Part 2: The Delicate Art of Managing People and Projects

Serge Dougoud

In part 1, I explained how our company rapidly reduced time to market with a disciplined approach to cross-functional decision-making and structured business reviews. Now, let’s go deeper to understand our unique approach to managing people and projects by leveraging a project management office.

The Delicate Art of Managing People 

Convincing Senior Staff to commit upfront to an Agile decision process and managing interpersonal politics was a crucial task. The delicate responsibility to handle the elephant in the room is the role of the Staff Program Manager (PGM) or Chief of Staff.  

Fuzzy role definitions is a common pitfall. Strong personalities sometimes steamrolled Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and attempted to make decisions because they had previously done so. Undermining an SME is a management misstep with multiple consequences. Even a more experienced manager must follow (and gently influence) the junior SME recommendations, especially in a public setting like a meeting.  Just as a parent needs to refrain from doing their children’s homework, a good manager allows the junior person to learn by doing so while providing appropriate feedback that builds, rather than erodes, their confidence.

The Project Management Office

Even as a mature product where R&D could predict the next product iteration based on vendor roadmaps, we looked to the market to guide development. The strategic Product Manager (PM) is key in this framework. We made it a point to be a market-driven organization.

The Project Management Office (PMO) was our team’s center. Although the PMO is sometimes perceived as an excess of process, our approach was to employ the PMO not as a bureaucratic hurdle but as a central hub that improved the effectiveness of our organization. So, it was essential for senior staff to commit upfront to an Agile decision process with defined roles, agendas set and sent in advance, and project team recommendations with alternate scenarios documented and presented in Agile cross-functional decision meetings facilitated by a Staff PGM.

Taking the time upfront to define clear project objectives (leading to a specific MRD) before the approval to engage in design was a critical investment that saved time down the road. With well-defined objectives from the outset, requests that changed the project’s scope were swiftly and effectively addressed. Keeping track of the original Design Objective was key to avoiding brainstorming sessions that “reinvent the wheel” at every roadblock, a common hazard for teams that lose sight of the initial objective. Nonetheless, the original Design Objective often needs to be amended a process aided by keeping it clearly in mind during each brainstorm.

Documenting the Plan of Record

Moreover, being Agile, reactive, and flexible does not conflict with the practice of documenting the Plan of Record (POR) as a reference for the next decision. These records are invaluable references for future scope adjustments. Brainstorming is fine, provided the team follows the POR and only deviates when a deliberate and informed decision is made to do so.

This discipline of planning and following a POR is more than just a habit; it’s a strategic approach that prevents detective work down the road to solve problems created by a lack of planning and documenting.

Decreasing Time-to-Market: Practical Considerations

Here are the crucial questions to ask to decrease your Time-to-Market.

  1. Is your organization ready to trust a PLC process and accept the comfort and agility it brings?
  2. Is your organization ready for cross-functional management delegation and to leverage talent on the bench?
  3. Is your team leveraging all past learnings as assets?
  4. What is your next move to get there?

Agile methods allow teams to move quickly and confidently. In an exceptional example of the power of this approach, a project with a multimillion-dollar Design Start budget was approved in ten minutes with only three questions. The speed with which the budget was approved demonstrates the power of Agile methods.

The robust, comprehensive PLC preparation process gave the general manager the confidence to move forward. Plus, three satisfactory answers to questions about the PLC allowed the GM to trust the milestone was complete and that the financial ROI analysis was sound. As a result of this streamlined decision-making process, the project stayed on schedule without compromising thoroughness or quality.

Serge Dougoud is a high-tech staff program manager with a proven track record of directing large programs in innovative companies, overseeing projects from concept to mass production. With extensive experience in marketing product management, R&D design and development, and manufacturing (including process, procurement, production, and supply chain), Serge has held key roles at Hewlett-Packard and co-founded start-ups in printing and CRM.

With a passion for guiding individuals and technology organizations, Serge advocates for the best processes in a fun and collaborative manner. He holds a Master’s in Mechanical and Materials Engineering from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland (Swiss Institute of Technology), a YMP Certification from INSEAD, and is a Certified Coach and Neuro-linguistic Master Practitioner. Serge is widely recognized as the “PLC Guru” (Product Life Cycle).


Are you curious how to decrease your Time to Market (TTM)? Contact us for a free consultation today. Or read on and learn more about Agile hardware development from the experts at Product Realization Group.