Adventures in project management, part one

November 12, 2018

Project managementSo, this happened: Marketing sold a nonexistent product based on a 3D outer surface model and a glossy product features brochure. Orders were taken. The market introduction date was set, plus or minus a few weeks.

The product was a slight improvement over the competition, with a significantly lower price tag. All its magic was in the software. As new orders poured in, engineering management had doubts about meeting both the introduction date and the required volumes. They hired me. I am given a week to get everything organized and then the clock starts.

The Big Boss holds an all-hands meeting for this project, introduces me, gives the usual "rah-rah" speech and leaves. The head of engineering heaps me with as-yet undeserved praise and says that I'm the engineering manager on this project because he is going offshore to interview new production sources and to transfer some existing products. He gives me carte blanche management authority for the term of the project.

He gives the teamwork speech, ending with the semi-hilarious, "there is no I in team" delivered with a straight face. This is a fast-track project. I am either going to deliver it within the timeframe or am expected to fall on my sword with a much smaller invoice for my effort. I am working with a bunch of people who are used to pointing at someone else when something is late or goes wrong. I tell the team we are all going to work together, but differently. I repeat that there is no I in team but, more importantly, there is no u, either. There is no end to this project for anyone on the team until we are in full production.

I give them my mission statement: "All blessings flow from the shipping dock. If you're not working directly to put quality products in volume, on time on the shipping dock, or assisting someone who does, you shouldn't work here." For this project, we will hang together, or we will be hung separately. Fast tracking is not hard. However, it does not tolerate slackers.

I start with the designers. Since they already knew what the outside looked like, I ask them about the interior: How will they attach cooling fans for the electronics? Will the PC boards be flat or stand on end? How will maintenance be done? Are we making a five-sided box where we can pull the entire front or back out for maintenance/assembly, or are we making a top and bottom that will fit together? Since this is a snazzy upgrade to another product, I tell them to look at previous designs and see what they can steal and copy into the new designs.

The first bomb drops: "The previous case part designs haven't been updated," I'm informed. "We write the change orders, and then tooling/purchasing/quality implements them. They go through an inspection process, but nobody updates the CAD drawings. These are all ‘red-line’ changes."

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