Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Managing a Digital TV Programme: Consideration for Project/Organisational Structures...

Following on from my recent post on the role and placement of the "architect" in a DTV systems project; in the same vein I'd like to expound on the role of the project team in the same end-to-end system delivery, touching on overall organisational structure, considering the concepts of:
  • End-to-End Product Owner
  • Feature Product Owner
  • Component Product Owner
  • End-to-End Programme Manager
  • Headend Programme Manager
  • STB Programme Manager
  • Headend Component Project Manager
  • STB Component Project Manager
  • Headend Scrum Master / Tech Lead
  • STB Scrum Master / Tech Lead
The collection of some or all these roles will make up your DTV Project team. These roles might each be performed by a person each, or we might have someone performing multiple roles.  Defining these structures up-front at the start of the project is considered Project Management 101, but you'll be surprised there are real world projects operating today where time, effort and preparation hasn't been invested in defining these organisations structures, and are operating in a quasi-chaotic state. I've been on projects where people run like headless chickens, not knowing who's responsible for what, where the boundaries lay in terms of roles and responsibilities, where due diligence isn't practiced through the overall programme: architecture, development, integration, testing & delivery...

The question of whether these roles are managed by a specific organisation unit like your classic Project Office or whether these roles come together naturally through different business units and operate as a virtual project team -- is outside the scope of this discussion.  My aim with this post is to highlight from my experiences what seems to work for DTV projects involving a launch of a new platform like VOD, or replacing old Middleware with new; again with more of a bias towards STB software, although the Headend will not be so dissimilar.  In essence, this can be drilled down to generic component product development at the micro-level, and at the macro-level these are rolled up in the end-to-end system as previously highlighted here for architecture, and the figure below that shows largely how a project team can be structured around the system.

It doesn't really matter about the internal business organisational structure, what matters is that the project has a defined structure and that these roles exist; the roles and responsibilities are well defined and clear, ownership and accountability is understood by all parties, that everyone is connected and on the same page. Of course you'd think this is Product/Project Management 101, that this is a no-brainer -- not so. 

In my experience, companies don't always have this done right, yet you might argue that products are still successfully launched, projects executed and closed, etc. Indeed, but IMHO such projects generally rely on a few individuals that go above and beyond the call of duty, the proactive, driven by a sense of urgency to get things done; filling in the gaps in process & roles -- that companies have grown to depend on.  Whilst this is great and generally seen as heroic efforts, the fire-fighting and critical moments can be saved if a little time is spent up-front by defining & clarifying the project structure.

Again, in the context of DTV projects - the structure depends on the viewpoint.  In general, if you're a broadcaster / PayTV operator (BSkyB, DirecTV, Multichoice, etc), you will have to implement a detailed project team as there is a much wider impact on the business (development, lab, testing, validation, going live, operations, support, customer service) than compared to one of your vendors (NDS, OpenTV, Irdeto, etc). If you're a Professional Services outfit acting as Systems Integrator and ultimately responsible for the delivery of the project, then you might have to mirror the same project structure of your customer.

Let us look at a picture to see where these roles can be placed. Notice this map is exactly the same layout as the architects post:

Figure 1: Overview of DTV System highlighting Project Roles

If you're an Operator focused on content delivery only, then...
You generally hire a System Integrator to manage the design and end-to-end delivery of the system on your behalf. These operators make a conscious decision not to be technical experts and thus rely on preferred partners to manage new development and operations.  The operator would still have someone who's responsible for product ownership, which could be someone from Marketing/Sales. There would also be a Programme or Project manager assigned to manage the project.
This is typical of first-time operators entering the market from cold, there are some professional services companies like NDS, who can manage not only the end-to-end systems development or customisation (generally this is off-the-shelf to enable shortest time to market, followed by product updates post launch) but also able to commission a broadcast centre and operations control from scratch...
So essentially this is an operator that outsource most of the Delivery Project Management - the organisational structure will pretty much be the same as Figure 1.

