Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Project Management & Change Control

In any new product development project, the market conditions are constantly changing & hence there will be need for changes to the project requirements & deliverables even during the execution of the project. Successful project management is all about understanding the need for changes and dealing with it i.e, Deciding on when & how to make the required changes in the project.

Any change to the project requirements can have an impact on the project cost & schedule. It is therefore important to understand the importance of the change & the impact to the current project of the change is agreed upon. And once a change is approved, the project plan may have to be revised and the revised project plan will have to be communicated to all stake holders.

In the initial days of project management, it was the role of project manager to decide on the required changes, but today, it is common to have a larger group called as Change Control Board (CCB) to manage all the requested changes. CCB is a decision-making body controlling all project changes. The CCB must consider & review each planned or unplanned change. The name for this group could vary, but the function it provides does not. The main objective of CCB is to control the change process in a disciplined, visible, and traceable manner.

This article is about the role & process used by CCB.

Formation of CCB

Who should be the members of CCB? Ideally, the members of CCB should include the key stake holders & decision makers for the project. Ideally, the CCB consists of project/program manager, product/account manager (who represents the customer), Project's engineering lead, Project's QA lead, Product Marketing lead (for product development projects), Project's financial controller. Other members may be included - based on the project's specific needs.

Once the CCB is established, a standard process for the operation of CCB needs to be established. Normally, the CCB mechanisms are standardized by the PMO office.  The PMO office establishes the CCB charter and the rules of engagement at start of the project.

Planned & Unplanned Changes

As the project progresses, there could be changes introduced into the project requirements. These changes could be planned changes or unplanned changes.

Planned changes are those that occurs in the project from orderly progress of the project - i.e, as the project progresses from: (1) requirements definition, (2) preliminary design,
(3) detailed design, (4) coding, (5) production/deployment, and (6) operational use.  These planned changes in project do not have an impact on the project schedule.

However not all projects progress in an orderly fashion. Additional requirements may be added by the customer, or upon detailed design - new requirements/test cases are identified etc. Such changes are unplanned changes and may have an impact on project schedule.

CCB reviews all changes - planned & unplanned and constantly reviews the project cost & schedule impacts due to these changes. CCB also documents all the change requests and minutes of meeting for future needs.

Activities of CCB

Program Management office works with CCB to define the main activities of CCB. The main activities of CCB are:

  1. CCB meets regularly to review all change requests. CCB members consists of customer or customer representative - so that the customer is aware of the review meetings & its decision. This provides the customers an insight into project progress to support more effective decision making.
  2. Establish Norms for requesting any changes. CCB can publish a standards/templates to make any change requests.
  3. CCB review & triage the impact of all change requests: Any addition or deletion of functional features, changes in project plan, project execution sequence etc. CCB may ask for impact analysis on the proposed changes from the execution team and based on joint review with customer or customer representative - may approve or reject the change request.
  4. Upon triage of all the change requests, CCB can recommend project management to bundle up a number of small changes into one big change in the project and re-plan the project if necessary.
  5. Once the change request is approved, the execution team implements the change & upon implementation, publishes a project change notice and documents the changes done in the project.
  6. CCB should also review the project viability at every stage gate - as the project moves from one stage to another. This is the review of a planned change & the review is to see if the project is progressing as per plan and does the project makes sense to continue on.
  7. CCB also publishes a change freeze date for the project. After this date, no change requests will be entertained. All proposed changes to the product development will be deferred to the next version of the product.
  8. Record & document minutes of every CCB meeting for future needs. Program Management Office can use this records for future use.

Closing Thoughts 

CCB plays a very important role in project management, especially in new product development projects. When developing new products, there is a constant pressure from customers or product managers to add new features, but making that change can have adverse impact on the project schedule & costs. CCB acts as a judge, reviews the requested change and weighs the consequences and them makes the final call.

Program Management office establishes the CCB. The CCB provides a vital function in project management in managing all the changes to the project. CCB provides a controlled approach to deal with all the changes to the project requirements and works as a communication platform between the project team and customer.

