This is a 6-part series.
To Read Part 1 – Vaporware Wars – Go here.
To Read Part 2 – How Products are Chosen for Development – Go here.
When a company decides a new product idea is worth pursuing, the next step is to figure out how to build it, and what it will take. This is the stage where some internal resources are assigned to start digging into the product’s viability and the product idea becomes a project.
In the Product Investigation phase, the team assigned to the project will start to figure out exactly what needs to be done. A Project Manager is now assigned, and she will be drawing on people in all departments to answer questions. Those questions include:
- What technologies and skills do we need?
- Have we done this before? If not, do we know someone who has? If not, can we learn how?
- What price will work for our customers?
- How much will it cost to build?
- How long will it take to develop? Manufacture?
- What resources are required – Internal? External?
As the questions are answered by the various departments, the Project Manager begins to put together the project plan and schedule. This is a detailed plan with resource allocations, schedules, and estimated costs.
This is when the Project Manager gets buy-in and commitments from various department heads about the project and the schedule. Think of the Project Manager as the General Contractor of the project, coordinating all the sub-contractors. Like any building project, conflicts will arise. Certain parts need to be completed before the next part can be done; problems will arise that need solutions; disputes will need to be settled; sometimes people need to be pushed to meet schedules.
Often, someone will come up with a new way to do something, or engineering will see that with a minor change here or there, a new feature can be added. One of the major roles of the project manager is to measure the cost of any changes in resources and time against the affect that change will have on the revenue generated by the product. For example, it will take one extra week and add $3.00 to the cost to add feature A. Does feature A add enough revenue to justify the additional cost and the lost week? Or, removing feature B will shorten development time by two weeks, and reduce cost by $5.00. Is feature B critical to the product’s function? Can it be removed without negatively impacting sales?
At this point, changes are much easier and less costly to make. Extra time spent in this phase will save a lot of time later, and help make the project run smoothly. Responsible manufacturers get a lot of feedback from customers during this phase.
Integrators can help by providing lots of feedback to the manufacturer. If you are a manufacturer, more time spent on this stage will save lots of time and money later.