Before moving on to the best ways to manage technical projects it is helpful to divide them into several categories. Many classification schemes exist that is the generally accepted breakdown is divide R&D and new business development projects into three main types.

Types, Categories or Horizons of R&D

The “Types, Categories or Horizons of R&D” figure shows attributes of the three main types or categories of R&D. To make sure the terms are clear Category 1 R&D is sometimes also referred to as Horizon 1 or incremental R&D. Category 2 R&D is also referred to as Horizon 2 or next-generation R&D. Finally Category 3 R&D is referred to Horizon 3, radical, or breakthrough R&D.

The purpose of making these distinctions is that management of technical projects varies depending upon which category they fall into. Category 1 projects generally include product and process improvements. They also include product line extensions. Implementation excellence is the driver for these types of projects. PERT and GANTT management methods have been shown to have the most productive best-practices for caring for them out. For Category 2 projects which typically include new product and process developments, the best methods for caring them out include stage-gate management methodologies. Category 3 projects are best carried out using fuzzy front-end methodologies. Because of the frequency that business needs new products in the business need to be different from competition most effort has been gone into understanding technical processes related to Category 2 programs. This will be addressed after a short section on Category 1 programs.

Horizon 1: Incremental Project Management Practices

The One-Page Project Manager Spreadsheet

There are many books on the use of PERT and Gantt charts to manage incremental type projects. The trick to success for these projects is to push them through to completion in short periods of time and with little overhead. One of the most elegant methods of managing and visualizing such project progress was developed by Clark Campbell and his One-Page Project Manager. The “The One-Page Project Manager Spreadsheet” figure shows how the one-page Project manager tracking system is laid out. It covers the five basic elements of a project. Those are the tasks; the how of a project. The objectives; the what and why of the project. The timeline; the when of a project. The cost; the how much of a project. And finally the owners; who’s responsible and accountable.

An Example One Page Project Manager Project

Filling in the five parts of the template creates an elaborate integrated PERT and Gantt chart that quickly shows the project leader, project team members, and management the status of all the elements they need to know about the project. Color coding of elements that are ahead and behind schedule, or above or below cost targets, makes opportunities and threats to the project quickly visible. The “An Example One Page Project Manager Project” figure shows an example project as displayed on the one-page template. Clark Campell’s book is a quick easy read and walks through all elements of incremental project management.

Horizon 2: Next-Generation Project Management Practices

Before jumping into newer Next-Generation State and Gate or Agile/Lean project management practices it is important to recognize older practices that are both great references and the building blocks for newer practices to build upon. The work of Steele in the book Managing Technology and Robert Szakonyi in the book How to Successfully Keep R&D projects on Track are both worth reading for someone interested in building their own solid foundation of issues and solutions to managing technical projects.

NPD Process Prior to Stage and Gate Methodologies

The State and Gate process was developed because the previous method of developing new products was typically linear and handed from functional silo to functional silo until the project was completed. This created high costs and little if any iterative learning. A sample process from a large chemical company is shown in the “NPD Process Prior to Stage and Gate Methodologies” figure.