Samsung's Big.Little ARM chip

Samsung makes ARM processors called "Exyonos" that powers  Google's new Chromebook, the Nexus 10 tablet and even Mont-Blanc's upcoming supercomputer!

Big.LITTLE pairs the high horsepower Cortex-A15 MPCore with the ultra-efficient Cortex-A7 processor – allowing mobile devices to automatically select the right processor for the right task based on performance requirements.  Big.LITTLE's one half is a quad-core, 1.8GHz ARM Cortex-A15 that will do all the heavy lifting, while the other is a quad 1.2GHz Cortex-A7 that takes over in quieter moments.

Given Samsung's huge manufacturing muscle and its product portfolio: Camera's, Cell Phone, Tablets, PCs, TV,  etc, It makes sense for Samsung to enter into the big league of 64-bit server markets – better still Samsung can create big time game changer in consumer product space with a 64 bit processor.

I can imagine Samsung developing 25M+ pixel cameras which connect directly to web via 3G/LTE, or develop a cell phone sized servers or convert the TV into an entertainment cloud server etc. The potential for new product innovation with this 64-bit compute power is immense!

Given the pace of new product introduction at Samsung – I am sure that Samsung has a slew of products that can use the Big.little processor in ways that was never thought of before. For example, a cell phone with a video projector built into it – where the projector & video streaming works when the device is plugged in etc.

Competitors like Apple, Nokia, HP, Dell, and even Intel will have to take notice of this development and try to match or beat Samsung in this interesting innovation race.


Google released Android 4.0 Mini PC few months back, and I got to see it now. From the first look to the first test drive, I am very much impressed with this innovation. The Mini PC looks like a USB dongle, but it's a PC!

Hats off to the engineers at Google for thinking up this new form factor.

This small handy device comes with a 1GHz CPU (overclocked to 1.5 GHz), 512MB RAM, 4GB Flash memory, extendable via MicroSD slot. Android 4.0 & can run all the Android Apps.

The Mini PC does not ship with a screen, no key board or a mouse, but you can connect it to the Mini PC and start using it as a PC! Mini PC has USB ports to connect a mouse & key board, and HDMI output to connect to a TV screen, and it also has a MicroSD slot to add more memory. It sports WiFi connectivity for Internet.

Android OS was initially not designed to replace a traditional PC and Mini PC cannot replace a PC in true sense, but then this little wonder can kill the low end PC desktops at internet browsing centers and this tiny $38 device can do all the things my mother does on her PC! 

The innovative form factor make this tiny device a giant killer. I can dream of 100s of new applications for this tiny PC – which a traditional PC cannot. For example, I can take this MiniPC on a road trip & convert the hotel TV into a PC for the night, check my emails, watch You Tube or review the pictures/video I had taken earlier in the day on my camera. 

I can use this Mini PC to stream the video content from a surveillance camera, I can convert any Television into a Remote Desktop and work on Adobe or MS office Applications. I can convert any TV into a browsing station & the list goes on!

Adding to the value of this Tiny powerhouse is the Android platform – the wide plethora of Apps, and new Apps that can be developed for this device – which can make this tiny device  even more useful.

This tiny low cost PC has the potential to kill the traditional home computers in most of the market segments and could truly emerge as the tiny David that killed the mighty Wintel Goliath!!

Where to buy?

1. Amazon  for $38!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Eight factors to ensure New Product Success

The last 5 years, we are seeing a huge surge of software products, the sheer number of new products being introduced in last 5 years is greater than what was done in last 25 years!

The new technologies: Smart phones, Tablets, Social Networking, Green IT has created huge opportunities for software products and I have see a lots of new products failing in the market for varied reasons:
1. Bad timing or released prematurely
2. Not-enough resources to meet demand,
3. Bad user experience
4. Poor Marketing
5. Wrong Platforms and host of other reasons

This article is not about why products fail, instead I will talk about how to create a successful product. When we look at software products - there are eight key factors that must be executed flawlessly for success - getting the right balance of these 8 factors is the key & remember that there are no short cuts for product success.

