Project Design

Facilitated PM™ views Project Design as a broader assessment of the purpose of an initiative, potentially a more complete construction of what is needed to realize the objective, with an execution strategy fit to the design and associated constraints, and developing a deeper appreciation and support by the stakeholder community.

Project Design is used by organizations to create a feasible plan. It is not possible to create a viable plan in an environment with uncertainty by relying only on a Waterfall WBS-based approach. Team evaluation and critique during design including prototyping can reduce risk and build confidence in success. In addition, many communication, re-work, dependencies, and other factors are not fully incorporated in traditional critical path methods.  It is essential to eliminate any “Hope-For” Gantt Charts!

 Why: The Case for Design Space Exploration

The benefits of exploring the design space (exploring alternatives) typically far outweigh the investment in time and effort. The history of new initiatives is filled with examples of projects that ran over budget or did not satisfy stakeholder needs. The failure of this type of group work can often be traced to a reluctance to fully explore the design space early in the project life cycle, during initiating and planning in particular. The natural pressures of quarterly cycles, competitive threats, and organizational culture often sustain a sense of urgency to take visible action quickly. There remains significant risk associated with rushing the design of “a unique product, service, or result” (PMBOK definition).

Because of the large number of scenarios a team can generate, a structured process for generating ideas, assembling into unique concepts, and making the optimal selection is required. This is a central value of requirement-driven design: helping to focus the team and make the work the group undertakes more efficient. This work takes time, but so will the effort that will be invested in detailed design, development, and test of a final solution. It is important to keep in mind that assumptions the team makes during project design may contribute directly to obstacles that arise as the cycle unfolds.

The benefits come in the form of a better match to stakeholder needs, lower cost, deeper insight into trade-off decisions, more cross domain interaction, and opportunities to benchmark and research other solutions and organizations. Risks without include the potential for suboptimal design, non-competitive design, and even a product that does not fit the purpose.

How: Initiating Design Space Exploration:

With the appropriate time, a structured methodology, the right team, and a good workspace:

  • Plan design exploration time into the plan (from the start!)
  • Structured method for exploring the design space to create concept elements
  • The right team with a diverse set of talent and experience
  • The right environment

This is a very good example of the value of facilitation to project management. An independent facilitator is central to success with design space exploration:

  • To sustain a divergent exploration of ideas over a sufficient period of time
  • To ensure to surface ideas from everyone in the group
  • To manage a healthy and constructive level of creative tension
  • Fully support different brainstorming and DT tools and techniques
  • Suspending critique and analysis, patience to create many quality concept elements 

Project Design Workflow:

It is impossible for a project team to produce a creative solution for a problem without a solid understanding of exactly what needs to be solved or delivered. The team must establish a tested and shared understanding of the problem or objective (opportunity, goal, purpose).

  • Stakeholder identification and analysis
  • Use of common and shared Context Diagram early in organizing phase
  • Understand current state business and IT processes; identify and prioritize re-engineering before automation.
  • Review historical information and organizational process assets

The work accomplished as the project begins has a disproportionate impact on the success of a project. It is during Project Design including requirements collection and project scope creation that the conditions for success are established.

  • Prepare requirements collection plan and checklist
  • Use of BABOK five types of requirements to organize and present information
  • Facilitated scenario based elicitation activities with key stakeholders, leaders, and communities

Design Space Exploration

  • Prioritize, organize, and refine requirements
  • Apply Design Thinking tools and techniques (simulation, rehearsal, coarse prototype, etc.)
  • Constraint requirements:  safety, resiliency, autonomy, recovery, maintainability, etc.

Initial Project Execution Summary

  • Organize initial WBS, sequence, and critical resources
  • Create initial change management plan
  • Objective team and stakeholder critique and review

Further detailed optimization, design, process, and architecture work will be required depending on the nature of the project. More depth and detail on this process is a deliverable available as a component of our services.

During Project Design, other techniques including Lean can be applied. Attention is directed toward minimizing waste by creating a work structure specific to the project design which optimally leverages organizational capabilities. Important scheduling issues can be identified with what tasks need to be expedited to be sure there is no negative impact (wasted time) on project schedule by  proactively staging/assignment/procurement of components, work packages, tasks, resources, etc.

Lean models also contribute to learning quickly about the viability of a design concept:

  • Form a hypothesis, and test as-soon-as possible
  • Could be a small part of the overall design
  • Learning is the objective and unit of measure; document changes or modifications based on learning.
  • Identify the leading indicators of change
  • Reduce the time expectations to first learning-why not a week?
  • Lots of ideas-identify those likely to finish early.

Best practices:

  • Be careful not to load up early with a full suite of requirements based on assumptions that may never be tested.
  • A strong vision is essential
  • May be important to facilitate across functional silos who are individually highly iterative and customer centric, but may benefit from tools and techniques to integrate across an interface.
  • Never find yourself saying, “While not a success, It was a great learning experience”.

This work is valuable to highlight stakeholder impact (time, cost, staff), and other resources and labor time that will be required. This approach can identify work that can be done proactively, early, in advance, to help minimize risk of project delay. This process provides important opportunities to communicate and consult with stakeholders and SME’s to deepen their understanding and gain support early on as the project is being designed. This information can contribute to a well designed communication plan for the project. Project communication is not a single event, and requires a degree of repetition and other tactics to capture and hold attention.

From the Project Design, the team can confidently build and execute a detailed implementation plan including schedules, resources, communication, procurement, risk management, etc.