March 30, 2001
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There are many facets to planning and executing high-tech
projects, whether you are upgrading 5 PCs or 500, releasing new software
or inventing a new product. Not only do you need to worry about quantities,
say how many copies of software you will need, but also qualities, like
which machines to upgrade first or what features to include in the first
release. Too often, people concentrate on the quantity issues, assuming
the quality issues will take care of themselves. Unfortunately, this leads
many projects down the path to confusion and possible failure.
Below I will use the example of a typical PC upgrade project, but the
issues of quantity and quality will equally effect any project with a
high-tech component. In fact, I believe they effect any project regardless
of work involved.
Answers.com defines quantity as: “A specified or indefinite number
or amount.” When applying this to a high-tech project this can be
described as, how many copies of Microsoft Office, how many features,
how much it will cost? Some of these items are easy to discover. If I
am upgrading PCs, I can easily count what software I will need for one
PC and then multiply that by the number of PCs. This gives me the number
and the cost with little problem. Of course, if all the PCs are different,
or used by different personnel for different purposes, this becomes more
difficult. Still, I am dealing with hard numbers. You may have to dig
a bit to discover all the possible needs, but it is a relatively straightforward
process and most high-tech workers do well with this part of a project.
This is where trouble can often arise, though. You should never think
that specifying quantities is enough. A project is not only about machines,
C++ code and web pages. Whenever there are people involved, there are
many other issues to consider. The second half of project planning is
getting behind the quantities and discovering the quality issues that
might stop your project in its tracks.
Once you decide how much needs to be done, you need to delve into the
“what”, “why” and “how” of the project.
Why should this piece be performed first and this one second? How do you
work through the project from beginning to end? How will your work impact
the people you are upgrading? What steps need to be done? In what order?
When should it be complete? I had to figure out the order, the process,
the flow of the project.
Since the office has both a file server and a Filemaker Pro server, I
realized that these would have to come first in the upgrade process. No
workstation upgrades could be completed until these machines were upgraded
or replaced and back in operation. This also meant that the users could
continue doing some basic work while I started the project, so I would
impact their productivity as little as possible. Again, because productivity
was a priority, I should try to upgrade one PC completely before moving
onto the next. Sure, there would be certain processes, such as long system
software upgrades that could performed simultaneously, but my focus should
be on returning one PC, namely the manager’s computer, to operation
first so it could be used by the others as I continued the upgrade project.
As I get closer and closer to the completion of the project, I can focus
more on each individual PC, as I have already planned what needed to be
completed first to create a base level of operations in the office.
While the “quality plan” may look confusing to an outsider,
to me it is a blueprint to project success. Not only have I considered
how much I had to do, but also the best order in which to do it. Don’t
neglect this part of your project planning. No matter how much your clients
or managers may clamor for hard quantities, you will be the one responsible
for managing the process and bringing the project to a successful completion.
Just like a contractor building anything from a house to a skyscraper,
you need to have a blueprint that makes sense to you, even if those around
you are not be able to interpret it.