Project Management Institute

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IMAGE COURTESY OF GIBSON

THE PROJECT: Build a new guitar model integrating robotic technology

THE COMPANY:
Gibson Guitars, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

THE BUDGET:
More than US$2 million

THE SCHEDULE:
January 2009 to December 2009

SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROAR

Since it made its grand debut in the early 1950s, Gibson's Les Paul guitar has stood as the icon of pure rock and roll—even when it was out of tune. And although guitar makers dabbled with new technological twists, not much had changed since then. Then Gibson Guitars amped up the IT innovation with a series of projects aimed at using technology to improve performance.

With its latest project—dubbed Dusk Tiger—the goal was to build in auto-tuning and other state-of-the-art technology while still offering the organic look, feel and tone of a classic guitar. It also needed to be user-friendly—and ready in less than a year.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE?

A project team of 30 engineers and 12 manufacturing leaders first met to identify the risks.

“There were defined computer-related functions that we needed to have done and there was no guarantee we could find a way to do them,” says Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO and project manager at Gibson.

After determining the project was feasible, Mr. Juszkiewicz set a delivery date of 7 December for a limited release of 1,000 guitars.

US$4,128

The retail price of a Gibson Dusk Tiger guitar

When working with the manufacturers, we don't have the benefit of saying, ‘Here is the product we have to build,’ because it doesn't exist yet. So you have to do a really great job at forecasting what it might be like.

—Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson Guitars

NEW MEDIUM

For Gibson, the biggest hurdle came with the IT elements, Mr. Juszkiewicz says. “This is a high-technology product, and we're a wood producer,” he explains.

ENCORE! ENCORE!

The company leveraged the experience of developers who had previously worked together on digital guitar projects. “Because of this, we were better able to assess risk factors and have a better idea of the technology we are developing—which ultimately gives us the ability to deliver a better project plan and deliver the product by the ship date,” Mr. Juszkiewicz says.

ROCK STAR ADVICE

In June, the team put an early version of the Dusk Tiger into the hands of musicians. “The feedback we got was consistent: ‘It's too complicated,’” Mr. Juszkiewicz says. He went back to the drawing board and laid out a schematic approach to the software, although it took a while to get buy-in from the developers.

The resulting software lets users record ideas, access hundreds of guitar effects and amplifiers, and create backing tracks. The team also figured out how to make the battery system last longer—performing up to 500 tunings per charge, according to Gibson.

ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK

Team members endured what Mr. Juszkiewicz calls “a typical, high-tech crunch” during the grueling development stages, and sometimes even ended up sleeping on the floor.

CHAIN REACTION

Even with weekly meetings and open communication among team members, “project creep became cumulative,” Mr. Juszkiewicz says. “Once one deadline creeps back, everything else does.” To make the ship date, he outsourced some of the technical work and pushed the final phase of the manufacturing process. “That stage got less time than it should have, but we had to compress it to meet our endpoint schedule.”

Mission accomplished. The guitar was ready to rock.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK JULY 2010 WWW.PMI.ORG

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