Project Plan Purpose
In the Summer of 2008, driven by a major consumer products licensing agreement, a committed and inspired team of professionals embarked on a developmental project to create an infant activity gym. The gym, a strategic initiative, was intended to serve as the high-end anchor (bottom-shelf product) for a retailer display. Product feature requirements included: use of proprietary character art, a bright, bold-colored pallet, and inclusion of developmental activities to both entertain baby and assist in dexterity and cognitive skills development. Following is the story of how the project team utilized A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Third edition (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2004) project management Knowledge Areas to produce the “Play and Discover Gym.”
Project Requirements and Work Descriptions
The project was initiated as the framework to guide the gym's development, to ensure systematic achievement of the triple constraints (cost, time, and quality goals), and, finally, to effectively use human resource management tools and techniques.
- Cost: Corporately mandated financial requirements as expected for an infant activity product were negotiated.
- Time: Driven by an accelerated schedule, the product required delivery for planned retail display set dates.
- Quality: Product safety requirements of American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM, F963), toy safety, and product integrity concerns required identification and management.
- Human resources management: Project work would be accomplished on two continents, requiring both co-located and distance/virtual stakeholders. Application of project management processes organized and directed the work as well as secured timely milestone achievement.
Project work, a progressive elaboration across seven internal and external functional units, required a diverse collection of work package activities, including:
- Marketing: Charged with industry, market, and competitive research that resulted in a thorough marketing download and product direction
- Product design: The project's creative genius developed a product compliant with features and safety requirements resulting in a best-to-date gym concept design
- Engineering: The project team's distanced arm developed and manufactured the gym product with a China-based vendor factory
- Packaging: Inspired by licensed character art, a compelling design that achieved dual needs: attract consumer attention at retail, and serve as a premium retail package for product shipment and merchandising
- Safety: Produced the safety standards for testing processes, the comprehensive safety specification, and conducted safety/quality reviews throughout the project.
- Licensing: Per contractual agreement, provided artistic reference and design assistance, product reviews, and a multitude of product approval comments
- Project documentation and reporting: Applied product management methodologies, tracked and documented progress on both continents through: status meetings, reports, the use of the Development Timeline report (from China) and project management software.
Leveraging the PMBOK® Guide's Project Management Processes
The project team's combined activities were managed through integration of the PMBOK® Guide's individual Knowledge Areas.
Project Integration Management
Project Integration Management consists of “processes and activities needed to identify, define, combine, unify, and coordinate the various processes and project management activities within the Project Management Process Groups” (PMI, 2004, p. 77).
Each functional process group delivered unique and specific outputs that were the linkages and inputs to other processes. The accomplishments of the individual processes that resulted in successful execution of the project's product are detailed as follows.
Mechanisms for overall project control, scope, cost, time, or other process outputs that anticipate, organize, and prioritize the project's work processes in meeting project and stakeholder needs
Integration Tools and Techniques
As with all projects, the activity gym project required careful planning and extensive coordination of task accomplishments from multiple stakeholders and across functional areas. Critical to understanding the project's processes was understanding project management methodology's ability to guide development of the project management plan. The plan identified the project's purpose and goals, and included descriptions of various tools to be utilized in the project. A detailed product and project scope description advised what the project and project's product were, while the out-of-scope listing confirmed items that were not included in the project. The risk assessment, in addition to identifying anticipated project risks associated with individual task areas, included listings of risk management mitigation strategies and alternative actions for risk monitoring and control. The plan's roles and responsibilities section provided individual stakeholder task information ensuring that each team member knew and understood expectations and set the stage for an effective stakeholder management strategy. Inclusion of major milestones and due dates were especially beneficial for human resources planning. With team members co-located and/or distanced, directed by unique holiday schedules, work process coordination and integration were absolutely crucial to project success.
The comprehensive project management plan was instrumental in planning, integrating, and controlling project work processes while work reports documented the project's progress. Additional outputs included: design, packaging, and safety specifications.
Project Scope Management
Project Scope Management includes “processes required to ensure that the project includes all work required and only the work required, to complete the project successfully” (PMI, 2004, p. 103).
The project's product required multiple components: soft—including a stuffed toy, and three additional character danglers—a tooled plastic piece, and electronics for sound and lights. Additionally, work was performed internally and, externally, through the China factory.
