Project Management Institute

Almost magic

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by Patrick Lozier, Carmel Priore-Garlock, and Judith E. Shenouda

WOULDN'T IT BE NICE if a project manager could bring a new product to market with a wave of a wand? But a project manager is not a magician, and a product that works as intended does not materialize magically, quickly, or painlessly.

A product works as intended only when it meets consumer needs, sells, and then lasts. The intricate process of creating a quality product takes a coordinated effort, planning, and adherence to a systematic, repeatable process. Like a magic act, the entire process of new product development remains invisible to the eyes of the consumer.

How can project managers perform such magic? They direct the efforts of teams that perform diverse tasks throughout the various phases of product development. Project managers maintain a bird's-eye view of teams at work. By monitoring teams' progress over time, project managers know when each team is executing its aspect of the project successfully and according to plan.

Project managers are not experts in every area required to produce a quality product. They are, however, experts in allowing and trusting experts in diverse disciplines to do their own work. They are also experts in following a recognized quality assurance process. Project managers recognize competence and quality when they see it.

When project managers look at the activities of the Documents Team, they view an integral part of the total project. No matter what the team is called—Documents Team, Publications Team, Communications Team, or simply Writing Team—its members are responsible for developing the written documents required throughout each phase of the project. A wise project manager ensures that the documents team is effectively and thoroughly utilized from project start to project finish. (See Checklist for the Project Manager and History of New Product Development Forum sidebars.)

Judith E. Shenouda is principal of Shenouda Associates Inc. She is a contributor to the New Product Development Forum and the Corporate Relations Committee of the PMI Rochester Chapter and is a presenter at local, national, and international conferences.

Patrick Lozier is a project manager with experience as a training developer and independent consultant. He is vice president of certification of the PMI Rochester Chapter.

Carmel Priore-Garlock is a writing instructor, curriculum developer, and technical writer and editor. She is a visiting assistant professor of English at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology.

History of New Product Development Forum

The New Product Development Forum is an element of the PMI Rochester Chapter. Since the forum's inception in February 1997, a core group of members has sponsored various programs: James C. Minor, PMP, director of Kodak Commercialization Processes at Eastman Kodak Co.; Brooks Tenney, planning manager at the Xerox Document Center; Mark Smith, director of product development at the Rochester Institute of Technology; Nancy Marsh, project executive, IBM Global Services, Employee Services; and Suzanne Topping, owner of Localization Unlimited.

NPD Effective Documents Program. On 2 December 1998, small-business owner Judy Shenouda and several of her staff from Shenouda Associates Inc., a communications-publications firm, conducted roundtable discussions on effective documents for new products.

The session started with an overview of basic assumptions:

Throughout new product development, documents for diverse audiences are critical to product success.

Documents serve multiple purposes.

Documents take many forms and may be delivered in various electronic or paper media.

Similar to any project, documents must be managed from start to finish.

Using a series of worksheets, small groups explored how documents can communicate necessary information to diverse audiences throughout the product life cycle—including a project's initiating and planning phases; designing, developing, and testing phases; and selling, servicing, and maintaining phases.

Several small groups participated concurrently in lively discussions of documents related to one phase of new product development. During the roundtable discussions, each group kept in mind an overriding goal: how documents can enhance the overall project. Specifically, during the roundtable discussions, participants were asked to:

Make observations that can improve the overall strategy for managing and developing effective documents—those defined as documents that enhance both the product-development process and the product.

Make recommendations for inclusion in an overall documents plan.

Shenouda and forum volunteers Patrick Lozier and Carmel Priore-Garloc collected each group's worksheets and reviewed the results. Together, they looked for findings that might prove interesting to communication specialists, new product developers, and project managers. Findings focused on strategies for managing and developing documents and recommendations for a document plan.

Strategies for Managing and Developing Documents. Findings in this area included the following:

Consider documents, in the largest sense of the word, as all of the written communications that are generated throughout the new product development life cycle. Documents can take many forms for delivery to various internal and external worldwide audiences.

Extend the use of document deliverables beyond the intended user. Use them to communicate among the various audiences involved in new product development. This gets stakeholders “on the same page.”

Evaluate the organizations that are best equipped to write the content of the documents and to produce and deliver documents in the desired formats. Decide which internal or external organizations have the required product knowledge, as well as the expertise to design, develop, and deliver paper and electronic documents that communicate.

Take a systematic approach to developing documents—one that promotes consistency among all communications. Think about having one organization own and maintain accurate current product and project information. This information becomes the single source for writing all communications.

Imagine the impact of documents over time and across geographic borders. When a product is enhanced with new versions and new models, the documents also must be enhanced. When the product is sold in worldwide markets, the documents should be localized and translated. With this exposure over time and across borders, producing quality documents is worth the effort and investment.

Consider the risks associated with developing documents that do not adequately communicate the required information to the intended audience. Consider safety issues, including the potential harm to life and limb and the potential damage to equipment. Be prepared for the onslaught of callers seeking clarification and the staff required to provide telephone and in-person support. Think about lost credibility, lost sales, and waning business when documents hinder a product's usability. Poorly developed documents can cost a product, a service, and a business its very existence.

Recommendations for a Document Plan. Similar to all types of projects, documents require a plan. Though the project manager may include a high-level documents plan within the overall project plan, the communication specialist must develop the detailed plan. Such a plan not only guides the documenting activities but also keeps the project manager and other team members knowledgeable and informed on the documenting effort. We recommend that you:

Look at plans for developing other aspects of the product. Include similar categories in a documents plan: for example, project name; start date and schedule; names of project manager, stakeholders, project team, and so forth; purpose of the project; project description process phases and activities; assumptions.

