Project Management planning, process and procedures
How does a mature, highly successful cable operator defend its market against encroaching competition in the form of satellite delivered cable service? By thinking out of the box. Or in this case, actually inventing a new one. Cablevision Systems Corporation, a 30-year Company with a history of innovation, took on the challenge of developing and launching a new digital cable product—iO: Interactive OptimumSM—complete with a new generation set-top cable box. The successful launch of this product is partly attributed to the use of project management planning, process and procedure, and how varied degrees of each were judiciously applied based on the phase of the product life cycle that was being developed. The following commentary will illustrate Cablevision's experience with applying the project management planning, process and procedure during the process of developing their latest product offering.
It all started a few years ago, when Cablevision executives commenced a series of “blue sky” discussions to flesh out their vision for interactive, digital cable. All were agreed that the strategic vision required much more than just expanding the channel offerings. Cablevision set itself the goal of revolutionizing the way people watch TV.
Those early discussions surfaced a wish list of product features that would allow the customer to order movies on-demand, listen to any kind of music genre without commercial interruption, even send/receive emails all without leaving your favorite armchair.
The Chairman of Cablevision, Charles F. Dolan, has a knack for innovative thinking. The company he built up, from 1,500 households within a pocket of Long Island to over three million subscribers in the greater New York metropolitan area, does far more than just deliver cable television. It also created popular cable networks, such as Bravo, AMC and IFC. So when the Chairman challenged his executive management team to develop new customercentric products using the latest technological advancements, they recognized the necessity of applying the project management planning, process and procedure best practices to ensure that the project deliverables are within scope, on time and at or under budget.
Although there were several key players that contributed to the success of the iO program we will discuss three groups in particular: the Leadership team, the Discovery team, and the Process team. Each played a distinct role.
The Leadership team consisted of key members of Cablevision's executive ranks, including the Chairman. They were responsible for managing the high-level program plan, making critical business decisions and driving the product to market.
The Discovery team contained many of the corporate innovators and “trail blazers.” They helped originate a solution to the ideas proposed by the leadership team. Their initial focus was to deliver a technological proof of concept by providing digital television to a subscriber. Experts in cable plant design, frequency utilization, analog and digital signaling, the team also coordinated input from hardware and software vendors to refine the functionality of the new product.
The Process team, known for their use of structured systems delivery practices initially had responsibility for the delivery and integration of billing and customer care systems, as well as assisting with the video and email provisioning of digital subscribers. Yet, as the program evolved, their knowledge and experience utilizing the project management planning, process and procedure became increasingly crucial, allowing them to contribute more to the program than the ancillary application support originally envisioned.
The Design phase saw both the Leadership and Discovery teams at the forefront. They were responsible for completing the pre- and post-technical trial components. The goal of the pre-technical trial was to demonstrate a technological proof of concept by providing digital television to a subscriber. This was the first step in making the Chairman's vision of a groundbreaking, new product a reality. This targeted deliverable was ultimately achieved by a repeated cycle.
Exhibit 1. Design
This early stage in the product life cycle saw minimal processes and procedures employed, yet for good reason. Too much structure at this phase might well have inhibited the learning and discovery opportunities, thereby stifling the overall progress.
Once the proof of concept was validated, the program moved into the post-technical trial phase. At this point many newly required customer enhancements were being solidified and the need for software development processes became a key factor in the design. It made the difference in documenting requirements, as well as managing the development of new software releases and hardware components. As the iO program matured, it became more complex, involving the interdependence of multiple players. Some team members felt constrained by the newly employed checks and balances. Yet the Leadership team soon took notice of the increased benefits that resulted from applying a stricter adherence to the project management planning, process and procedure.
A review of the prototype's beta test helped clarify many of the program's requirements, such as a balanced dependency on both software development and hardware design. The added reliance of software development, in large part the domain of the Process team, meant a more pronounced use of the project management planning, process and procedure.
As the program switched gears and moved into the implementation phase, the Discovery team also took note of the benefits of the project management planning, process and procedure and began to apply some of these principles within their own team's efforts. The transition to a stricter usage of project management planning, process and procedure would eventually take root in all project teams.
By completion of the iO design phase the collection of independent development trials and brought-to-life concepts had been morphed into a prototypical skeleton of a product. Now the challenge was to solidify the exploratory efforts and primitive plans into a methodical, structured implementation strategy. At this stage of product development the discovery team was still the dominant player, as they had just delivered a conceptual framework of what could eventually be delivered to market. Eager to hear the thoughts of potential subscriber reactions from this new product, the leadership team pondered the company's next move. They knew that despite the tremendous progress made by the discovery team, there should be a continued emphasis for implementing a rigorous strategy for product delivery.
The Leadership team established weekly operational steering committee meetings, where all program representatives could come together, share progress reports and discuss dependencies. Supporting vendors also had a seat at the table. The Leadership team looked to sort through the issues involved in determining best market, price, bill for services, as well as how best to promote, package, and distribute.
The steering committee meetings yielded action items. Timelines were used as high-level indicators for defining desired milestones, as well as the projected time frames for achieving them. As the number of action items, players and dependencies continued to grow, the Leadership team became convinced that action items and timelines would not provide the specificity required to track such a large and complex project.