Team members’ collective skills, culture, and knowledge of: product requirements, standards, external requirements, competitive awareness, and functional expertise, and a marketing download all combined to guide the product's development.
Scope Tools and Techniques
With team members both co-located and distanced, a clearly articulated scope statement was essential to providing sufficient understanding of the project's work. All required project work was listed, as were nonscope items that provided each member with a clear understanding of what “would be and would not be” included in the project. The comprehensive Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), which described work processes for marketing, design, engineering (work accomplished in China), packaging, safety, licensing, and, finally, reporting and documentation, also detailed work package activities required outcomes: specifications, testing standards, reviews, or product components. As the project's product, the gym, was expected to meet ASTM requirements, scope verification allowed for inspections of the three project components (tooled, soft, and electronics), ensuring achievement of dual requirements: functionality and safety standards compliance.
Outputs included the scope statement, WBS, and product changes as determined though inspections, as well as action plans such as used in correcting the mat's flammability issue.
Project Time Management
Project time management may be defined as “processes required to accomplish timely completion of the project” (PMI, 2004, p. 123).
Timely delivery of the “Play and Discover Gym” was paramount. Although only one item in the display program, the gym was pivotal as it occupied the retailer's bottom shelf space. The gym, the highest retail cost item, also delivered the highest profit margin. Timely delivery was critical, as all products would be reset on the same date.
The project's WBS structure and functional area work activity schedules, testing tools, design and manufacturing schedules to produce a diverse group of product components—soft goods (mat arches and characters) and tooled (plastic box for electronics, and electronics software, lights and sounds)—had distinct developmental parameters.
Time Management Tools and Techniques
Activity lists developed from the WBS provided the basis for time management. Sequencing of activities, estimating time for resources and activity durations, and developing a timeline—with three paths: developmental, packaging, and critical engineering and production paths—provided visible markers of activities with applicable milestone dates. Project activities flowed from the initial marketing download to design specification through engineering for costing, to safety and product integrity reviews, and finally through individual components production: soft, tooled, and electronic. Resource allocation benefitted from expert judgment: delivered by functional area heads assisting with projected timing and from the China vendor factory through estimation of production and tooling development schedules. Based on excellent process estimations and planning, most milestones were achieved on time, with several, such as the packaging artwork, completed and released ahead of schedule.
Outputs included the project schedule and timeline: notating the critical development manufacturing path, paths for packaging and safety/quality work packages, and weekly status reviews enabling schedule monitoring, control, and confirmed milestone achievements.
Project Cost Management
Project Cost Management includes “processes involved in planning, estimating, budgeting, and controlling costs so that the project can be completed within the approved budget” (PMI, 2004, p. 157).
For the activity gym, a three-pronged cost structure was applied: 1) a predetermined retail price threshold, 2) a wholesale cost delivering a specified retail profit margin, and, finally, 3) A corporate mandate of a specific EBIT (Earning Before Interest and Taxes) percentage.
Cost inputs included competitive product estimates, product feature cost estimates, China vendor costing estimates, corporate cost estimates for markups, and expenses, as well as historical product costing, established the baseline product cost estimate.
Costing Tools and Techniques
Cost estimating commenced by determining basic gym structure and key developmental features documented through early marketing research of competitive products. Analogous estimating utilized costs of: components, features, and resources from past similar gym projects and ultimately determined initial product costing. Then, utilizing project management software, the team assessed and reviewed overall projected costs, shipping, tooling, administrative, and sales expenses to arrive at a final project/product cost that satisfied mandated EBIT parameters.
Outputs included materials lists, individual component costs, and negotiated product cost estimates used as the basis for contract cost negotiations with the China factory. Project budgets provided ongoing opportunities for cost evaluation and control following product reviews or upon satisfaction of project milestones.
Project Quality Management
Project Quality Management is defined as “all the activities of the performing organization that determine quality policies, objectives, and responsibilities so that the project will satisfy the needs for which it was undertaken” (PMI, 2004, p. 179).
Dual constraints determined project quality requirements. Certainly, product quality and workmanship were critical. However, safety was equally important as the product would be used by infants ages 0 – 6 months.
Project scope and management plans along with product design concept drawings and product design specifications provided ample reference material to scrutinize the gym for safety-related concerns.
