Monday, 1 October 2012

Milestones Template for Managing & Tracking a Digital TV Programme

Do you keep a PM Toolbox close to hand?
One of my most common questions I ask candidates interviewing for Project Management or Programme Management positions is the subject of maintaining your own personal set of tried-and-tested tools you've come to depend on in your career with managing projects: Do you have any tools or templates that you keep with you as a standard reference such that you hit the ground running on your new project? If so, what kind of tools do you most value and cherish, and why??

Surprisingly though, most of the people I've interviewed either settled for the generic tools that are sold by the various PM Methodologies (Prince2, PMI, PMBOK, Scrum) - I've come across very few people who keep an arsenal of personal tools ready-to-hand to pick-up and use on their next project.  I too am guilty as charged, very often relying on memory and previous project documents to pick-up and use as a starting point.  I have however, started to collect my own set of tools that I'm willing to share with everyone, in the interest of knowledge-sharing and collaboration, the first starting with this post on a Template for Tracking Milestones on a Digital TV Programme.

When I used to be a developer back in the day, I had my own set of code samples that were generic enough to be re-used, my recommended debugging tools, libraries, parsers, open source projects, and so on. Along with your trusted book on Algorithm Design, Software Architecture Patterns and System Utilities - necessary tools for the job, like any other trade.  So too, for people involved in various aspects of Project Management, you could keep your very own toolbox that can help speed-up the much repeated, but often required aspects of the job.

A Preview of my PM Tools Backlog
Because my background really is around Digital TV Systems Projects, an area that has still a lot of life to survive the next 10-15 years, especially since Digital TV (DTV) is really only just beginning to fire up in emerging markets of Africa, India & China, there will still be a need and demand for such Project Managers.  I aim to share as much knowledge as I've gained through practical experience, by making available the tools I've come to trust and use in both past and current projects alike:
  • Generic Model for Tracking Milestones in a DTV Programme (this post)
  • Programme Model for Staged Deliveries for a DTV Launch
  • A Modeling tool to Estimate & Predict Realistic Time to Market (Climb to Launch)
  • Set-Top-Box Software Integration Release Schedule Process
  • A Generic Risk Register for a Typical DTV Programme
  • A Template for a typical DTV Project Charter or Software Development Plan
  • A Template for Managing a DTV Project based on an Agile Product Backlog
  • RAG Template Options
  • Models for Programme Organizational Structure
  • Methods for Controlling Quality: Effective Defect Management
  • Methods for Managing STB Software Development Processes
  • Template for Defining Bootloader Development Work-Stream
  • DTV Projects Matrix - A guide to understanding the permutations & combinations of system impacted components in a variety of different projects, arranged by complexity and rough estimations of project life-cycles
So I intend to release a tool as often as I can, in the hope that other Project Managers can use, learn, benefit and adapt these tools in their own day-to-day projects...

PM Toolbox #1: Generic Milestones Template for DTV Programme Management
This tool is all about summarizing and tracking the various Milestones that must be met in order to achieve a successful DTV Project Delivery. It is essentially the fifty thousand foot view of the high level work packages (or Work Breakdown / Sub-Projects) that essentially make up the various streams of delivery in the overall Programme.

The tool serves the purposes of communicating clearly the status of the overall Programme, which is what Senior Stakeholders are interested in.  It also serves as the master Project Plan for the entire programme, around which dependent sub-projects or work streams must deliver to.  Whilst it might come across as a simple table, list with columns, it is nevertheless a powerful tool in managing and tracking the overall project.

Download the Tool!
Please click here to download the tool. It is simply a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that provides a list of milestones, for each milestone, we track the following criteria:

  • Milestone Name / Title - The actual event that manifests as an identifiable achievement of a goal
  • Company Responsible - The company or vendor who is assigned responsibility and accountability for delivering the result
  • Actual Plan - Tracks the current forecasted planned delivery date
  • Original Plan - Tracks the baselined original dates at the inception of the project
  • Acceptance Criteria - For each milestone, the agreed acceptance criteria (at high level)
  • Dependencies - For each milestone, detail the associated dependencies the milestone has, preventing successful completion
  • RAG Status - An agreed RAG convention to be used to summarize the status of the milestone
  • Recovery / Mitigation Actions - A set of actions to be taken to implement recovery scenarios
  • RAG Comments - A note on the current state of affairs
  • Project Work-Stream Owner - The name of the Project Manager or Owner assigned responsibility and accountability for delivering on that milestone

The table is pre-populated for you with the standard set of milestones I usually expect from a typical DTV Project. I have also pre-filled in scenarios for Acceptance Criteria, Dependencies as well as listed your typical Recovery Scenarios.  The tool comes with an information page that instructs you how to go about replacing the template with actual project data.