If you're a mature Operator with an established product and adding new features, but without technical ownership, then...
This scenario again relies on the Operator leaning on preferred partners for providing the technical solution, possibly spanning multiple vendors involved in development of components, system integration, delivery and deployment as well as operational support.  There would be a Product Owner / Manager that defines the high level requirements for the product's feature set. There could also be a Project Office team that takes ownership for the overall co-ordination effort from start to finish, or this could be outsourced to a professional services company to manage the whole project.
Some Operators have separate business entities owning features of the overall value chain, so the primary product spans multiple product owners. It becomes more challenging to manage this distribution of product owners especially when trying to manage an consistent brand and user experience, and coherent presence in the market. But companies are doing this today, it works to an extent, the key being effective communication is pivotal to successful product launches.
Generally though, in this scenario, the Operator has established strong relationships with its vendors, and projects may follow a typical template plan that would be driven by a Project Office team.
You might find the Operator would enlist a Project Board to manage the project's priorities, resources and budgets - that a Product Owner/Manager and Programme Manager reports and takes direction from.
Again, the project organisational breakdown will follow Figure 1.

If you're a mature Operator and responsible for developing and delivering new features, with technical ownership, then...
This can be very complicated and challenging if this is the first time the Operator is responsible for technical ownership. As touched on in my previous post, more and more Operators are taking more ownership in managing DTV projects, around the area of STB & Headend Systems Integration, EPG Development, Interactive Applications development, and some Operators are even developing their own Middleware.
In this scenario, it then becomes fundamental that the organisation starts on the correct footing, ensuring the foundations are cemented correctly, processes and practices firmly put in place as early as possible -- not doing so will definitely result in chaos, which I personally have come to label a "Project Fiasco".
So the roles I'd expect to see an organisational structure clearly defining the Architecture roles, Development, Integration and Testing; as well as a well defined Project Team.
I would expect to see a variant of Figures 1, 2 & 3 for the organisational structure.  There will be interaction with vendors. The relationships, roles & responsibilities must be explicitly communicated....

If you're a Product Vendor that delivers components to Operators, then...
Product Vendors are generally companies that provide software components for STB or Headend components that enable the Operator to function.  As a Product Vendor, the challenge is to internal manage your development organisation to maintain a consistent product line offering features that can be easily customized, tailored or profiled in or out to meet the requirements of your customer, the operator. Typically vendors manage multiple customers. Some customers more important than others - the customer usually generating the most of amount of revenue is assumed the lead customer, if not, the customer that in fact drives forward your product development and innovation.
Vendors typically have a Customer Delivery Manager assigned as an anchor support point, interface to the customer. This Delivery Manager ensures the customer's requirements are accepted by the product development team, and ensures the resulting plans are in accordance with the customer's expectations.  The vendor may choose to use a Product Steering Group that ultimately makes the decisions on customer priorities. Depending on the extent of the products being supplied by the vendor, I would expect to see an organisational structure not so dissimilar to Figure 3.