Quality Tools and Techniques
To achieve quality—planning, specifications, and safety evaluations—the team utilized an abundance of quality management tools and techniques as provided by the three quality management processes:
- Process and project reviews, benchmarking, especially for testing and improvement tactics to correct the flammability issue.
- Cost versus benefits reviews to prevent adding product cost to deliver product quality.
- Quality assurance: application of systematic reviews per the project plan and quality management plan provided production processes, for product samples, first shots of tooled items, while testing of full
- Quality control: completion and documenting of planned reviews ensured that the final product—the gym—met ASTM toy standards and testing certifications. Production and postproduction reviews confirmed that quality standards achieved during product development were maintained during production activities. Mid-project flammability issues were discovered through routine burn testing. These issues were evaluated and a solution developed and implemented to deliver passage of the testing standard. No milestones or project delays were experienced as testing was transacted from early product samples.
The comprehensive Quality Management Plan with safety and quality standards, preventive actions plans - as in the flammability issue testing corrective actions – product changes based on sample reviews, testing plans, and ultimately the mechanisms and processes to secure the ASTM F963 certification
Project Human Resource Management
Project Human Resource Management includes “processes that organize and manage the project team” (PMI, 2004, p. 199).
Unique functional area skills, multiple cultures, and logistics all played parts in the efficient and effective use of the project's team members—the human resources.
Human Resource Inputs
Human resource inputs included technical skills, the creative genius for the product design, logistical team member considerations, as well as the personalities, personal experiences, and preferences that team members independently brought to the project.
Human Resource Tools and Techniques
Team members from multiple functional areas with unique technical skills presented a challenge to managing the work activities. Logistically, the China team members presented further resource management challenges, as their location would not permit activities management through observation. For a successful project, integrated project planning allowed identification of key functional team members to perform the work: marketing, design, engineering (in China), packaging, safety, quality, and licensing, as well as project management. Roles and responsibilities for each task and team member were identified with key functional member outputs and milestone dates published to the full team. For co-located team members, conversations and observation, as well as reporting, were effective milestone management tools. For distanced team members, e-mail and reporting confirmed planned milestone achievements.
Team member integration methods and information flow (and ultimately transfer of task area outputs: marketing download, design, and quality specifications) were critical for project success. Checklists and status reports provided by both project management and China engineering measured work accomplished, while success measurements were used extensively to ensure that the project stayed within scope and on track.
Optimal operations through team members in China presented some unique project issues. Cultural and language barriers (English is a second language) and timing of communications (there was a 13-hour time difference) were among the challenges. Milestone timings were also challenged by holiday schedules: China and the United States have completely different holidays. Additionally, China has a New Year celebration from late-January to mid-February (lasting up to 4 weeks) during which no factory activities or production occurs. Building good team member relationships and understanding of cultural diversity were essential in working with the engineering team. Our Chinese team members see issues and the product itself differently than a domestic consumer, based on personal realities, perceptions, needs, and experiences.
No significant team member conflicts were experienced during the project. All team members understood the work, wanted to be part of the team, and strived to deliver per plan. Some time management issues presented through the packaging and quality activities and were resolved through more hands-on activity management with, at times, face-to-face milestone date reminders.
Included in outputs were: team member roles, responsibilities, and assignments criteria, which evolved into the Human Resources Management Plan and staffing assignments, the project's schedule, team assessment reporting, and corrective actions mechanisms.
Project Communications Management
Project Communications Management is defined as the Knowledge Area that employs “processes required to ensure timely and appropriate generation, collection, distribution, storage, retrieved, and ultimate disposition of project information” (PMI, 2004, p. 221).
Location, technology, understanding communications content, English as a second language for China team members, and certainly cultural reference all impacted the methods, messages communicated, and, ultimately, the progress of the project.
Team member communication options included: available informational systems, systems knowledge and effectiveness, as well as willingness of team members to communicate project information.
Communications Tools and Techniques
Team members communicated via face-to-face conversation, virtual meetings (video conferencing), reports, status meetings, phone meetings, and e-mail communications. Efficient and effective distribution of project information would not have been possible without employing multiple communications tools with co-located and distanced virtual team members. The project's communications tools included:
- Internal Communications: Team members from five functional disciplines used meetings and face-to-face conversations as key means to disseminate project information. Weekly status reports, timelines, and schedules were available to all team members to provide project news and help members realize next steps and task-specific due dates.
