Remember what it felt like to get called into the principal’s office. The anxiety is the same when it happens unannounced at work. I was called in recently because the project I manage had low profitability. Like any good mentor, my boss tried to make a teachable moment out of the disappointing news. Like a good student, I left determined not to have that conversation again.
Of course there were extenuating circumstances beyond my control, but I figure that a great manager deals with the lemons. I was really at a loss, though, on how to turn around my team’s performance, so I did what any good manger does, I went to my staff for the answers. I spoke with each of my charges informally improving our small group’s efficiency.
One recurring suggestion was to develop a clear process for the way in which we work. Our work flow was unstated, but I assumed everyone knew how to proceed from start to finish of a project. However, after reflecting on some recent projects it was clear that the younger staff, in particular, would get stuck in an unproductive loop while I assumed they were still moving forward. We needed a framework to formalize the steps of the design process and help us communicate better during a project.
I began my research on project management processes with a Google search. A diagram by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Information and Technology grabbed my attention. I liked how it presented a step by step process and identified the outputs at each step. It also identified the approvals required before proceeding to the next step.
My chart has just four steps from Identifying Scope to the final Deliverable. Like the VA diagram, I made use of multiple rows to differentiate tasks within each step. Along the way Information is constantly added to the process. Analysis considerations take different forms from step-to-step. A common mistake is jump into complex modeling of an unproven system – better to do simple calculations first to evaluate the merits of an idea. In the building design industry Modeling typically represents the final product. It was important for us to identify how much progress could be made on the model in each step. Finally, stop signs on top remind the team to take time between each step to discuss their work with managers.
There’s nothing really groundbreaking on this chart. It’s also intentionally vague so that it can apply to just about any project. That’s OK, because we want something simple and repeatable. Hopefully it creates a dialogue about how to work efficiently. In practice, it might sound something like this, “Where are you in the Design Process? Step 2? OK, so show me your plan sketch and load path assumptions. Hmm.. I think you need more information about the constructability of this detail…”
I’ve asked for everyone on my team to provide comments so that the diagram will be truly helpful. What do you think? Do you agree with the 4 step process? Are the terms “information, analysis, and modeling” clear? What bullets would you add/delete in the matrix?