Brief Definitions

  • Product Owner / Product Manager
    • Operator - responsible for defining the user experience, high level requirements of the features for the product. For example, Operators looking at VOD will have a Product Owner owning the feature set, along with priorities. The Product Owner takes direction from the Project Board or even the business in understanding the market priorities and urgency of the business w.r.t. launch targets. The Product Owner / Manager will use the services of the architects and project team to get the product specified, designed, implemented and ultimately delivered.  The extent of ownership is around product specification only...The Product Owner/Manager gets actively involved in prioritizing defects leading up to the launch phase of the project, setting priorities, accepting waivers or concessions, etc.
    • Vendor - as a vendor, the Product Owner / Manager is different to the role taken on by an Operator.  As a vendor, the Product Owner is concerned with satisfying as many customers as possible, without much deviation or customer-specific features; and will work hard to maintain a consistent offering. The Product Owner generally consists of a Product Team that centrally manage the product backlog. Depending on the size of the projects and demands from customers, this could be one person, or a team of people. If it's a Headend component with specific technical requirements (generally Headend component is a translator - data in, data out component) that implements a protocol, then this could be one person.  However, if this product is a STB Middleware that must sustain multiple customers, and potentially support tens of millions of boxes, then you'd need a separate team managing the product. This Product Management team will own the roadmap for the project, control the work assigned to customer projects, and ensures a coherent release schedule.  The team will also ensure the product specification and requirements are kept-up-to-date supporting the generic product as well as the customer's profile of the product. This Product team will consist of project managers driving through the product roadmap.
    • In some cases the term Project Owner / Key Accounts Owner / Customer Delivery Manager is used which basically is the person who's neck is on the chopping block - i.e. the person accountable for the project delivery, who has seniority to make judgement calls to steer the project along in his/her preferred direction, etc - basically the ultimate person in charge, the "X says so" person...
  • Programme Manager - this can be generalised both from Operator and Vendor side - and is typically the person responsible for the high level planning of the various work streams that make up the ultimate delivery.  There can be Programme Managers for each system, primarily Headend & STB, as well as managing the overall End-to-End delivery plan.  The Programme Manager works side-by-side with Product Owner in understanding business priorities, but the Programme Manager has autonomy in defining the plan and driving through the execution of that plan.  Programme Managers lean on their respective project managers to take responsibility for the detailed planning that delivers on the high level milestones.
  • Project Manager - is responsible for planning, managing and driving through the deliverable of the assigned component/project. Reporting and taking instruction from the Programme Manager, the Project Manager handles the day-to-day issues/planning/tracking, escalating to next level (Programme Manager) as required.
  • Scrum Master - can be a Project Manager or Team Leader employing the philosophy of Scrum/Agile to get the component/project team to deliver according to the milestone plan put forward by the Programme Manager and Project Manager. 
What a Product Owner / Manager is not responsible for...
When not acting in the capacity of the Project Owner, i.e. the main person accountable for the success of the delivery, then the Product Owner / Manager should only be focused on managing the Product requirements and Feature set, setting expectations and aligning priorities.  A Product Owner has no influence on the resource structure of the team, the scheduling of the development....that's what the Project Team, including the Programme Manager is there for - the Project Team provides a service to the organisation...Depending on the size/complexity of the deliverable, in DTV projects, they are large enough to warrant a clear separation of boundaries between Project Team & Product Team....Having people stomp on each others toes is not conducive to productivity...

We are an Agile Company, we don't like heavy Project Organisation...
Sure, depends on what kind of company you are. If you're in Application Development writing EPG UIs or Interactive applications, then of course, you can be light on the ground.
If you're in the Middleware business and big enough to be mentioned in the same sentence with NDS, OpenTV, etc -- and you don't have these structures in place, then you're at a competitive disadvantage. I have worked on small and large projects alike, the lack of a clearly defined and sensible Project/Organisation structure does not might reach there eventually through luck, a lot of hard work and unnecessary fire-fighting...

For Operators taking the plunge at taking more technical ownership in your projects, my advice to you is "Do your homework". Spend time up-front investigating, planning and settling on a processes that has been known to work, i.e. proven - by getting real consultants in to advise...By real consultants, I mean not the people who know the theory but have never managed a real life project from Start-to-Finish, not someone who's never worked in the DTV industry before...Invest in the right people up-front, employing or head-hunting candidates who have first-hand experience and proven track records, and pay heed to the advice henceforth...

Typical Project Org Structure for a typical Operator
Below is a simple model of how an Operator might define an Organisational Structure of a DTV project...
Figure 2: A possible Org/Project Structure from the Operator's viewpoint

Typical Org Structure for a Vendor supplying components...

Below is a complicated model of a Vendor who's main business is STB development. Some vendors specialising in components in specific components will own a slice of this structure...
Figure 3: Org/Project Structure from a STB Software Vendor's Viewpoint

PDFs of Diagrams

Your Feedback
Please note my posts are always based on my first-hand experiences from past projects, and is a reflection of reality instead of theory. I am always interested in feedback, please feel free to comment or rate this post!

1 comment:

  1. You've made some fantastic points, I think all of them come under the importance of attention to detail, if you get that right you're certainly off to a good start.