Network design relies on the skills of the designer to create a solution to meet requirements within constraints. If not done right, the solution may be too expensive, not timely, not meeting the needs of the stakeholders, and/or not at the level of risk the stakeholders are comfortable with. This article aims to provide some project management tricks that can increase your chance of success on your upcoming network designs. Read on!
There are similarities between the disciplines of project management and network design. According to the Project Management Institute, project management is “the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements 1”. Project management is accomplished through the use of processes: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & controlling, and closing, similar to design lifecycle: analyze design requirements, create network designs, create an implementation plan, and validate and optimize network design. And project managers are “assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives 1”. In network design, the designer applies their knowledge of technologies to transform an existing network, so it allows for new services and meets new directives, such as functionality, cost-effectiveness, scalability, speed, availability, security, and manageability; but mainly, network designs that meet the business requirements within constraints! See the similarities? Here are my top 5 project management tricks that can help you on your next network design.
Trick 1 – Know thy stakeholders
Have you ever left a stakeholder out (surely not on purpose), only to later find out that the person or group left behind didn’t have their expectations or the outcomes of the network design met and then delayed it, didn’t fund it, or jeopardized it? Better to start off right by knowing and engaging with the different individuals or groups who will be involved in the network design as part of the tiger team, extended team, or the ones who will be affected by the outcomes of your network design. Examples include: the customer in their various forms (i.e. IT manager or director, CIO, CTO), the sponsor (the buck stops here!), the team members, the often-neglected end users, etc. Eliciting the requirements and understanding the constraints from the various stakeholders is key. List the requirements and constraints and go back to the stakeholders to ensure you have a complete understanding of their needs, get them to prioritize requirements in case of conflicts, and align them before going to the drawing board.
Trick 2 – The triple constraints (not only 3 )
Your network design will involve competing demands for scope, schedule, cost, quality, risk, and customer satisfaction, and you can never have them all at the same time! Balancing and managing these competing demands is key, so make sure to communicate often and to-the-point with the stakeholders to ensure an adequate balance is achieved.
- Manage the network design scope to ensure the network design addresses the stakeholders’ needs within constraints, but without gold plating. Some constraints may be regulatory or influenced by the organization processes, systems and culture. As much as possible document your assumptions and go back to the stakeholders to confirm them (or not). What if your solution doesn’t address all the requirements? Present the stakeholders with different options, showing them the trade-offs between the competing requirements for each solution option, so they can make an informed decision. Remember, you’re not on the side of one solution option or another, you’re on the side of the stakeholders!
- Manage the network design schedule by creating an implementation plan that accounts for the deployment and migration planning, the lead times for the acquisition of equipment and services, and all the actual implementation activities so that all elements are coordinated to meet the stakeholders time-to-market. This includes determining the major milestones and their target dates. Get the buy-in from the stakeholders, making sure they understand what it takes from getting from point A (the current state of the network) to point B (the fully deployed and optimized, future network).
- Manage the network design cost considering the budgeted CAPEX and OPEX (one-time and recurring), and the return on investment (ROI). Try to avoid making cost the only consideration on your designs, conveying how the network design contributes to the desired business outcomes.
- Manage the network design quality aspects by as much as possible doing a pilot, proof-of-concept (PoC), or simulating the environment, executing a test plan to compare the requirements with reality and correcting courses as early as possible in the network design lifecycle, to meet the quality standards of the stakeholders. There is a difference between grade and quality, however. Grade means the network will have more or less features, protocols, redundancy, complexity, etc. (simplicity). Quality means the network will present more or less bugs, uptime, convergence time, etc. Grade is determined by the requirements and constraints, quality is how well your design will meet them.
- Manage the network design risk. Some customers are early adopters and will want to take the risk and deploy new technologies to enable new functionality, so they are the first ones to enter a new market. On the other extreme of the spectrum, some customers are conservative and will wait to deploy more mature technologies to avoid risk. Consider the stakeholders’ risk tolerance when creating your network designs. There should be an alignment between the tolerance to risk and the vision for the network, however, which also should be communicated to the stakeholders. If you never captured lessons learned from previous network designs, now is the time. This knowledge can be repurposed, helping you identify risk events and factors that influenced positively or negatively previous designs, to increase your future chances of success.
- Manage the network design customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is in the eye of the beholder, so determine early on what success looks like for the stakeholders. Keep the communication channels open and gauge the stakeholders’ satisfaction at various points during the design lifecycle to ensure no surprises will come up once the network design is deployed. Remember that customer satisfaction isn’t only tied to the network itself (although critical), but also on how the network design was managed.
Trick 3 - Migration or project execution
You have a migration plan in place with established milestones and their target dates, the equipment has arrived, the services are contracted, and now is the time to execute the plan to the finish line! The plan may include a pilot, or it may only include tasks related to the actual migration. Either way, at some point the pre-established testing plan should be executed to ensure that the agreed-upon grade and quality standards are met. Any bugs or defects should either be remediated or cause a design change, and in this case, more than ever transparent communication will be key.
Trick 4 – Managing changes
There are a few constants in life, and they are death, taxes, … and change ! Any changes to the network design, the scope, when a risk event materializes, or when issues arise, would need to be negotiated. Communicate with the stakeholders and determine which of the “triple constraints” is the most important to them, remembering that they can’t have it all, and whichever is the stakeholders’ most important constraint, it’ll have consequences. If they want:
- a larger set of functions/features quickly, it won’t be cheap.
- a larger set of functions/features cheaply, it won’t be fast.
- faster and cheaper, it won’t fulfill all/many functions/features.
Present the stakeholders with options, their pros and cons, and how they will affect the cost, schedule, scope, quality, risk, and customer satisfaction. Get their buy-in and move on.
Trick 5 - Closing the project
This is one of the most overlooked phases on projects, and with network designs it is no different. Don’t wait to get to the finish line to only then realize there’ll be issues with the customer acceptance. In the closing phase, we go back to the requirements and constraints to formally report that all the work has been completed, all costs have been charged, the network documentation is delivered, and either the staff is trained and can operate the upgraded network or there’s a plan in place to maintain it (serviceability).
The customer satisfaction depends on both the implementation of the idealized network and their new services and capabilities, and on how the end-to-end solution design and implementation has been handled. Properly and officially getting customer acceptance creates a long-lasting, professional, and positive image of you as a network designer.
Network design is similar to project management. Using project management tricks and techniques can increase your chances of success. Make sure you determine early on who the key stakeholders are, understand their requirements and constraints, align them and get buy-in from them around all the competing demands to decide on one design solution. Communicate with them effectively and often across the entire design lifecycle, understanding how satisfied they are with the way you’ve handled the design and implementation. Create migration and testing plans, execute them to the finish line, and officially get customer acceptance. Happy managing network designs!
About the Author
Elaine Lopes is the “in transition” CCDE and CCAr Certifications Program Manager, PMP-certified, and she’s passionate about how lives can change for the better through education and certification.
1. A Guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide).--2000 ed.
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