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Working on new technologies – Review past projects and get information from them and other sources – Part 1

Consider the case where your team gets a new project and the technology used is pretty new to your team, and to compound it, there are no people in your team who have experience related to these types of projects ? So what do you do ? You and your team need to prepare a schedule for the project (pressure to get moving on projects remains relentless, whether you know a lot about the project or whether you know nothing about the technology; after all, the leads and managers of a team are expected to resolve such issue as part of their project planning). In my experience, I have seen some project managers handle this very well, and others turn out to be big failures in handing such kinds of projects where there is a lot of uncertainties about the technology related to the project. I have observed many of these people and here is some of the things that I have learned about how more successful project managers handle risks related to technical uncertainty.
– First and foremost, they try to identify the right set of people needed for handling such technological risks. If they have the latitude to be able to pick and choose the technical team, they immediately start looking for the right people for the team. In many cases, I have seen these managers actually push back against senior management about needing the right set of people and getting permission to hire a few people who are familiar with the technology.
– These people also try to identify other project managers and technical leadership in the company who have this kind of experience, and setup many sessions with these people (if they are not able to get them into the team), including detailed question and answer sessions and technical discussions where the team can spend a lot of time with these experienced people and get more details of the technology on which they are expected to work on.
– Do not get hassled with schedules, instead push back for getting more time to do some more studies on preparing estimates. These can be done through the regular processes of estimation, but after ensuring that the team has had more experience with these technologies (can take the help of the other teams that have much more experience with these technologies, and also see whether the team members can do some kind of quick work on these technologies (even to the extent of making a prototype) before actually committing to some estimates). It would be really irregular on the part of the project manager to commit to a schedule before having some kind of idea of whether these new technologies would take more time or less, as well the technical difficulties involved with working on these new areas. It is only fair to understand that failure to deliver in such cases would still lie on the head of the project manager.
– Review case history in the organization or even with other companies. In such cases, even if there are other members of the project management community in other organizations, it is still worthwhile to try and understand from these people about the difficulties and challenges involved with working on these new technologies. One need not disclose full details of the current project, only the extent required to ensure that sufficient information can be available.

Will talk more in part 2 of this post ..

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