The “Project Management Triangle” is a common framework for managing the key constraints of a new product project. The model holds that the overall quality of a product is dependent on the product scope (features), schedule, and cost. To maintain the same level of quality, a change in one of the three requires a change in one or both of the other constraints. For example, if the schedule becomes compressed, then the cost or scope needs to be modified to maintain the same level of overall quality.
In a typical project, a baseline plan is created by estimating how long it will take to complete key workstreams given the product scope, determining dependencies across work items, and given the resources available to the team. The baseline is an estimate since, very often, product scope is somewhat fluid at the beginning of a project, and there’s similar uncertainty in resource availability.
It’s usually the case that there is much more to do than there is time and resources to do it. However, very often, the team is operating with a fixed schedule or overall time constraint. The schedule might be driven by a launch partner’s schedule (for example, Apple has consistently launched new iPhones in September or October since 2011) or an event (for example, if the product is to be launched at a trade show such as the Consumer Electronics Show in January each year).
The product scope includes all the features and functions that make up the product or service. If the schedule is fixed, it’s prudent to build scope flexibility into the product plan from the get-go. Fundamentally, this involves prioritizing the features and ensuring understanding and alignment between the scope owner, usually the Product Manager, and the team developing and testing the scope. There are many frameworks for prioritizing scope, for example:
- Dividing features into “Must Have” and “Nice to Have” groups. A more sophisticated version of this approach is the MoSCoW method: Diving features into Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have buckets.
- MVP: Identifying the “Minimum Viable Product,” i.e., the minimum feature set that must be developed in order to launch.
The goal here is to identify what absolutely must be developed for the product to meet the minimum needs of the customer and be viable in the market. Without this scope, it would be better not to release the product. Identifying the Must Have scope allows the development team to optimize their efforts in service of those features. Once the Must Have features are complete, the team can then work through the prioritized list of Nice to Have features in the remaining time.
For B2B products, the prioritization of product scope is best done through consultation with key target customers. Having a dialogue around what is Must Have and what is Nice to Have with customers ensures the product will be successfully received in the market and allows for a conversation around what might need to be delivered in a future version of the product and enables the customer to plan accordingly.
As you plan for and work through new product development, ensure that you and the team have a clear shared understanding of which features must be developed and continue to test and refine that when meeting customers. This will set you up for success when having to deal with the inevitable changes that occur during the project.
Read more about product scope and other key product management topics in my book, Mastering Product Management: A Step-By-Step Guide, available in paperback and eBook.