- Licensing: To keep Licensing stakeholders involved and apprised of project developments, weekly phone meeting were planned and implemented. These phone conversations and sample reviews were critical for both the licensor and the team to achieve an understanding of the product and its functions. As the gym was based on a licensed property, meeting discussions also secured understanding and agreement between the parties as to how characters should or could be represented on the product.
- Engineering (in China) and the factory: Chinese stakeholders, engineering and the factory, received and delivered project information through reporting activities, virtual meetings, and, primarily, daily e-mail messaging. With the language barriers, written communications required clear and concise messages. Use of supplemental visual aids with written communications, such as drawings and photographs, were helpful in explaining any requested product changes.
- Video conferencing: Used with China engineering, video conferencing can be less effective than direct written communication. The Chinese like—in fact, need—to be correct in all things—they need to save face. At times, our Chinese counterparts can become reticent during these meetings. Additionally, only the
Outputs included the overall project communications plans, status reports, product review comments and updates, revised or updated specifications (product, packaging, or quality), product change documents and testing results, and performance reporting.
Project Risk Management
Project Risk Management includes “processes concerned with conducting risk management planning, identification, analysis, responses, and monitoring and control on a project” (PMI, 2004, p. 237).
Even though the organization had previously produced activity gym products, the new gym product, like any project, was subject to potential threats or risk events. For this project, a relatively simple material change would pose the most significant single risk threat.
Risk inputs included the collective team product, processes, environmental and competitive product knowledge, and historically identified and managed risks from similar product development projects.
Risk Tools and Techniques
Multiple tools were provided for risk management: the project management plan, responsibilities listing, and the risk responsibility assignments. These provided metrics to help team members understand and manage potential project threats. The Risk Management Plan and the risk register delivered established guidelines for managing project risk with specific risk management tools.
Risk Management Plan
Based on risk management activities, the Risk Management Plan included:
- Determination of project risks and development of risks listing
- Tools for risk qualification, an ordinal scale for measurement of risk rankings
- A probability matrix risk score template that provided risk rating probabilities for ranking each risk
- A risk register which ultimately provided the risk control measurements, risk management assignments, and risk strategies for use in the project.
Qualitative Risk Analysis
Rather than statistically based quantitative analysis, qualitative analysis provided methods to identify and then assign occurrence probabilities to the identified risks. Utilizing the resulting risk scores, risks with the highest occurrence potential could be determined and monitored, a risk response strategy determined, and, if necessary, implemented before the risks could impact critical project activities.
Risk Response Strategies
Risk strategies utilized for Project Risk Management included:
- Risk avoidance: Based on potential project plan impact to the project schedule, cost parameters, or scope, this was used to either prevent the risk or threat impact on project objectives.
- Risk mitigation: Was used to determine an action to be taken which results in reducing the potential project threat to a more acceptable level.
- Risk transference: Deflecting the risk—movement of the risk to some other party for action. For this project, transference was an acceptable approach when managing production issues related to the China vendor.
- Risk acceptance: Risk acceptance occurs based on team determination that the project management plan should not be changed to eliminate a risk threat, as an acceptable threat elimination action was not determined. This strategy could be exercised for a threat with a very low likelihood of occurring.
The project's risk register with identified and specific risk strategies delivered all necessary tools: risk definition, tools for management, and risk management assignments to specific team members, ensuring processes for risk management and project threat control.
Risk Control Record and Watch List
To ensure risk review and control throughout the project, a risk control record and watch list were developed. The risk control record maintained a listing of potential risks (while already managed and reduced) which could still present project challenges. The Watch List featured retired risks that were not expected to pose substantial threats to the project's successful completion. Including these two risk management records provided tools for ongoing and continuing risk review and threat management for the balance of the project.
The comprehensive Risk Management Plan enabled the team to screen project progress and the environment, and, additionally, to anticipate and plan tactics for preventing and managing the project's identified risks. When the flammability issue did surface, metrics for management were available thanks to team risk planning efforts.
Project Procurement Management
Project Procurement Management includes “processes to purchase or acquire the products, services, or results needed from outside the project team to perform the work” (PMI, 2004, p. 269).