What is a Digital TV Programme: Players, Concepts, Milestones?
In order to appreciate the nature of a Digital TV Systems Project, you have to first indulge in a brief overview of what a Digital TV System entails, the players involved and the typical project configurations expected:

So now that you've read this background material, we can start exploring the make-up of the Milestones Tracking for a typical DTV Project:

The template assumes a DTV Project that impacts the entire end-to-end system of a PayTV Operator's value chain. Not all DTV projects encompass such massive changes across the board, there are some projects that involve just Set-Top-Box (STB) Software-Only changes, other projects might only involve introducing a new STB hardware device (decoder) with no changes to software. There are also Headend projects dealing with routine maintenance and enhancements as well.  I plan to create and share a matrix of your typical DTV project-based scenarios one day...

The tool assumes a big-bang project that involves the following players:

  • [PAYTV OPERATOR] - This is generally the PayTV Operator that is implementing the project to deliver or enhance their existing systems (e.g. BSkyB, DirecTV, Multichoice, etc.).
  • [STB MANUFACTURER] - The designated company responsible for the hardware design and manufacture of the client Set-Top-Box (STB) (a.k.a. Decoder), supplying related device Software (Drivers).
  • [MIDDLEWARE PROVIDER] - The company or service provider responsible for developing the software operating system for the STB, including providing value added services that enables rich Application Development for STB User Experience (i.e. the Electronic Programme Guide / EPG).
  • [EPG UI DEVELOPER] - The company or service provider a [PAYTV OPERATOR] usually employs to develop the STB client application or user experience. There is a growing trend with PayTV Operators electing to do this development in-house.
  • [INTERACTIVE APPLICATIONS DEVELOPER] - The company or service provider a [PAYTB OPERATOR] employs to implement value-add interactive applications that are built on the [MIDDLEWARE PROVIDER]'s platforms. Increasingly PayTV operators are also electing to do in-house development, or to contract this work out to the same [EPG UI DEVELOPER] or indeed have a third-party application development house contracted.
  • [HEADEND PROVIDER] - The company or service provider responsible for developing the backend or headend systems. Typically this is the same as [MIDDLEWARE PROVIDER] since the technologies are inter-related, but there are some PayTV operators that prefer open standards and choose to use a variety of suppliers to manage their risks (i.e. not to have all their eggs in one basket).
  • [SYSTEMS INTEGRATOR] - The company or service provider with sole responsibility and ownership for proving components & systems are well integrated and deliver on the desired functionality and expectations of the programme.  There are many levels of System Integration, depending on the [PAYTV OPERATOR]'s budget, etc. Typically though, it seems that [PAYTV OPERATOR]'s are aiming to be more independent from their service providers in taking the plunge of owning not only the System Architecture but also the System Integration delivery aspects of the programme.
With these players in mind, the Programme can then be translated to obey the following high-level concepts  in translating detailed deliverables or milestones (The detailed breakdown of the plan is a topic for another post):
  • STB Manufacturer Hardware Delivery
    • Hardware Design Specification
    • Remote Control Design Specification
    • Packaging & Artwork Specification
    • Hardware Acceptance Testing
  • STB Software Delivery
    • Device Firmware Bootloader Software Ready
    • Device Hardware Platform Driver Software Ready
    • Middleware Component Functionally Complete
    • UI / EPG Component Functionally Complete
    • Interactive Applications Functionally Complete
  • Backend / Headend Delivery Functionally Complete
    • Broadcast Components Operational
  • Systems Integration
    • STB Integration Functionally Complete
    • Headend Components Integrated
  • Launch / Deploy Product
    • All Acceptance Criteria Met
    • System has acceptable level of defects
    • Business decision granted for Launch
This is just a summary of the deliverables one can track. The tool provides a sample of 34 Milestones that drill down into the finer details.

In the next post I will spend some time explaining what some of these milestones mean, and how one should realistically go about planning the various work-streams, such that dependencies are minimized whilst simultaneously running multiple sub-projects in parallel.

This is a first draft, a brief attempt at sharing what I think is a powerful tool to aid Project Managers in managing Digital TV Projects.  I have for now, assumed the reader is familiar with the territory and therefore have excluded explanations of describing what the different sub-projects entail, etc. My aim was to share this tool with already practicing Project Managers in the DTV trade, to solicit feedback and share new ways of working, etc.
Some people might think I'm giving away some of my crown jewels by sharing this knowledge, that I'm forsaking my competitive advantage, etc...but I don't think so. I've laid out a simple framework that can be useful to others. There are many templates and tools out there to aid Project Managers, the success of a project delivery lies not in the templates, but in the project manager's knowledge, wisdom and tenacity of execution and implementation....

1 comment:

  1. Project budget template really helps effective in saving time and effort because it saves time in crafting the project delivery from the beginning