Many projects in startups have several layers of activity needing coordination and attention. For example, making a widget includes design, engineering, prototyping, manufacturing, marketing, and sales by the time the product makes it to market. Steps leading to commercialization may be performed sequentially or there may be overlapping activities that are performed in parallel. In many cases, the sequential processing will take longer. Early in the startup, there may be lower monthly personnel costs because not all the team needs to be onboard until their activities start. The overall costs will likely remain unchanged but a lower monthly burn would occur because certain teams are not onboard and select activities are not being performed. In serial or stepwise planning of the project, timings of key milestones will be met further in the future leading to a delayed product launch, lost sales and patent life; assuming an issued patent covers the product.
When a full team and capital are available, a parallel set of activities can accelerate the time to product launch. The simultaneous work on all aspects requires a project manager and project plan with timelines. A program like Microsoft Project or a spreadsheet layout allows for data entry of all facets of the project and shows the timings of each activity relative to the whole project. This high level of planning is essential and should be managed by a knowledgeable project manager. The manager should hold regular meetings to monitor and track the project milestones. Adjustments to the timelines of different steps and coordination with the overall projects will ensure the all teams are accomplishing their objectives in a timely manner.
Project planning is used extensively in medical product development; things like devices or drugs. The activities of the research, regulatory, development, manufacturing, and product launch must be run in parallel. The length of project steps for a set of extensive activities must be performed over very long times. Slippage in timings can result in lost days of product sales while the product is still on patent. The lost sales can be extremely costly to the company. For example, some drugs have sales of greater than $1B per year. A single day of lost sales may be greater than $3M. For this reason, planning and coordination are designed to launch a product in the least amount of time with the least cost.
Tips to planning a project and optimizing the program are below:
Identify teams: The members of the teams should be experienced in the activity that team will have as their responsibility. Each team should have representation at all project planning meetings. It may be best to have one person serve as the project manager to integrate and oversee all of the teams. As an example, teams may consist of research, development, manufacturing, marketing, and sales. Each area contributes different pieces to the overall project. Timings and integration of team contributions is often necessary to optimize the performance and timings of the project. The project manager should at least understand how the program pieces fit together and understand the program at a 30,000 ft. level.
Define all activities: Each of the teams must define the steps and times required to complete them. The activities and timings can be added to a visual chart or timeline that allows seeing how the pieces fit. As an example, it is important to know that packaging for products may be required before the first product or prototypes are generated. In select cases, having packaging available after the prototype or product is produced may cause problems.
Teams provide detailed plans: Details must be extensive and include identifiable deliverables. A number of steps and goals may be required to complete each team function. Overlaps of team activities occur frequently. At some point, teams pass off the project to the next along the continuum of the project. Research passes off to development and development to manufacturing, etc. In some cases, two or more teams may have parallel activities where only part of the project is passed off. As an example, manufacturing may be working on the scale-up process while development is completing final stages in the product development.
Create a table or chart of plans and timings: Visual graphics or display of the events and timings helps the program manager monitor the activities and alert teams of events that may affect timings. The entries should contain as much specific information to describe the steps and duration plus start and stop times.
Hold regular meetings to monitor: Program managers should hold regular meetings. The team heads should at a minimum participate. Each team can provide updates and discuss their progress relative to the overall project plan. The regular meetings are essential to keeping on track or alerting other members of delays or accelerations in activities. Coordination and accountability are important to better execution.
Hold teams accountable: Adjustments are likely to take place. Alerting all project team members of changes is critical. Hold them accountable to meeting their timings and milestones. Encourage them to alert the project manager when issues arise that may shift milestone completions. This way there can be better coordination of all activities.
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