Overseeing My First Product Launch

In February, I was promoted to Product Development Team Manager at Sable Systems, International. In that time, I have been project manager for a few projects running in parallel, and I got to see my first product release. It was an exciting moment for me as a manager, and I'm very proud of my team for what we accomplished.

I'm looking back on these last few months and learning some lessons from what we did right and what we did wrong. We used a variety of tools and techniques to support our projects, and some of those have shown themselves to be amazing resources that I will be pushing to refine and implement consistently. Other areas had missteps that need to be avoided.

The product launched was the UI-3. It is a successor to the time tested UI-2 with a single, key improvement - full USB-CDC support. The UI-2 has been a workhorse for many customers and we saw little need to give it dramatic changes, but customers did not like the RS-232 port and serial-to-USB adapter.

The UI-3 was a straightforward and relatively small project, which was a great time to learn how to be a project manager and make sure everything goes smoothly. During this product development cycle, we placed a great focus on documentation and testing. The UI-3 is documented better than any previous product and has been more rigorously tested than anything the company has launched in the past.

This testing even includes CE / FCC pre-compliance testing. In February, Ken Wyatt presented a 3 day seminar to our development team about EMC testing and specifically CE / FCC certification. We took that knowledge and ran with it, subjecting the UI-3 to an exhaustive battery of radiated and conducted immunity and emissions testing. We found a few ESD related issues and had a chance to fix them before any customer suffered data loss due to a static shock event.

A key lesson that I learned is to be consistent and thorough with project management tools. Last year, my department set in motion a product development plan that is now reaching its stride. This plan covers every step from initial brainstorming through the new product release meeting. We've ironed out kinks, filled in missing spots, and removed redundant tasks. This product development plan can now be used as a template for all products going forward. And it is amazing.

We use Liquid Planner for our project management and the more I use it the more I enjoy it. The tools for hour estimations and hour tracking are fantastic. Using the initial hour estimates, along with a formula that my team and I developed, we managed to set a deadline and stick to it. Our project deadline was June 30, and we cleared the deadline with a few days to spare. It is important that deadlines be reasonable. And that means it can't be either too short or too long. We're using these same tools for one of our current projects, and if we hit this deadline as smoothly as we did with the UI-3, I will be launching my next product on September 1.

The most important thing that I learned is to respect and involve the stakeholders. The stakeholders are going to either be my best friends or my worst enemies when it comes to a product launch. If I keep them involved and informed, they will embrace the new product and feel confident in what I have given them. If I try to force a product on them without being concerned for their comfort, it will be a nasty launch.

For this project, the primary stakeholders are the other departments within the company. And to that end, I held a new product release meeting this past Thursday that gave key people throughout the company a chance to learn about the UI-3 and ask development what it meant for them. We made sure that sales knew that the UI-3 obsoletes the UI-2; we made sure production knew that all UI-3 components were on order, and which parts of the UI-2 can be obsoleted; we made sure tech support understood the USB-CDC drivers and how to connect a PC to the UI-3.

The rest of the company seemed to love this meeting, along with similar meetings that I've held to get them involved in other projects. The sales team is enthusiastic about the product, and happy to not be caught off guard with a shaky product release. Production grilled us on BOM details, but came away satisfied that we've done our due diligence and documented everything thoroughly. Tech support was wary of the communication protocol changes, but this meeting gave them a chance to clear up any misconceptions and voice any remaining concerns.

I'm still learning how to manage a project. I'm moving from being a programmer to being a leader and I find it to be extremely fulfilling. I know I can improve efficiency within my department and improve morale at the same time. And I know I can improve the perception of the department within the company by making sure the stakeholders are involved. Even if they don't like what we have to say, I'm confident they would rather know than be left in the dark.