At this point, the Leadership team mandated the establishment of individualized team project plans. This enabled review and management of the high-level deliverables of each of the project teams. These plans enabled the tracking of dependencies as well as the ability to visualize gating issues across the macro plan. The complexity of the software design argued for getting the Process team more involved with the implementation and integration efforts. That introduced the unique skill sets of the quality assurance (QA) group, a subset of the Process Team.
The QA group served as an independent testing organization that verified the documented functionality of the many applications being developed to support iO. The QA group would evolve into a key player, one that quickly earned the respect of the Leadership team. The Leadership team and QA group worked on tools to aide the program, such as the development of multiple test scenarios, success thresholds and even field trials.
Exhibit 2. Testing
The Discovery Team had previously utilized field trials on selected groups of beta customers. However, it was soon obvious that this would not be adequate to support the testing requirements of the complex product that was being created.
In the early stages of testing, the Process team had established a core lab for internal projects. Standard testing methodologies and procedures were being utilized and were evolving into more formal processes, i.e., managing the configuration of software code releases and hardware implementations. The Discovery Team also had a test lab at their facility. Yet neither lab would independently support the testing and defect tracking required for this product. The Leadership Team realized the necessity of having an end-to-end test environment, authorizing the construction of a larger, sophisticated QA lab, which would mirror the production environment. Time, cost and schedule adjustments had to be made to the macro plan to support this critical deliverable. But once the lab was built, all teams had learned the benefits of adhering to a defined process.
In order to better facilitate the defect and regression testing cycles, the Process team assigned QA testers to individual applications. Initially, each organization utilized different testing and tracking tools for defects. So a standard defect tracking methodology was established for use by the QA lab, the Discovery team's lab personnel, as well as the vendors. Defects were assigned severity levels in order to prioritize the resolution plan for each. This greatly enhanced communications between the different organizations. Vendors were responsible for listing all corrected defects in any given product release and were held accountable for future defects and status. Once again, process proved the key.
The Leadership team got aggressive, challenging the QA group to find as many defects as possible. With each revision of vendor code, a defined number of defects were addressed. Every revision encompassed regression testing the entire code base for previously corrected defects, while still investigating new ones.
Once the QA lab was complete the Leadership team decided to pilot the box in several employees' homes. The Leadership team was soon immersed in all communications with the employee pilot group. Weekly meetings were scheduled with the group to discuss satisfaction level, expected functionality, and surface issues. The Leadership team reviewed all new trouble tickets to ensure that no major problems were being overlooked. The pilot proved extremely successful. Potential problem areas were quickly identified and addressed.
During the implementation and testing phases there was an increasing reliance and dependency on a strict adherence of the project management planning, process and procedure, which became more beneficial for the program team overall as it provided a further detailed means to track program deliverables and issues.
The delivery phase of iO required the consistent application of the project management planning, process and procedure as the program prepared for their ultimate goal: the roll out of iO to paying customers. The criticality of ensuring a quality product was now more important than ever. Strict adherence to the project management planning, process and procedure was necessary if these goals were to be attained.
Once the production environment was ready, the launch to real customers was underway. Letters were sent out asking subscribers to participate in a product trial within a specific locality. Customer installations were quickly scheduled. The iO launch had officially begun.
Support teams were put in place to monitor subscriber provisioning and system reliability. These teams reported back to senior management with an updated status of any issues. Escalation procedures were established among the principle teams, advising whom to call, after what threshold of time and for what types of issues.
In order to support the delivery goals of developing new functionality, key components of the project management planning, process and procedure needed to be in place. The Process team had configuration and change management procedures in place for some time prior to the start of this project. They had previously established a Production Review Board (PRB) process required for deployment of hardware and software. This guaranteed that all program stakeholders were aware of upcoming deployments, as they had to sign off on any proposed production changes. That ensured that the production groups were provided with the necessary information to support both hardware and software, post-deployment. The PRB process also identified potential scheduling conflicts within the overall architecture. This enabled outages and impacts to customers to be coordinated more consistently and with minimal disruption of service.
An interesting irony is that the Discovery team eventually adopted an even more stringent production review process than had the Process team. Now, both teams are in sync with the deployment of new functionality so as not to affect any pre-integrated code. Further, should service interruptions occur both teams could review the environmental changes that may have caused the problem, greatly simplifying the process of deducing the root cause.
Ultimately, the delivery phase of iO deployment showed the project management planning, process and procedure to be as critical as it was effective. Many of the advantages of following these principles have since been adopted throughout the corporation. Project teams and sponsors alike now have common expectations for future deliverables.
The iO product is now enjoyed by thousands of subscribers, with more being added each week. Moreover, the product's great success has earned companywide recognition for the collaboration of the Discovery, Leadership and Process Teams and the concept of the project management planning, process and procedure—paving the way for its application on the development of future deliverables and programs. Part of the success of the program was knowing when to apply the project management planning, process and procedure strictly, and when minimal processes and procedures should be employed.
It is often stated that one of the main reasons that projects fail is due to the lack of management support. The process team, in conjunction with the discovery team, was able to avoid this pitfall by following the project management planning, process and procedure, which gave them the support from the leadership team that they needed in order to succeed. The program as a whole started off overcoming obstacles and finished off as a guiding principle for the entire corporation.
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 · San Antonio, Texas, USA