Project Scheduling

May 27, 2009

Once the work breakdown is completed, you can construct a timeline necessary to complete the specified tasks and eventually the project. There a couple common methods to formulate this timeline, most notably the Gantt Chart and the Network Diagram.

Gantt ChartProject Schedule

A Gantt Chart is a bar chart that illustrates the elements of project schedule with start and finish dates. The Gantt chart should show dependencies between elements as well as the completion status of each element. But, the Gantt chart can become unwieldy on larger projects, not to mention multiple projects. It also fails to represent the relative size of work elements (only time).

Project network Network Diagram

A Project Network is a graph depicting sequence and dependency of elements. The Gantt chart should show dependencies between elements as well as the completion status of each element. The project network avoids some of the ‘scheduling’ constraints of the Gantt chart, but that also becomes a weakness.

There are numerous project management software packages available. If you are looking for one (or a new one), check out this list.

Regardless of which one you chose, you should use it as a tool to manage your project, not just plan it. For instance, you can determine and monitor the Critical Path. That is, for each element, you establish the minimal and maximum time, and then identify the sequence of elements that add up to the longest overall duration. Any delay will have a direct impact on the overall schedule. Thus, you need to manage and update your project schedule throughout the lifecycle and across projects to identify potential problems.

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Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

May 25, 2009

Project Planning

Good requirements simplify the process for project planning. With a clear understanding of the requirements, you can then break the work down into the elemental tasks required to meet the system requirements – and only the system requirements. Perhaps, just as importantly, you can define the necessary testing to validate that the system meets the requirements.

The V-modelV-Model

Defined in the 1980s, the V-Model has been used heavily in the automotive industry, was designed to simplify the complexity associated with developing systems. Today is commonly used in control design and software development. It summarized the main steps corresponding to deliverables in a system validation framework. The left side represents the decomposition of requirements and the creation of system specifications. The right side represents the integration of the parts and their verification according to the design and system requirements. Although the names of the individual steps may differ from one context to the next, the fundamental principle of correspondence applies. For instance:

  1. User Specifications – can correspond to the requirements that must be validated during the Site Acceptance Test (SAT).
  2. Functional Specifications – can correspond to the requirements that must be validated during the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT).

Work Breakdown Process

Ultimately, the work breakdown process results in the individual ‘work packages’ to develop the system. For each work package, you should be able to define:

  1. Definition of work – what is to be implemented
  2. What’s needed – equipment, knowledge, prior work (on the project)
  3. Time/cost – the estimated time and cost to complete the work package
  4. Deliverable – what must be produced to complete the task

Check out other blogs about the V-Model. 


Sales Tactics – Requirements Gathering (cont.)

May 20, 2009

Probing for requirements

Requirements gathering is largely dependent on your probing techniques. So, it is worth your while to educate yourself (and your sales team). For instance:

  • Open probes – used to understand concepts. What do you need? What about this is important to you? How will this make a difference?  Tell me more.
  • Closed probes – closed to elicit and clarify specific information. So, the requirement is …. If I understand you correctly, you’re saying … Right?

Keep in mind that during the requirements phase, the customer should do most of the talking (70%). Using  these type of questions, you should be able to follow the basic 3 step requirements technique:

  1. Elicit and define the need
  2. Analyze and support a suitable solution
  3. Verify and close that the need will be met

Note that it is not essential to come up with the exact solution to the need. You merely need to establish what the requirement is and how you will judge if the requirement is met.

Dealing with Concerns

concernsAnother aspect of successful requirements gathering is recognizing concerns and knowing how to deal with them effectively. In each case, you should first acknowledge the concern and probe further for clarification before responding. Then, check again for acceptance before closing.

Skepticism – occurs when a customer expresses doubt about a proposed solution to a requirement. Respond by offering further proof.

Misunderstanding – occurs when a customer is misinformed about your proposed solution. Respond by clarify the proposed solution and seek acceptance.

Indifference – occurs when the customer understands the solution but does not see that it is necessary. Respond by validating the need before repositioning the solution.

Drawback – occurs when the customer not only understands the solution but is not satisfied. Respond by acknowledge their dissatisfaction and their unsolved need. Then depending on the situation, you may need to refocus the customer on a great need that is being resolved, thereby minimizing the issue.


Sales Tactics – Requirements Gathering

May 18, 2009

At National Instruments, we teach a ‘needs satisfaction’ approach to selling where:

  • Selling – A process of uncovering, understanding, and satisfying customer needs.
  • Need – A customer want or desire that can be satisfied by your product or service

 So, selling is the process of revealing AND understanding customer wants, desires, and needs; then satisfying those needs with the features and benefits of your organization, products, or services.  Often, system integrators refer to this as requirements gathering. And, it’s arguably the single most important aspect to successful, profitable projects.

Establishing scope

Gathering requirements begins with understanding the scope or the ‘big picture’ for the project. Not only what really needs to be accomplished, but how will the project be viewed as successful? Just as important, you must ascertain the stakeholders who will ultimately be judging the success of the project. And, distinguish between the elements that are critical versus nice-to-have, or non-essential.