Factor-1: Market Research: 

Start with Market research. Identify the product needs through extensive market research. Identify the potential customers, understand their real needs, estimate the volume shipments, identify the proper marketing communication channels to reach out to these customers. Interact with potential customers & users.

During this stage one must also research on the competition & supplier. Having a very good understanding of the supply chain is critical for any hardware products. Know the competition, understand what other competitive products that exist in the field and why those products fail to meet certain customer needs.

If you are a start-up, spend time to analyze your own capabilities to meet those needs

Factor-2: Design. 

Products is all about design. When you think about design, I urge you to think like Apple. Apple's design plays a BIG part in the product success. If you are designing a product, think about Apple, and ask yourself - "Will Apple use this design?"  "Will Apple design it like this?".

Think about all aspects of the design: Usability, Ergonomics, Aesthetics, Durability, Ease of learning, packaging, Cultural messaging, etc.  For physical products - design involves ease of manufacturing, shipping and handling.

Remember that the product design creates the first impression & it better be a good one!

E.g.: Sony PlayStation-PSP, Gmail etc.

Factor-3: Innovation.

All products must have some innovative features that will allow the product to stand out from competition and differentiate itself. Pricing is not valuable differentiative factor, especially in IT (software and hardware) sector.  Your new product must be different from all the competition & yet meet the end customer needs. Innovation is the key to product differentiation and product success.  Innovation can be in many forms: Functionality, Usability, Design, etc.

Avoid cosmetic innovation - i.e., innovation that adds little or no value to customer.

E.g.: Apple Siri, Kindle, Galaxy Note etc.

Factor-4: Product Name

Product manage is very important for success. If your product has a catchy name then consumers will advertise your product for you free via 'word of mouth' but if they can't  pronounce the name or remember it they will not talk about it. So take great care in choosing the name.

Remember Name is the brand, which leads to tangible value.

E.g.: Talking Tom, Farmville, Sims City, iTunes etc.

Factor-5: Quality.

Test the product extensively. Customers don't entertain product malfunctions, product recalls or frequent patches. In IT software/Hardware, one also has to test for product security.  Shipping out defective products - no matter how innovative it is will not please the customer. The products must be tested with actual customer usage and not just an assumed simulation use cases in the labs. Have a beta test program to test the product with customers.

In case of hardware, quality testing also involves testing the packaging, product shipping & handling - to ensure that the final product arrives at the customer's hand in the way it was intended. Extensive Testing is expected from all vendors. Today customers will not entertain defective product.

Remember that quality is not just about testing. Use only quality parts, deal with quality vendors, hire quality employees. In short quality must be ingrained within the entire organization.

Factor-6: Selling

Selling a product to the customer, the buying experience, plays a big part in the actual purchase process. For physical products, the retail experience in crucial. Today, selling is not just about handing over the goods and collecting money. Today, selling is about greeting the customer, educating the customer, answering customer questions, enabling the customer to use the product and finally solving customer's problem.

So selling involves selecting the right sales/distrubution channel, enabling the sales partners, educating the field sales force etc.

Here again, think like Apple. Apple does not launch a product and dump it into the dealers, Apple has made shopping a pleasurable experience.

Factor-7:  Customer Support

Customers are giving hard cash for the product and hence deserve a  commitment from the vendor to support the product. A good customer support will result in a long time commitment from consumers to the product.

Remember that customer support is not an after sales activity - it is actually a sales enabler. Today many customer call up the product support to check on the level & quality of support before buying a product.

Factor-8: Product Launch 

How a new product is launched in the market plays a vital role in the product success.  Product marketing is the name of the game. Knowing who your customers are and reaching out to them, enticing them to see, try and buy your product -  is when it actually becomes successful.

Product launch must be carefully planned and money has to be spent. Cutting back on product launch will surely kill a product, no matter how good, how innovative it is.

Closing Thoughts

Launching new products is like a ballet. Every move must be well coordinated and executed flawlessly. Here in this article, I have highlighted 8 critical factors that cannot be avoided. Entrepreneurs and product managers alike must find the right balance between these success factors to ensure the new products are successful .