Simon van Ipenburg (Project Manager BEACON):
Many people assume that a good project manager is able to bring a project to completion, regardless of the field of study. At BEACON, we value management skills. However, we also consider experience and subject matter expertise in the field of physical product innovation a must. Product innovation is characterized by a lot of uncertainty, technical challenges and a limited time to market. Content knowledge helps to recognize the pitfalls and risks in the process, which is of great importance to our clients.
Making such a challenging project a success requires cooperation from a multidisciplinary team. The team is central and sets the direction; the project manager monitors progress. For a project manager without subject matter knowledge, it is difficult to weigh the views of the various specialists, provide focus and set a course. On the other hand, there is also a real danger of going into too much detail, losing sight of the process. Where is subject matter interference important? And how does the project manager maintain the right balance between substantive direction and managing the overall process?
At BEACON, we focus on innovation projects involving the development and marketing of a physical product. This means that our teams usually consist of different disciplines such as R&D, marketing, quality, purchasing, production and logistics. You can think of this as a big puzzle, for which all team members have to contribute pieces. The project manager plays an important role in coordinating the shape of the individual pieces and the puzzle as a whole, and directing the placement of the various pieces. In practice, for example, this amounts to reaching agreement with various team members on:
- User requirements versus technical capabilities
- Suitable (production) partners versus impact on cost price
- Technical solutions and design versus available production capabilities
- Product characteristics versus cost price
- Desired number of variants versus cost price and complexity in production
Sparring and tuning
It sounds simple, but it certainly isn’t always. To reach consensus on the shape of the puzzle with all these different disciplines and ensure that all the pieces stay within the boundaries of the project, subject matter knowledge and experience is indispensable. A project manager without content knowledge would have to rely entirely on the vision of the team members. In our opinion, a project manager must be able to ask critical questions about content, always be able to assess which issues are priorities, and spot issues that the team overlooks but which require attention. In our experience, in order to achieve extraordinary results and allow team members to excel, it is important to be able to regularly spar with team members in terms of content.
For example, a project manager must be able to think along:
- With marketing on the definition of the value proposition
- With engineers on technical constructions
- With the quality department on drawing up a validation plan based on the program of requirements
- With the controller about the business case
- With purchasing on quotations and cooperation contracts
- With the production manager on process improvement
Role of project manager
Although many a project manager will go a long way in separating the wheat from the chaff, being knowledgeable gives the project manager the desired authority in the team. It is precisely understanding the various substantive dilemmas and their importance to the puzzle as a whole that enables a project manager to maintain an overview and think ahead. A content expert project manager can build bridges between disciplines, clarify positions, ask critical questions, provide focus and priority, be a sparring partner for team members and steer the project in the right direction. In doing so, the project manager can position himself as a fulcrum and catalyst within the team. The focus on the puzzle as a whole provides guidance in finding the right balance between substantive depth and steering of the overall process.Back to overview