as the end user and his requirement do not change much. Marketing will have a list of “Nice-To-Have” features compared with other tools or the competitor's tool. It is PM's responsibility to classify and agree on mandatory, must-have and nice-to-have features. For example, legal requirements, safety requirements are mandatory requirements while other requirements can fall into the other categories.
2. Quality – Again the Marketing, Service and Quality Assurance will hand a set of warranty data which makes the PM wonder how the product is running in the market in the first place. Here it is important to define the “quality” or rather “customer specific quality”. The additional features have to be evaluated and objectively derived to establish quality metrics. The warranty percentages as a target will be fixed below the existing level. Here the PM has to analyze which things are changing. If the majority of the components are not changing and the failures are related to these features, it would be impossible to achieve the target fixed. Also any improvement in the quality involves a “cost”. PM should agree on this with the team and the stake holders.

3. Schedule - An anecdote goes to say that a PM is somebody who thinks 9 people can deliver a baby in one month. It is important to establish task dependencies and realistic time schedule, for everybody expects to get results as soon as possible. Set realistic dates in consultation with the team. Put in realistic buffers. It is always better to work with 2 timelines with a stringent one for the team and a relaxed (but not too relaxed) for the management.

4. Budget – This is the most important part of the project. In a Manufacturing set up, the resource cost is not exactly important. It is the development cost that plays a major part in the budget. In most cases budgets are fixed in the beginning of the year. EVM calculations are customized to include product cost, volume and time of introduction along with the development cost. The budget is with respective functional units. The PM's role is to make sure the engineered product still falls into this budget.

5. Resources - Human resource and team related issues makes a pronounced difference. Product development efforts involve CFT's (Cross Functional Team) members consisting of but not limited to Marketing, Manufacturing, Quality, Engineering, Purchasing, Testing etc. The project team members devote a certain percentage of their capacity throughout the project while carryingout their day to day functional tasks as well, unlike a software development project where resources are alloted to work on up to 2-3 projects at a time depending on complexity.

6. Risks – Risks are again not at all typical. The risks induced by external factors are much more in magnitude then the internal risks. PM can put in efforts to move mountains but cannot fight the currency and raw material prices. In some cases even nature can wreak havoc to the project. When Japan had a nuclear reactor accident, several shipments to different companies got delayed making them slip on their committed timelines. Internal risks can be anything from testing failure to release of manufacturing lines for trials.

Hence the end product being same (more or less), still the process of developing the product cannot be categorized under operations. Looking at the similarities, one would say that it is 80% Project Management of a New Product Development, except the end result can be visualized and the product requirements can be more or less accurately determined. On a lighter side, the Project Manager's neck is always on the line. He or She still has to face the project team and the review team without any life jacket or bullet proof vest and needs to be prepared for the worst. At the end of the day it is always true that if the new version is a success it's the team's efforts, and a failure is the responsibility of “The Project Manager”.