project planning

Do you recognise the sad feeling of having to update your project planning every week? Moving your milestones further and further away because of unexpected time consuming activities? Activities which you might have overlooked? Then you might like this:

6 step approach that enables you to include all the important deliverables of your project team and helps you to create a reliable project planning from the start:

1. Divide your planning into 6 phases. The same phases as in the New Product Development process (NPD):

  1. Fuzzy Idea phase: brainstorm phase, input from market research to come to new ideas.
  2. Concept phase: determine your new product concept.
  3. Feasibility phase: verify the technical, commercial and financial feasibility of your new product idea.
  4. Realisation phase: develop the new product.
  5. Introduction phase: start mass production and bring the new product on stock in the warehouse. The new product is now available for sales.
  6. Evaluation phase: some months after the introduction the project team and management will evaluate what went right and what went wrong during the new product development. In the next project, these learnings will be taken into account.

By splitting up your planning in the same phases as the NPD process, it is very recognisable for everyone in the project team, project sponsors and management. It adds structure to everyones daily activities and offers clarity on which phase the new product development is currently in.

2. Add the input-output deliverables per phase in your project planning.

By adding these detailed deliverables and activities you can micro manage your project and act fast in case of deviation to the planning.

See my blog on Realising smooth new product development by defining input-output deliverablesto download a handy template to help you do this.

Add these deliverables in your planning and set the amount of days needed to complete them. Put them in the right order and use the auto schedule feature in e.g. Microsoft Projects to link deliverables to each other. This is important if one deliverable cannot start before another deliverable is finished. Your planning will be automatically updated and dates will shift if one of the deliverables is delayed or better, is ready earlier :-).

Also check my blog on ‘Allocating responsibilities and tasks in New Product Developmentfor more information and a free download of the NPD checklist.

It is quite some work, but definitely worth the time you put in, as it will help you better manage your project.

3. Add milestone dates after each phase.

At the end of every phase in new product development, the milestones are fixed.

These milestones are called ‘Quality Gates’ (QG). They start with QG0 until QG5 and close a certain phase in the development process in order to move to the next phase.

The milestones are linked to investment decisions, for example tooling, demo samples, external development costs. A good project planning needs to have these investment decisions at the same date as the milestones. This prevents a non-profitable project to be continued. 

See my blog on Realising smooth new product development by defining input-output deliverablesfor a detailed explanation on Project Milestones.

If you work in an industry where the product introductions are always at the same date (e.g. important trade show, release of customers catalogues),  you are able to fix your milestones at the same date for each project. Only valid if product developments are comparable. For complex projects this is probably not applicable.

But in case you do run similar projects, you know exactly when to start with what activity and are able to really plan main activities throughout the year.

For example, benchmarking can always be planned in March. Preparation of new product concepts in April and May. Internal presentation to stakeholders and approval in June. Focus groups with customers in September, after the summer holidays. From October till April you will have development time in order to introduce the new product in May on the yearly trade show.

If your projects always differ a lot in planning, you need to adapt the number of days needed to complete each deliverable every time. Make sure to include the milestones in your planning, as they are important quality gates.

4. Built-in experience from previous projects right from the start.

Of course a project is not static, all kind of influences have effect on your planning, so you will need to adjust it regularly. But within certain limits.

Those limits you can set at the start of each new product development, based on the experience you and your team members have with comparable projects.

If you know for example, that the evaluation of product samples always takes longer than the standard five days, plan eight days instead. Does certification regularly take four months instead of the agreed three months? Plan those four months, but always strive to win time back where possible. Be smart in how you communicate your planning. Communicate challenging dates to stakeholders outside your core project team. Communicate the ‘expected dates’ to your project sponsors and management and explain the ‘challenging plan’ as well.

5. Include holiday periods in your project planning

What we also tend to forget is to include holiday periods in our planning.If your project runs into December, include two weeks of Christmas holidays because no work will be done. Also in summer, you will have a slow down in your project due to several weeks of absence of your team members, suppliers and customers.

If you do not take this into account, you will be faced with quite some delay. This is frustrating and can be avoided by building in these obvious ‘delays’ right from the start.

6. Verify your planning with your team members on a regular basis. 

As said before, a project is not static, setbacks and new insights will always influence your project planning. In order not to delay the project, it is important to anticipate on these changes quickly. When you review your planning regularly with your team members, you will be informed timely on issues that have impact on your planning. The team is able to figure out a solution to win back this delay elsewhere in the planning.  

More information on New Product Development and creating a reliable project planning can be found on my blog. Please do wander around there and benefit from the resources and free formats that I am offering to you. Hope this helps you to get a step closer in your project management activities.

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