Waddell Group consultants have worked with all sizes of companies. One of the questions asked quite often is “why would a small company hire an outsourced project manager?” The question of hiring a Project Manager is driven by balancing the needs of investors, the experience and talent of the CEO and staff, and the market opportunity of the product.
Project Managers are often seen as only useful in big companies. In our experience that isn’t the case at all. An effective PM keeps projects on time and budget, communicates status and issues to the people that need to know and generally has the project team operating as efficiently as possible. The added cost of the PM versus the potential efficiency is the reason large companies hire PM’s – both internal and outsourced. Does the same hold for a small company’s projects?
The worst thing that can happen to a small company is that they run out of money. The CEO has to be focusing on funds. For companies that are adequately funded, the CEO is always aware that the next tranche comes with milestones. In both cases, project management needs to happen, and it’s a question of who is doing it.
A CEO of a lightly funded company must show potential investors a solid plan that is realistic and well thought out. This includes risks and how they’ll be handled. If you look at the plans that good project managers put together, it looks a lot like what companies looking for early funding put together. It can be very useful to have someone who has taken many products through this process and partner with the CEO on creating that plan.
For companies that are funded and focused on hitting milestones, being efficient is key. This is done by defining interim milestones, planning around them and working the plan. Knowing where the project is every day and that there is someone focusing on meeting every project objective is reassuring. This project focus is the role of Project Management – important no matter what size the company – with consequences being more impactful for smaller ones.
A small company CEO knows that if they miss a milestone, there may be significant consequences. The options include taking on debt, bridge funding, down round(s), or even stopping. Establishing milestones that are very difficult or even unrealistic to hit is a major mistake, where a more realistic plan may have been just as well received by the funders. A great Project Manager can help set up reasonable and achievable milestones and then manage the plan to hit those milestones.
Finally, no matter where the company is in the process to profitability, in many small companies the CEO or founder is a visionary who thrives on company culture, raising money, crafting a vision for growing the company, and meeting present and future customers. This skill set usually differs from the execution driven nature of Project Managers. We see the Project Managers job as a simple one: Have the CEO look brilliant by making their vision a reality through hitting each milestone on time and budget.
In an earlier blog post we discussed how a project can go off the rails. A key cause is failing to scope a project properly. So this begs the question – how DO you scope a project properly?
What belongs in your Project Scope:
There are two key ways to look at this:
- Scope is set by defining what you are going to do
- Scope is set by defining what you will NOT do – this is critical
When crafting a project plan draw a firm line around your product and crisply define what it is and what it is not. At Waddell Group, we put a box around the product that is 25 words or less. The simple version is: what, by when, by whom, and for how much. You may respond that your project is way too complicated to fit into 25 words. Consider this: John Kennedy said in 1962, we will “land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade”. He could have improved it by adding “for less than $10 Billion….” But you get the point.
Creating a clear and compelling project definition is not something the Project Manager does alone. This must include the team so you have complete buy-in. It will take some time and may not get done to your satisfaction in the first meeting, so be patient and be willing to work for a great definition. This allows the Project Manager and the team to hold everyone accountable to the vision they all agreed upon.
Defining what is specifically not in the project doesn’t go into the 25 words or less. What’s out gets defined in the project plan right under the project definition statement. Useful categories for defining exclusions are: features; where created, where sold (geographies); market; compatibility with other systems; regulatory requirements; technologies; suppliers… The most important exclusions to list are those likely to get included sometime during the project.
Other exclusions to consider: look at what risks you already know. Plan to include those risks or not.
How do you anticipate risks:
We generally see (at least) five different categories of risks, and several of them are not medically driven in nature. These risks are:
- Access to developers/human resources
As you look at the features of a new – or upgraded – product, meet with your team and assess the level of risk for each element and evaluate what is tolerable for the project and what is not. There are many tools for risk assessment. Choose one that you like, and use it.
- For the technology, assess whether the product can be made with what is currently available, and if not what the risk is.
- For cost, do market research to see whether the product can be made profitably in the existing market.
- Human Resources for some areas are in high demand. How confident are you that the ones you need will be there when you need them?
- What is your competition doing and how should you react to them in this space?
- Finally, what regulatory issues will be hard to overcome?
These items have implications company wide and answers might come from areas that don’t normally talk to each other. As you prepare the scope for a project and look to manage the risks, a good Project Manager will include the right people at the table so everyone can make an informed decision about the scope and risks. And frankly, sometimes you must say, “Too Much” – a risk cannot be overcome and so the feature or even the project must be scrapped. It’s better to get this information now. Waiting until your project is well underway can be an enormous waste of time and resource for both you and your company.
How you create accurate estimates and timelines for your scope:
This is less about a calendar and more about the members of your team. In gathering your experts around a table, the Project Manager must put together the best team possible and establish the culture of the group that will drive the project forward. The right team working together on an agreed upon vision can be held accountable to timelines and be amazingly successful. This is less about the Project Manager wielding a stick and more about the excellent team holding one another to the high standard of performance that they themselves want to be held to.
Not choosing the right team or inheriting a team with members who don’t fit may lead to conflict. Even superstars – in medical device as in sports – can either align with the culture or change the culture. If you have a team member who does not play well with others, will they change the culture positively or negatively? If they can’t work with the rest of the team, they need to be kicked off the team. If the Project Manager is responsible for the timelines, then they are also responsible for putting together the team to accomplish that timeline. But that is a blog for a future time….
Once you have created the scope, identified potential risks, and assembled the team who can deliver on time and budget – all you have to do is manage the heck out of the project! But without the proper scope, this task can prove very difficult for even World Class Project Managers.