Four Tips for Success in Complex Development Projects

Managing the development of a complex medical device to ensure the right product is delivered on schedule and within budget is a tough task involving the need to balance hundreds of variables. The team at Stratos Product Development recently completed a “lessons learned” exercise for a multi-year, multi-million-dollar project. They learned several valuable lessons from this effort that can apply to any project.

  1. Ensure more time is allotted for communication as your team size grows.

    Skilled engineers are great at estimating the amount of effort it will take to complete their tasks. However, it’s easy for them to overlook the amount of time they’ll be spending interacting with the rest of the team, especially as the team grows. As project technical leads become responsible for more individuals, they must allocate more and more of their time for managing their team members – as well as interaction with other disciplines working on the projects – and less for direct project deliverables. Help your project leads delegate their technical tasks as their teams grow so they will have time to be the effective leaders the team needs.

  1. Make time for face-to-face meetings.
    In today’s product development world just about every project has team members that are contributing remotely. While teleconferences and video calls make this an effective way to work, there is no substitution for meeting in person. There are details that are lost when information needs to be communicated within the 30- to 60-minute confines of a meeting. Make the investment to fly the remote team members to your office once every one to two months so the whole team has the opportunity to work together in person. You’ll be amazed by the progress that is made and the loose ends that are tied up when team members have a day to sync up face-to-face.

  2. Let your development partners communicate directly.
    It frequently makes sense to outsource project responsibilities to specialized organizations and individuals. It’s tempting to position yourself as the conduit for information between your partners. This might seem to make it easy to stay informed about all discussions and decisions. The reality is that when you work this way you are playing telephone. You hired these groups because they have specialized skills that are outside your core competency. Putting yourself in the role of middleman creates inefficiency as any communication must be synced up with your schedule. Instead, give your partners direct access to one another but insist to be cc’ed on any emails and given a summary of important discussions—they will work much more efficiently together, and you’ll be the winner in the long run as your teams of experts collaborate and complete your project on time.

  3. Increase estimates for tasks to be completed by newly-hired team members.
    If you need to hire additional team members to staff your project, make sure that you allocate extra time for those tasks that are to be completed by those individuals. New employees can take a significant amount of time to ramp up, especially if the project is a complex one. Don’t get blindsided by a schedule slip because your new hires don’t perform at the same level as your experienced team.

Do you have other important product development lessons to share? Please post them in a comment and share your experience!

Malinda Elien is a project manager at Stratos Product Development. She has 14 years of experience in product development, project management and mechanical engineering. Elien previously worked for Microscan Systems designing optical scanning systems for medical environments. She has a SB and SM in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She can be reached at