Include the categories that A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge has identified for project communications management. These include inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs for communications planning, information distribution, performance reporting, and administrative closure.

Include the deliverables required throughout all phases of the new product development process. Consider studies, plans, specifications, requests for proposals, and statements of work, while initiating and planning a new product. Consider procedures, status reports, change orders, policies, standards, and bills of materials, while designing and developing a new product. The testing, marketing and selling, servicing, and closing and maintaining phases of new product development require numerous additional documents.

Identify the audience, the appropriate delivery for the audience, the type of media (whether paper or electronic), and the format each deliverable will take for each deliverable. Make the documents compatible and congruent with the product.

Identify the subject matter experts who are responsible for content accuracy. Identify the communication specialist who is best able to translate the content into deliverables that are readable and usable for the intended audiences. Enable a communication specialist to become an expert product user who is able to develop all documents for the product.

Describe the impact of documents on the new product development process, the project, the product, and the company. Identify ways that communications add value. For example, one person may use terms inconsistently over time; many people working on a product may use multiple terms for the same item. The communicator can document correct terminology and establish other editorial standards that benefit the team at large.

Such was the case in this fictitious account of the development of Project ODE at Crawford Field Robotics Inc. Watch as the magic happens.

Project ODE: A Case Study

Although Mary Crawford and David Field had been partners for 10 years at Crawford Field Robotics Inc., a profitable design firm specializing in robotic assembly equipment, they often found themselves disagreeing about the feasibility of engaging the company's technical writers throughout the new product development process. Crawford took the position that it was not a cost-effective measure; Field felt that it would enhance the entire process. He argued that allowing engineers to do more engineering and less technical writing would, in fact, result in long-term cost savings. Allowing technical writers to participate throughout the process would improve the new product development process, the product, the documents, and the company, Field thought.

Crawford agreed to test Field's theory on their next product, a robot to retrieve and dispose of ammunition considered too dangerous for human handling. Since the impetus for the new robot was an “Ordinance for Disposing of Explosives,” the product became known as ODE.

The Initiate and Plan Phase. Field knew that an effective communicator supports the entire project team throughout the new product development process and that there is value in allowing the writer to participate from the start. In the early phases of initiating and planning ODE, Field made sure that the documents team was involved in defining the vision and concepts, studying the market, assessing potential profitability, and considering product specifications and requirements. With early involvement, the documents team helped shape and write the project plan.

The Design and Development Phase. While ODE was under design and development, there were additional required documents for building a prototype, purchasing components, and integrating systems into one product. These became the starting points for documenting policies, procedures, work orders, and scope changes. Here, too, the documents team became instrumental in defining and developing the deliverables required to successfully complete this phase of new product development.

The Test Phase. ODE then underwent a series of rigorous tests. Throughout this phase, the documents team, with input from the engineers, prepared a written test plan with performance specifications, regulatory requirements, and forms for capturing defects. Test results were documented, and studies became written reports that provided the project manager and the company with continuous feedback on the status of the project.

The Sell Phase. ODE was ready for the marketplace. In the highly competitive robotics arena, it is the consumers who judge the success of the product. Crawford agreed that consumer opinion is shaped by the overall product, the launch material collected at trade shows, press releases, advertising, catalog descriptions, and product documents such as a Getting Started Guide and a User's Manual. Field stressed that all documents require the expertise of professional communicators.

The documents team continued to make critical contributions to the new product development process, and leveraged what it had learned about the product into the next phase of the product's development—the service phase.

The Service Phase. Once in the hands of the consumer, ODE entered the service phase. Consumers called Crawford Field Robotics with problems and questions, requested replacement parts, and ordered accessories for ODE. To respond appropriately, the service team required a full set of documents from the documents team, including a theory of operation, an installation guide, procedures for doing adjustments and replacements, customer and service training manuals, diagnostic and troubleshooting guides.

As a result of having well-written service and training publications, both customers and service personnel had the product knowledge required to make ODE a peak performer. Field noticed that the customer service department at Crawford Field Robotics received fewer and shorter calls than it received for products that had not benefited from the comprehensive involvement of the documents team.

Checklist for the Project Manager

With the right waves of a wand, wise project managers can make the magic of a successful project happen.

What are the right waves?

Assemble a team that includes a communicator.

Define the various phases of the project within the context of the project life cycle.

Identify the organization best able to facilitate communication and develop a project communications plan.

Include a member of the organization identified in the previous step in meetings, starting at project inception.

Identify all of the documents required at each phase of the process, as well as the intended internal and external audiences worldwide, with the project's communicator.

Allow the communicator to develop a detailed documents plan and to manage the plan throughout the project. The communicator will take responsibility for activities related to researching, writing, illustrating, producing, localizing, and distributing paper and electronic documents to the project team and audiences worldwide.

The Close and Maintain Phase. During this phase of ODE's development, the documents team put together a project history file, documenting the lessons learned, consumer feedback, and recommendations for product enhancements. Field wanted to have this information on hand for future reference. He wanted to replicate the success of ODE when working on ODE 2. As a business owner, Field began to realize that satisfied buyers of ODE likely would be receptive to ODE 2, a robot used for removal of biomedical hazardous waste.

AS THE ODE PROJECT came to its successful and profitable conclusion, Field had won over Crawford to his way of thinking. It had become obvious that the involvement of the documents team throughout the entire product development process had benefited the project, the product, ODE users, and the company. One could say that Project ODE, almost magically, became an ODE to joy. ■

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.

September 2000 PM Network

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