How Do You Know If Your Product Is On Track Or In The Weeds?

by drjim on July 2, 2008

Is Your Product Development Still On Track?

Is Your Product Development Still On Track?

As a product is being developed, one of the big questions that a product manager has to continually answer is if the product is on track or if somehow things have gotten mixed up and it’s heading off into the weeds, so to speak. Although this sounds like a simple question to answer, in truth it’s quite tricky. The challenge comes from the simple fact that it is never possible to see the entire product creation process at one time. The best that you can do is to get snapshots of part of it. From these you have to determine if all is good or if it’s time to throw up a red flag.

We’ve already talked about the tools that you can use to track your product’s development, now it’s time to talk about exactly what you should be tracking. In tracking my products in the past, I have tried out countless metrics. Some were on the money and some were way off base. However, over time I believe that I’ve hit upon the six main metrics of an IT program that need to be continuously tracked by a product manager. Take a look and see if you agree with me:

  1. Hardware: any product development process requires hardware to develop, test, integrate, etc. on. Initially obtaining and then making sure that everything is working correctly could be a full time job. I’m used to four different sets of hardware: development boxes, unit testing boxes, systems testing boxes, and production boxes. Each is owned and managed by a different team and you truly do need to constantly check with them to get status updates.
  2. Staffing: In today’s modern product development environments, staff can be added and removed as needed by a project. As books have taught us, a product development process that falls behind cannot be magically saved by just throwing more people at it. Tracking who is currently working on your product and who isn’t is key to understanding if your are going to be able to meet your delivery dates.
  3. Security: We all know that it’s a very bad idea to leave security features and tests until the end of a product development process. That’s why checking on the status of both product security features as well as the status of external security checks of the product and the boxes that it’s being developed on are critical.
  4. Support: How a product is going to be supported is a critical question that can’t be left until the product is ready to launch. A so-so product that has great support can go on to be a winner (and likewise a great product can go down in flames with poor support). Involving the support teams in the product development and allowing them to make suggestions is the key to good long term support.
  5. Testing: The testing team often inhabits the lonely no-man’s land between the developers and the software quality folks. Showing them respect and allowing them to understand what the product is really supposed to do is the key to ensuring that they do a complete job of testing.
  6. Requirements: Last, but by no means least comes the product requirements team. I’ve seen all too many products start off with a great set of requirements only to have them fall down later on when features got slipped in by the developers and in the end nobody could say for sure what the final product actually did. Constant care and feeding of the requirements team will result in an excellent set of product documents showing up at the same time that the final product hits the street.

Sounds like a challenge doesn’t it? Take heart, if you can set up monitoring processes that keep track of these six metrics, you can rest assured that you’ll always know what’s going on in the development of your product.

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