Engineering Wins Through Project Management
Manage India uncovers some simple truths behind Intel's continuous innovation program. Smooth out processes and empower your people, the rest will follow.
BY PANCHALEE THAKUR
The tiny, compact chip that sits inside an electronic device has made information processing faster, distances seem closer, and daily chores easier. Smarter ways to design and manufacture the chip is giving way to disruptive technology, or in other words revolutionizing the way electronic products are designed, priced, and marketed. A pioneer in democratizing the use of the personal computer is Intel Corp. In 1998, Intel helped create the budget PC market segment with the introduction of the Celeron processor. More than a decade hence, the disruptive innovation movement continues within Intel.
Intel India's engineering prowess was recently on display as the company launched its latest Xeon E7 high-end processor for servers. The latest set of processors offers 40 percent higher performance than the previous products. Intel India Development Center in Bangalore, the company's largest non manufacturing site outside the United States, contributed significantly to the product design. The spirit of innovation fl ows as much in the company's IT division as its microprocessor division.
Globalization and project management
Complexities are increasing, whether in terms of product design, market requirements, or the way organizations and teams are structured. Companies like Intel realize that globalization of the workforce, global supply chain, technology evolution, and increased government oversight into business practices have made project and program management increasingly critical.
Intel cofounder Gordon E. Moore had propounded that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit will double approximately every two years. This trend, called Moore's law, holds true even half a century later. "For Intel, the project and program management is a critical component to any product release. Thanks to Moore's law, the complexity of our processors product line-latest Core i7 has 731 million transistors packed in a 263 mm2 size-has compounded over the years. To the processor, add a software stack that needs to be developed and tested to make the processor and chipsets work. Our products have to integrate well with the ecosystem of software and peripheral hardware, which further compounds the complexity of execution. This feat cannot be accomplished without strong project and program management competency," says Rohit Vidwans, director, Intel Architecture Group, Intel India.
Tom Kilroy, senior vice president and general manager, Sales & Marketing Group, Intel Corporation at the Xeon E7 launch in Mumbai.
Intel's IT department develops and manages software applications and infrastructure required to support and grow its business, besides keeping the factories running and products shipped in time for its customers. This means that the supply chain applications and the customer relationship management systems, along with a plethora of other applications and systems, have to work 24/7. The organization, which has 2,700 employees in India and a global presence across 300 facilities in 50 countries, thrives on e-mail. Intel generates more than three million e-mails a day internally! The IT department relies heavily on project and program management skills to release software applications and solve problems.
Project management in Intel
Each group or sub-group within a division has its own Project Management Office (PMO) with its own charter and structure defined by the project sponsor and the project manager. The PMO also keeps changing over time, especially for long-haul projects. A lot of decision-making about design and running of the PMO is left to the project manager.
Intel encourages project and program managers to get certifications. Intel India employed the second person working in India who was certified by PMI as a Program Management Professional. Employees are encouraged to upgrade their knowledge and skills continually. Rajeev Nanda, program director, Intel India, says, "A lot of our project managers are PMP® certified and because of that A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is ingrained in our project and program management practices. We also have an internal framework for program management, called Program Life Cycle, that's similar to the PMBOK® Guide's standard project life cycle. These frameworks overlay the Software Development Life Cycle for software projects. We use other practices, like Lean methodology and ITIL, as additional tools for our project managers where needed."
Adds Manas Das, Business Operations Manager, Intel India, "Having a project manager who is certified gives a person a head-start in project management and helps avoid making mistakes that a noncertified project manager could. There is an intrinsic benefit of networking with fellow project managers from different industries. It also helps broaden a project manager's perspective and introduces innovation."
Globally spread project teams
A global organization is a melting pot of cultures and often faces the challenge of bringing people from different cultural backgrounds into one cohesive team. High pressures in a globalized work environment also put a strain on the work-life balance of its people. Intel's efforts at bringing a conducive work environment have paid off. This year Intel India earned the number three position in 'India's best companies to work for' survey by Great Place To Work Institute.
The company empowers each project team to define the schedule that works best for it. The project team has access to multiple tools to define and monitor schedules and take corrective action when required. The company supports autonomy and leadership at the project level. Some teams share the pain of evening meetings by rotating the meeting time in such a way that each region has its fair share of evening meetings. Video conferencing, including telepresence, is a common communication tool for project teams spread throughout the world. Mobility devices, like laptops and smart phones, are the other communication tools that employees use actively to ensure multiple time zones and physical distances do not hamper work.
Project management in a dynamic market
With a dynamic market where technology is changing constantly to keep pace with emerging challenges, project management plays a big role in achieving the steep targets. Teams face increased pressure to deliver at a shorter time span and on a tighter budget. Intel, which creates productivity improvement tools to help shorten product life cycle, follows a policy of reuse of technology and intellectual assets. It has a strong culture of data-driven decision-making that helps us cut internal bureaucracy. Project managers are empowered to drive collaboration and faster decisionmaking to help reduce time-to-market and enhance product quality.
Having an innovation-oriented approach does not come in conflict with being process-driven. Well-defined processes and methods in fact aid in promoting a culture of innovation. "We have well established processes that help employees document their invention disclosures. Employees are rewarded for the invention disclosures. Intel files patents on behalf of employees. Each group and department is encouraged to use innovative methods to harvest ideas and encourage their employees to document their innovations. Some departments have 'innovation awards'; some have innovation fests or ideas camps," says Jitendra Chaddah, director, Strategic Development & Operations, Intel India.
