Never underestimate the importance of a solid medical device product development project plan. But even the best of plans should be revisited throughout the product development process and adjusted according to the ever changing project landscape. Sometimes, though, we are very good about planning early on in the efforts but forget about the need to update.
I’m up to my eye balls in one of these medical device projects right now. Every minute of every working day, and even several minutes of non-working days, can easily be consumed with going from one fire to the next to try and address product development issues and concerns. Lately, I do feel very much like the good ol’ project manager firefighter. Grab a hose and spray towards the latest and greatest fire. Trouble is, I don’t feel like we have enough firefighters and/or hoses to go around. It also sometimes seems like we have a few fire starters on the team. I don’t think the project fires are being set on purpose. I think, though, it is an outcome of a lot of angst.
Okay, yes, you need to understand something about medical device product development (and product development of any kind, really). Product development really equates to a lot of uncertainty. If we know about an issue, we can plan for, prevent, and address the issue ahead of time. Product development definitely can have more than a few “gotchas” that if not properly prepared can wreak more than a little havoc.
So how do you combat this?
Plan. Do. Plan. Do. Yes, this can seem like a never-ending cycle. But that’s kind of the point, right? At the start of a medical device product development project, is it really possible for me to plan all the details of design transfer? Probably not. My planning efforts should coincide with those project phases, milestones, tasks, and activities nearest to the schedule. I can speculate about future phases of development–which probably is somewhat worthwhile. Spending too much time planning too much detail about phases way downstream, though, is probably a bit of a wasted effort. So much is going to happen that will make those future plans obsolete. As you prepare to exit one phase and enter the next, a revised project plan should help communicate this transition to the project team.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve talked about the importance of communication with respect to product development, I’d have exactly $1.25M by now. If I had to pay a dollar for every time I’ve dropped the ball in some way with respect to effective project communication, I would have lost $2.5M. It’s so easy to talk about the necessity of good, effective project communication. It’s way harder to actually deliver. As a project manager you should assume one thing when it comes to project communication with each team member: you cannot provide too many details. Also, don’t worry if you think you already said something before. It really doesn’t hurt to repeat information. You also may have to pull information from each team member; don’t expect them to come to you ever.
Have contingencies ready. Always. I don’t care how great your project team is and how much experience they have, as a project manager you have to be a realist, maybe even a bit of a pessimist–at least when it comes to project planning and schedule. You have to learn on the fly what each team member is capable of and likely to achieve when it comes to tasks and assignments. You have to learn who can handle a large list of tasks and work independently and who has to be micro-managed and handle one task at a time. You have to expect that mistakes will happen. You have to expect that assumptions will be proven wrong. You have to be ready with contingency after contingency throughout development. When something doesn’t work, figure out other ways to solve problems. But before pulling the trigger on any contingency plan, be sure to weigh pros and cons with stakeholders. And definitely communicate contingencies to project team members, even if this may mean some uncomfortable conversations.