Creating delightful and efficient IoT solutions requires not only selecting the right platform and vendors, but it ups the ante for project managers to successfully orchestrate the complex constellation of internal stakeholders, external partners and 3rd party suppliers involved.
Unlike more one-dimensional technology solutions, IoT solutions are part of complex ecosystems - some stable and battle-tested, many new and experimental - where very little is predictable. Even our hopes and dreams for IoT add to the challenge. In July of 2018, Gartner put IoT in the “inflated expectations” area of the Gartner Hype Cycle.
The secret to success is for the project manager to actively and aggressively set direction, anticipate the unknowns, creatively problem-solve, and proactively manage stakeholders. Let’s take a closer look at how a project manager uses these superpowers to successfully deliver an IoT engagement.
Aggressive Direction Setting
As with every solution, understanding the desired business effects is key to making the right prioritizations and decisions. In an IoT project ensuring everyone is on the same path working towards the same end-goal is even more crucial. A strong IoT project manager will spend additional time driving and clarifying the program’s business case. The goal is to generate a common understanding for what matters most to the business and how, specifically, an IoT solution will impact the business as a whole in order to ensure that all facets of the solution are considered.
Designing, developing, and delivering an IoT solution by definition has an impact and dependencies outside of the sponsoring organization. IoT solutions frequently leverage real-time data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, new processes, and variable networks. It is up to the project manager to understand the interdependencies and diligently advocate for a common understanding across functions as well as for decisions to be grounded in both the business case and the program context.
All projects have unknowns. Given the nature and complexity of IoT, the unknowns can appear endless. Whether a nascent piece of technology no one’s ever used, evolving or unclear regulations, a shortage of fasteners in the supply chain, or a change to a sensor’s technical spec, a project manager creates an environment to quickly and continuously bubble up issues - large and small - keep track of these issues and make sure they’re resolved with minimal disruption to the team.
While many talk about risk management, in an IoT project if risk management is merely talked about and not actively pursued, the project is bound for failure. The project manager facilitates risk management by scheduling regular cross-functional meetings to evaluate risk, assigning ownership to those who can best mitigate risk and following up with the owners that mitigation measures have been taken.
One of the more exciting parts of IoT is the opportunity to learn new things: how users engage with multi-device experiences, how IoT technologies work and don’t, and how to collaborate cross-functionally. A skilled project manager is constantly working to identify and surface problems where they can be solved by the team and ensuring a Plan B and even a plan C or D. (It reminds me of my favorite movie quote, “Failure is not an option.” From Apollo 13, directions given by the project manager to the ground team when the space capsule is bleeding oxygen and the team need to walk the crew through how to resolve it McGiver-style with only the items available on-board the space craft.)
The project manager frames the problem and leads the team through a solution-finding process determining the best possible solutions, while always keeping in mind the primary business goals. The project manager coordinates with or brings in other arms of the organization, partners or 3rd party suppliers as necessary for problem-resolution.
The project manager determines the impact of the solution on the project as a whole and ensures that the stakeholders, partners and 3rd Party suppliers are informed and accountable. And, of course, solutions requiring resources outside the team or affecting the scope, cost or timeframe of the project are lifted by the project manager to the steering group.
Proactive Stakeholder Management
New technology programs are often fueled by high expectations and require a project manager’s capacity to actively communicate the state of the program and manage these expectations. When planning any program, the project manager will balance the team’s work against key milestones and deliveries that signal forward movement and progress. IoT’s complexity requires a project manager not simply to report on progress, but to take an active role in managing when and how each stakeholder is involved. If it’s the sponsor, there is one conversation, if it’s a subject matter expert, there is another.
Like risk management, stakeholder management is not a one-and-done, but a constant effort to ensure the right information is given to the right people at the right time. In a complex IoT project, the project manager takes time early in the project to identify the various stakeholders, both internal and external, and to create a communication plan for each individual or group. Keys to success include anchoring the communication plan with the stakeholders themselves, and ensuring that the communication plan is followed and periodically reviewed and updated as the needs and project constellation changes over time.
Much of a project manager’s time in these types of endeavors is speaking with stakeholders individually and in groups to constantly set, manage and reset expectations.
Like all new technologies, there’s a lot to learn about IoT. Getting the most out of the experience requires a seasoned project manager who understands the complexities and interdependencies inherent with IoT. Not only must the Project Manager understand the complexity but they need to apply their project manager superpowers to adeptly navigate the sea of stakeholders, partners and 3rd party suppliers and deliver with bravura!