Monday, October 24, 2005

You cannot predict, but you can plan: The Loop Effect...

What are the key Milestones of planning a project or a product. Here is the approach that I call as "the loop effect".
The basic concept in project planning and execution is to have a clear vision about the End Result of a Project, much before the start of the project. Thus a "loop effect".

Here are the key milestones and unique features at each milestone:

1. Defining the project/product goals, and having a clear vision of the end result.
Note: Its vision of the end result, not the exact path or techniques to get there. That you will learn along the way. For example: We want to design a new car that will have a high mileage OR we want to design a mobile-web tool which helps user to easily get informaion on traffic delays and use alternative routes easily.

2. Define key features and key contraints
This is very important early on in the product/project development lifecycle. Key features will lay out the benefits as well as the complexity of the project. The contraints will lay out the feasibility of the plans, and lead to innovative solutions, alternative planning, building roadmaps and creating a successful strategy.

3. Define Alterative solutions and their strengths/weaknesses
You will probably have 2 to 4(or more in some cases) potential solutions. Make a list of strengths and weakness of each solution. A common trend will start of appear at the end of this, and you will discover some patterns. For example, if we use this technology we have a high risk of maintainability, or this solution will give us all the flexibility we need but no product differentiation.

4. Pick Top 2 Solutions and Explore details (Prototype, test cases)
For all practical purposes, you will have time to pick at the most 2 potential solutions to experiement with. Build prototypes and proof of concepts to target the high risk and high impact areas.

5. Select the winner or Eliminate 1 or both.
The project enters a tricky phase. If you have a Clear winner, you are golden to move forward.
Most likely you will have issues with both solutions, but one with a edge. Verify that the contraints with the solution are not conflicting with the Vision of the product.
Otherwise!!
Go back to the drawing board at this stage!! (Back to Step 3, or 2 or 1 in some rare cases).

6. Detail plans and Execution.
All the planning of steps 1-5 will pay huge dividends here. The path to detail planning and execution will have far less issues.
Note: Monitoring Progress will be very important in this phase of the product.

7. The final countdown.
The project is very close to launch. This is a special time in the project. A typical scenario: Time is running out, many pieces are falling into place, but there are some glaring issues.
Note: Plan with the Expectation to make some major changes during the last stages of the project.

The loop finally closes, and hopefully the vision becomes a reality.

These general guidelines help in giving structure and a starting point for product and project planning.

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