When project management hits home
by Gianmarco Panza, PMP
Engaging the right stakeholders at the right time during requirements gathering is the best way to ensure all perspectives are considered and the best solution is built. This was especially true on a recent project where the product addressed basic physiological needs and requirements that had to be uniquely tailored for the target users.
I was involved with a project to build an apartment complex for visually impaired people. It also was my own home.
Immediately, I realized it was not clear to me what the residents and I really needed, liked and wanted for long-term comfort and safety; I was wrapped up in having a nice home to show. Therefore, defining the specific needs and desires of the visually impaired in the project scope was not only critical, but also extremely difficult.
First, full collaboration with the end users and other key stakeholders was fundamental from the very beginning to the last phases of the project life cycle. We shared documentation with both the project team and end users in multiple formats—an easy-to-manage format for the former and a fully accessible one for the latter.
Secondly, we prioritized user needs and started by addressing a basic set of requirements, including creating simple room layouts, avoiding obstacles in the routes between rooms, and maintaining simple positioning and shapes of key objects, such as light switches and power sockets.
When I tried to adapt a flat where I lived, I applied some changes to furniture position and electronic device settings, but there was always something wrong: limited comfort and usability, not to mention safety issues. Creating models with features similar to the real product or producing a deliverable following a spiral approach, where features are progressively added and developed according to customer feedback, can help.
Lastly, we had to get past residents' desire to have all possible features—or have the same features they were accustomed to—in order to identify the right solutions based on actual needs with no bias. We accomplished this by observing the behavior and ordinary usage of things by potential customers in everyday life. It was important to collect input without residents' knowledge to avoid any change in their natural behavior. So we incorporated feedback from relatives, friends and personal assistants of visually impaired people about details on residents' habits, way of moving, typical mannerisms and lifestyles.
In the end, being both a project team member and a client helped a lot.
As project manager, I strove to transfer my personal experiences and skills to the other workers. I believe the project was successful in the end because I received several signs of appreciation and gratitude.
But at this point in my career, I cannot say if it is more difficult to play the role of either the project manager or the client. PM
Gianmarco Panza, PMP, is a specialist researcher at CEFRIEL, a Milan, Italy-based technology transfer institution that supports industry/university cooperation in information and communication technology.
PM NETWORK OCTOBER 2012 WWW.PMI.ORG