Resources, such as design reference from the Licensor, and all manufacturing activity were accomplished outside the project. External processes, mechanisms and the project's legal contracts were managed through this area.
Procurement inputs included understanding of project activities and resources needed for the project's product, availability, estimated costing, and negotiation processes for acquiring project resources.
Procurement Tools and Techniques
Under contract, the licensor provided services and design reference for the gym product development and is allowed sufficient time to complete thorough reviews. The oft-accepted industry standard review timetable is 10 days. On the project's accelerated timetable, delivery of the project could not permit 10 days for six to seven review activities. To manage the review process and timely delivery of reference materials, a weekly phone meeting schedule was established. The weekly meeting schedule resulted in licensor comments and materials deliveries of 5- to 6-day turnarounds—a significantly improved schedule.
China Vendor Contract and Factory Workmanship:
Sell Rate system:
- Only Hong Kong vendors who had: previously worked with the organization and produced appropriate quality products and who had an approved corporate MPA (Manufacturing Practices Audit) on record were considered for the gym project.
- Multiple vendors—at least four—participated in the cost estimating and bidding activities.
- All quotes required written documents
- Costs were provided in a dual-cost quote structure: 1) vendor product cost estimate including full product cost, shipping, packaging, and mark up percentage; 2) component breakdown costs detailing materials, usage, and individual costs of all materials used in manufacturing the product.
Fixed price contract:
- Cost paid for the gym product was price per each unit manufactured. Per contract, the factory received no additional fees or incentives. Associated tooling costs, included, were payable in three installments for timely milestone achievements.
All work performed by the China factory to build the “Play and Discover Gym” fell outside the purview of the project team. Management of finished product workmanship required:
- Confirmation of GMP (General Manufacturing Practices): Before contract assignment, establishment and review of vendor's GMP to ensure alignment with organizational standards
- Systematic review of the product at specified developmental stages: first sample, deco model, tooling model, first shots (first parts pulled from the product tooling), full engineering pilot samples (FEP), production pilot samples (PP), and production samples reviews
- Factory audits and walkthroughs to ensure ongoing and continuing compliance with contractual GMP standards before, during, and following production including packaging and shipment
Outputs included design resource materials, vendor factory lists, and the vendor factory manufacturing contract, which ultimately resulted in delivery of the finished goods: the “Play and Discover Gym.”
Project Outcomes, Learning, and Future Project Considerations
The project team achieved all product requirements delivering the “Play and Discover Gym”: on-time, at cost, and in compliance with quality and safety requirements.
Lessons Learned: Pongee Material Flammability
Competitive infant gyms were reviewed early during marketing research activities and showed that an alternative activity mat fabric, pongee, was used. Our previous activity gym mats were exclusively spun poly and tricot. The new pongee material delivered two added mat benefits: a visual benefit (a shiny surface for visual sensory stimulation) and an added texture (another fabric with a unique feel providing sensory stimulation for baby). Based on potential benefits, the new material was included in the design specification on both sides of the mat. First-time use of the new material raised quality concerns. Early testing of the material was advised. Following the Quality Department recommendations, burn and saliva, stress and other testing (usually not conducted until FEP stage with printed fabric) were conducted at deco model stage with white pongee material. Testing results showed failure of “Burn” testing activities. Design modifications were tested with several iterations of changes explored. The final mat design required several changes and, when implemented, resulted in burn test satisfaction. Design changes included:
- Use of Pongee material on mat top only
- Mat's underside material was changed to tricot
- A top-stitched seam: sewn one inch from the edge the full circumference of the circular mat
With the mat design updated and changes implemented, successive flammability testing achieved a passing score.
Recommendations for Future Activity Gym Projects
- Design should be cognizant of flammability issues in selecting gym mat fabrics. If pongee material is preferred, include the design changes to ensure passage of “burn” testing.
- Redesign the pillow characters to delete stuffing or internal material to limit SILs (Sewn in Labels) usage. This gym with stuffing in the dangling components required a total of six SILs (each at a cost of $.06), adding $0.36 of cost for each unit produced.
- Use four-color process printing rather than six-color roller printing to reduce material printing costs
- Provide visual references, drawings with comments to China Engineering, to ensure understanding of change requests
- Add one additional week to packaging design cycle for design concepting