We asked two Intel project leads to talk about their project success stories.
I. Program Manager Ritu Agarwal, PMP, chose two projects.
The first was to set up business-to-business interfaces with a key Intel customer/partner to extend the automation into each other's backend systems and ERPs to improve cash-to-cash operational efficiencies in the supply chain. This project improved Intel's market segment share and raised service levels from 39 percent to 100 percent. The success led Intel CEO Paul Otellini to personally congratulate the project team for their effort.
Having to work with an external customer and deliver within the time-bound schedule with flawless execution were the main challenges. "In Intel, a project manager is like the CEO for her project. She is expected to own the success of her project. As a project manager, I am expected to secure resources, funds, commitments while managing internal customers and stakeholders' expectations. I, as the PM, have a lot of autonomy on how I want to run the project as long as I am within my budget and deliver to the expected scope, timeline and quality," says Ms. Agarwal.
The second project, termed X-Dock, was to establish a dedicated supply chain process to improve Intel's shipments of low volume finished goods from a warehouse to the distributor's facilities. This was the fi rst time Intel was to use different supply chain processes for low- and high-volume products.
"A lot of our project managers are PMP® certified and because of that A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is ingrained in our project and program management practices. We also have an internal framework for program management, called Program Life Cycle, that’s similar to the PMBOK® Guide’s standard project life cycle."
Rajeev Nanda, program director, Intel India
The project needed a new formula and routing method of shipping specific products without impacting the rest of the shipment. It was the first time that Intel was implementing different routing and service-level agreements with third-party logistics (3PL) providers. The new design and globally disbursed team and stakeholders posed challenges.
"One 3PL provider was unable to establish network connectivity. This provided a unique challenge because it was a non-Intel entity and the most we could do was to influence them to get the connectivity up for us to deploy the system," recalls Ms. Agarwal.
Overall, she finds resources the single most important challenge for a project manager. "Our products are nothing more than the collective intelligence of the team members involved in its development. Resource turnover or non-availability of one critical resource can run havoc on the project schedule or its delivered quality," she says. The underlying challenge of working across different countries, cultures and time zones is now taken for granted and is not considered so much of a challenge anymore. "But it was one of the biggest challenges in my early days as a project manager," she adds.
The biggest lesson that Ms. Agarwal has learnt in her 12 years' career as a project manager: People matter. "What we deliver are not projects but someone's vision to challenge the status quo and provide the organization with a competitive edge or increased efficiency. Learn about people behind the project and understand their vision around it. The delivery becomes incidental," she remarks.
II. Project Manager Rajesh Shet, PMP, spoke about the following project.
Intel's IT division wanted to upgrade one of its ERP platforms to the latest version. Many projects were launched to support this migration. The complexity of the exercise was immense because it meant migrating all existing applications and modules to the new platform, besides providing support and enhancing the existing apps to avoid any impact to the business.
One project that was part of this exercise was called 'W2E' that involved migrating some of the homegrown application's functionality to the standard ERP and enhance its remaining functionalities. The functionality of this app touches Intel's factory stores worldwide that issue the raw material and spare parts for Intel's fabrication units and factories. Apart from the migration and enhancements, the project team had to develop new interfaces and make changes to the downstream applications that were impacted by this shift.
"Due to the nature of the larger initiative, the scope for the project was not clear at the time of the launch. We knew what we wanted to get done but the exact scope had to be documented and ratified after multiple meetings with key stakeholders and customers. Lack of updated documentation of the home-grown application added to the challenge," recalls Mr. Shet.
The team was spread across several locations and that complicated matters further. The project manager was based in India, but the team was in another country. The project team had to rely a lot on domain experts from other teams. The requirements analysis went on for four months, much longer than what was accounted for. The project went through change in scope as the requirements gathering exercise progressed. The biggest challenge during the development was in coordinating the changes in multiple places as the team was globally spread out and the projects were interlinked. In some cases, getting time and attention of subject-matter or technical experts from different groups became a challenge as they were in demand from multiple projects running in parallel.
"The project manager is central to the project and owns its delivery. The sponsor of the project and key stakeholders rely on this person to escalate issues and scout for additional help if needed. Intel encourages its teams to create assets that can be reused by other projects teams in a similar situation. We did the same here and addressed these challenges by using templates for common reference and collaboration tools for sharing various content," says Mr. Shet.
The team had about four resources. It was difficult to utilize the resources completely due to the bottlenecks faced at various stages. The team adjusted the scope based on the available bandwidth. At the program level, more resources added to expedite work at the subprojects level.
Completing the impact analysis up front based on the high-level scope prior to working on a detailed requirement analysis and design saved a lot of rework at the later stages. In cases of high dependency modules, swapping of scope with other project teams reduced interdependencies. Creating project schedule that aligned well to the program level time line reduced conflicts due to dependencies. Active participation in appropriate meetings helped expedite the impact analysis.
Arriving at the scope clarity to the most granular level during requirement analysis avoided heated discussions with customers and stakeholders at a later stage. To get the correct requirements, it is important to get the right subject-matter expert for the meetings.
"The lessons I would like to share with my fellow project managers would be to create a plan on effectively using virtual settings like telepresence, phone meetings and asynchronous collaboration tools. They are a reality in today's work and the faster we learn how to use them effectively, the better will be the success rate," remarks Mr. Shet. He advises on aligning the project plan to the larger program milestones to avoid conflicts due to project interdependencies. He also stresses on the need to have regular management reviews, and stakeholder and customer meetings to keep them apprised of the progress, issues faced, and seek help when needed.