Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pondering project management

The other evening over dinner, I was pondering how to improve the way we manage our machine vision projects. As you might imagine, this didn’t impress my beloved but I did find a little nugget that I’d like to share.

Project management professionals (PMP’s, if they’re certified,) make much of the “triple constraint” of time, cost and quality. Those PMPs who live in the real world, as opposed to consulting or academia, know that satisfying all three is well-neigh impossible. In fact what happens is we’re forced to make trade-offs between the three, so how, I wondered, do I determine relative priorities?

If my system integration projects run overbudget (miss the cost constraint,) I’ll get shouted at by both my boss and customer. The same will happen if I’m late, but providing the system does what it is supposed to do (the quality constraint,) everyone will be happy. So, when I’m putting together a vision system quality should be my top priority. Or to look at it another way, who will care that I’m early and underbudget if it doesn’t work?

The equation changes though if, rather than building a system to meet an order I already have, I’m developing a new product. In that case, I really need to be first-to-market (the time dimension of the triple constraint.) In fact if I have a really new product, customers will forgive the expense and even some of the bugs that might be present. (We can sort those out in version 2.)

But as soon as I miss the first-to-market window cost and quality become the drivers, and of the two, I’d rank quality higher. I say this because buyers may be attracted to a less expensive version of a product, but if the quality isn’t there – if it doesn’t work as expected – they won’t come back for repeat orders.

I realize this will be motherhood and apple pie for some of you (translation for those outside the USA: motherhood and apple pie are both good and no one has any argument with them,) but to me it was something of a revelation, especially the conclusion.

So what is the conclusion? Simply this: the quality has to be there – the product has to work. If I’m in a competitive situation, like launching new camera, then time will matter, but as soon as I miss that first-to-market window it’s back to quality. (Interesting how when quoting an integration solution the time issue is in submitting the proposal. After that time isn’t much of a factor.)

And cost? It really doesn’t matter that much.

Now if only I could convince my customer and my boss.

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