100_3106Until you understand the big picture, there is not much sense diving into the details. For instance, my wife and I like to take vacations, but would often end up frustrated until we understood our different ‘scope’ for our project. For me, a vacation is about doing stuff. For my wife, it is about not doing stuff. Once that became clear, we were able to establish requirements that fill both our needs.

Types of Requirements

During your sales engagement, you should have a checklist to ensure that you have gathered requirements for all aspects of the project. In addition to the basic capabilities and performance of the system, how will the customer interact with the system? What interfaces and data/results be required? Other requirements might include safety, reliability, security, and so on.

Ideally, for each requirement, you should assign specific attributes. Most importantly, how will you measure/assess the requirement and the acceptance criterion? Some folks also assess uniqueness, criticality, and relative priority of each requirement. And, some even establish the feasibility and risk of each requirement as well as record the source of the requirement in case there is trouble meeting it.


Selling is Key to Your Success

May 13, 2009

If you’ve been in the NI Alliance Partner business for long, you realize that technical know-how is great, but selling is key to your success. From beginning a sales engagement and gathering requirements through proposing, negotiating, and closing the sale, there are many things that can prevent you from ever applying that great technical knowledge.

First Contact

Selling begins with that first customer contact after the lead is generated. Actually, some argue that selling is part of the marketing process itself. But, marketing, well that’s topic in and of itself. So, let’s assume that the lead has already been generated.

  • Preparation – what is required for the proper opening? Gather all known and available information about the prospects. Based on the source of the lead, what do we know about the potential customer (e.g. needs, care-abouts)? What was the value proposition that he has already encountered? Also, has there been any prior contact, maybe they are already a customer. Of course, the amount of preparation should be proportional to the anticipated size of the opportunity.
  • Opening – Always have down pat how you are going to introduce yourself and your company. Often, this is akin to your positioning statement. That should be followed quickly by the purpose of the meeting or call.
  • Expectations – Then, set the expectations for what you want to accomplish. Agree to the agenda and how much time that both parties have. In addition to ensuring that you understand the purpose and agenda, this will allow you to take control and set the tone for the meeting.

The old adage applies; there is only one chance to make a first impression. Don’t miss your opportunity to make it a good one.


Positioning Your Product or Service

May 11, 2009

So, you’ve picked your market segment and decided how to target it, now the all important step of ‘positioning’. What is your value proposition to your customer? You should address the customers’needs identified in your market segmentation. It should be in your customer’s terms, not yours. It is not what you do, but what you do for them. It’s not a description about the features of your products or the capabilities of your services, but a statement about the benefits and value that you provide.

Differientiationdifferientiate

Your positioning should also differentiate you from the competition. Not only how you are unique, but why that is better for the customer. That unique value will not only allow you to win the business, but with momentum, charge a higher price for that value. Ways to differentiate include:

  1. Price – not necessarily lower price, but higher value
  2. Product – higher quality, new/first, specific feature,
  3. Service – faster, local, reliable, customize

For more information about differentiating your business, check out Powerhomebiz.com.

Positioning Statement

Eventually, you’ll capture that into a positioning statement. There is a well-known template for creating your value propostion:

For customer, who have needs, this product/service does benefit. Unlike alternative, our differentiation to deliver unique value

The Small Business Marketing Guide has some good information on writing positioning statements.

Got a good example of a positioning statement. Let’s hear it.


Segmenting and Targeting Your Audience

May 6, 2009

Segmenting

Segmenting is the process of identifying your potential customers. A viable market segment should have having unique attributes. They have common characteristics and care-abouts. And, ideally, they must identify themselves as part of that group. Through segmentation, you can better understand their unique needs and therefore better market to and satisfy those needs.

A viable market segment must also be the right size. It must be substantial enough to justify the resources, but not so large that you fail exert the necessary effort to attract its constituents. I like to apply the market share test. If you can’t determine and track your market share, you haven’t sufficiently defined your market. Even if you are a local integrator, what percentage of the local market do you currently serve?

Note, if you market is too big, consider narrowing by geography. For instance, if you offer a brake test system is it realistic to market that solution worldwide. If not, narrow your market segment to your geographical region. Now, is there a sufficient market segment to generate the leads you need to meet your business goal?  Check out NetMBA for more information.

Targeting

After segmenting your market(s), you then decide how best to target your audience. If it is a viable market segment, the constituents will have common ways that they gather information.

1)      Publications – are there trade publications or newsletters?

2)      Events – Do they attend certain events or gather together to share information? This could be tradeshows or conferences.

3)      Networks – Is there a network of relationships through which they share information. This could be a trade association or a local business chapter. But, it could also include common vendors or even customers.

4)      The Web – As we know, the web is the number one tool that engineers and scientists use to gather information. As such, your market strategy should definitely include the Web as a primary vehicle for targeting your customers.

These become the vehicles for reaching your target market.marketing-vehicle

By the way, I searching the web on the subject of ‘marketing vehicles’ and ran across the following graphic. I just couldn’t resist including it.