Test development projects are a mix of engineering disciplines with a complex and interdependent ecosystem. The ability to assess risks and their impact on the entire project can be the difference between success and failure. A technical project lead provides a single point of responsibility for assessing technical risk across the project, developing mitigation plans and driving countermeasures to completion to ensure on-time and on-spec delivery of the project.
Why Projects Fail
Projects experience a number of challenges that can hinder success, including:
- Misalignment between what is committed to the customer and the capabilities of the solution.
- Proactive response to change requests
- A lack of defined milestones and completion definition
- Failure to maintain cohesion and efficiency among the team
Mitigating Project Challenges
Pulling together the right team of people ensures project success. An important piece of this team is the Technical Project Lead, who:
- Architects the solution, including confirming the feasibility of commitments
- Establishes the right team of experts: they must understand what expertise is needed and fill those roles with the right combination of people
- Has a 360° view of key participants and maintains organizational cohesion: by understanding the role each team member plays and what they can contribute, the team can stay organized and work well together
- Leads the technical decision-making and communication: this is where a Technical Project Lead differentiates themselves from a project manager. With their technical expertise they are able to understand the technical details and translate them to the customer, understanding their impact and the feasibility of the project to remain on course
- Reviews project progress and milestones to ensure on-time and on-spec delivery
- Evaluates the project outcome: having the technical expertise ensures the Technical Project Lead is able to accurately assess the success of the project objectively
The Technical Project Lead Makes All the Difference
Pulling together the right team of experts is not enough. Managing them and customer expectations is key to ensuring the project is successful, and a Technical Project Lead can play this role during project execution. Here we’ll discuss how a talented Technical Project Lead manages the team and the project.
Assemble the Dream Team
The project team is the pillar of any development project. Pull together the right resources to ensure success. These may include:
- Hardware engineers
- Application development resources
- Sales team
- Field product specialist engineers
- Sustaining software engineers
- Product support integration engineers
Leverage the Dream Team’s Expertise
Success is the result of the team working well together.
- Evaluate feasibility and ensure all deliverables are technically attainable.
- Delegate responsibility to the project expert and let them shine: your team of experts are your most valuable asset – they know how to deliver project success. Learning how to leverage their expertise while encouraging them to work well together is the only way the ultimate goal will be achieved.
- Maintain cohesion of the group: create space among team members and with the customer to ensure efficiency. The team is working hard on the project solution so it is imperative that the Technical Project Lead be a sounding board for the team and the main technical point of contact for the customer.
- Recognize achievements and successes: people thrive when they are in an environment where they feel like they are valued and have the tools they need to be successful. Recognizing both small and large milestones demonstrate project progress and builds a sense of teamwork.
Communicate and then Communicate More
Successful project execution hinges on communication. Both internal and external constituents need to be kept in the loop as the project progresses.
- Maintain internal weekly progress calls with the team to ensure each constituent is aware of the progress and challenges of others. These progress calls can often turn into unexpected brainstorming sessions where hard problems can be resolved.
- Manage milestones: demonstrating progress to both the internal team and the customer helps everyone feel like the project is progressing on track.
- Implement code reviews to find issues
- Verify bug fix methods are working
- Create a dashboard so everyone is aware of the progress and issues at all times
- Build trusted relationships with the team: by being a calm and productive force for the team, the Technical Project Lead becomes aware of issues quicker and can work to resolve them more effectively. Be the person that all of your team members can come to with any issue, knowing it will be handled productively.
- Build a trusted relationship with the customer: people can accept and adjust to challenges if they know about them. Communicate with the customer clearly and often, be honest about the challenges the team is facing and always have a plan for how the team is working to mitigate the issues.
- Recognize achievements and successes: everyone likes to be recognized for their contributions.
Be the Shock Absorber
The team is the pillar of your project. Protect them to maximize results.
- Contain external pressures: be the gap between the customer and the internal team so they can stay focused on completing the project and solving the hard problems.
- Manage internal relationships and dependencies: interdependencies can cause friction among team members and as the Technical Project Lead you can insulate team members from this friction while working to resolve the issues. Don’t underestimate the value of this role as an intermediary.
- Escalate when necessary: there inevitably comes a time when an issue is too large to solve within the team and escalation will become the only way to solve the problem. Don’t hesitate to escalate, this is not a failure but a necessity of the given situation. Keep the focus on solving the problem.
Tell the Truth
Change is inevitable, and a project will run into problems. Use these opportunities to build trust.
- Determine how to minimize impact to the project, the team and the customer.
- Create a countermeasure plan with actions and responsibilities
- Develop an updated timeline
- Inform the internal team as soon as possible so they can create their own mitigation plans based on their areas of responsibility which may be affected.
- Notify the customer immediately and be prepared to include the plan to solve the issue or the measures being taken to understand and mitigate the issue.
- Agree on a revised plan with the customer and execute. Customers are understanding if you communicate and then do what you say.
A good Technical Project Lead plays an invaluable role in the execution and success of a project. Teradyne has developed a full training program to ensure all of our Technical Project Leads meet stringent standards. This ensures our projects are executed at the highest level and have the highest chance for a successful implementation, on time and on spec.
David Ducrocq, Field Applications Engineer at Teradyne
David Ducrocq is a Field Applications Engieer at Teradyne, specializing in the FLEX, MicroFLEX, and UltraFLEX test systems. Prior to this role, he was an Applications Project Leader at several key customers, focused on PMIC and Image Sensor Test program development. During this period, David played a leading role in defining and implementing the technical project lead program, and led its roll-out throughout the company. David joined Teradyne in 1999 as part of the Test Assistance Group in Grenoble, France. He studied Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Institute de Recherche et d’Enseignement Superieur aux Techniques de l’Electronique* (IRESTE), Université´ de Nantes, France.
*Institute of Research and Higher Education for the Techniques of Electronics