Several companies state they execute mission critical test and measurements projects for their clients. They advertise they reduce the risk for their clients by handling test and measurements projects from head to tail, with minimum involvement from the client. I believe that to be the exact opposite of how mission critical project should be executed.
This is what I call the “Over the Fence Mentality” in test and measurements projects. This situation happens when the client believes that since an expert company is being hired to execute the T&M system, the Systems Integrator will take care of everything with absolute no or very minimum interaction with client internal resources until it is time to deploy the system.
On this described scenario, not only the requirements’ gathering is given to the Integrator, but there is usually very minimum interaction throughout the project lifecycle. It is important to make the distinction here that when it is said that there is minimum interaction with the client throughout the project life-cycle, the intention is to say that there is minimum technical and business exchange between the client and the Integrator. Even though the Integrator’s project management process may call out milestone meetings along the course of the project, on this scenario, the client either doesn’t have technical resources to make sure the proposed solution by Integrator is in line with what is needed, or it doesn’t have available resources that can devote the time to make sure the client’s business value is being implemented.
On this situation, the client usually flies through the milestone checkpoints and raises flags much later on the project life-cycle, usually at deployment time, when the delivered features “are not what they thought they would be”.
Another issue that is usually noticed in this scenario happens around the information flow between client and Integrator. Unless there is a main point of contact in the client’ side who understands what type of information need to be passed onto the Integrator and the potential impact of not passing that information will create, usually the communication between client and Integrator suffers. Once the communication suffers, the project is headed to failure.
As a trivial example to the paragraph above, consider a scenario where the Integrator is working on developing a T&M system to test a device under test that is under development. Assume now the common scenario where the DUT development team updates the DUT firmware. This obviously can cause an impact on the development of the T&M system depending on its design and how it is communicating with the DUT. If the point of contact in the client’ side doesn’t understand that this needs to be communicated to the Integrator, the project team will continue development of the T&M system as if nothing has happened to the DUT. This can lead to an unpleasant surprise at verification time when the Integrator can spin its wheels trying to debug the system, without knowing the DUT is actually different than the one the system was designed to interface to. This will lead to cost and schedule overruns.
It is the client’s best interest to make sure the final T&M system delivered by the Integrator is aligned to maximize its business value to the client. Good integrators will make sure the contract is fulfilled and the T&M system that was originally contracted is delivered. However, it is sometimes very difficult to predict all features and interfaces a T&M system needs to implement at very early stages of its project life-cycle. As the system design and implementation is underway, and parameters from other areas that are related to how the system will be utilized by the organization become clearer, sometimes there is a need for tweaks and small redirections. The Integrator that is left at their own devices won’t have the needed visibility to make those adjustments and an opportunity to capture value may be missed.
The best way to handle mission critical test and measurements projects is by having a cohesive project team formed with both clients’ internal resources and Integrator’ staff. It is good practice to have an experienced Project Manager on the client’ side who understand the business of test and measurements so she can make sure the Integrator is receiving the information it needs to be successful, is technically competent to a level of understanding the proposed system design and flag potential problems early on and has business savvy to make sure the delivered system is maximizing the business value to the client’s organization.