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Enabling Product Success with Checkpoint Reviews

Finish lineAt an entrepreneurs’ forum I recently attended, I was heartened to hear that even startups recommended checkpoint reviews.  

The term “checkpoint review” can have different meanings in different contexts; in this article, it refers to a cross-functional executive review that the project team must pass to continue.  This happens at key milestones to make sure your product is on track for success.  (And if it isn’t, you can deal with it before it’s too late!) 

For example, you may be ready to deliver your product — but are you also ready to sell and support it?  This consideration may seem obvious, but believe it or not, can be overlooked without a mechanism like checkpoint reviews.  Horror stories include:

  • Customers are ready to buy, but the order processing system can’t fulfill the sale…
  • Customers call technical support and reach personnel who have never heard of the product:  

Yikes!

How do you set up a checkpoint review process?  And once you have one, how do you get the most out of it?

Setting up a Checkpoint Review Process
First, model your product lifecycle.  Here’s an example:

  • Opportunity Assessment
  • Feasibility Assessment
  • Requirements
  • Planning
  • Development and Test
  • Launch Readiness
  • Delivery
  • Sustaining
  • End of Life

I can already hear some of you out there saying, “But that’s a waterfall!  We’re doing our projects iteratively!”  Certainly, if you have an iterative lifecycle, model it that way.  Keep in mind two things, though:

  1. You need to find out early whether there’s a business case to justify your product.
  2. You will probably need a high level, overarching plan to help the functions across the company stay in sync.  For example, though you may be developing the product iteratively, Sales and Marketing need to have a high level understanding of where you are going and when you plan to get there, so they can prime customers to buy. 

Next, bring together representatives from the cross-functional teams to talk through the lifecycle.  How do their activities map to it?  For example, when does Licensing need to create a new SKU?  When should press and analyst tours be scheduled?  When do Sales, Services, and Customer Support need to be trained? 

Once you’ve mapped the activities, identify and document the handoffs.  Who needs what, when, and from whom to support the product effort?  Develop a cross-functional delivery checklist.

Looking at the lifecycle and your checklist, set key milestones when you will hold Checkpoint Reviews to determine if your project is (or is not) on track.  At the review, the team will present their progress to a panel of upper management from each cross-function.  At the end of the review, the panel will either:

  • approve continued investment (green light)
  • conditionally approve, with action items (yellow light)
  • or end the project. (red light)

For the example lifecycle above, you’ll need at least three checkpoint reviews:

1.     Concept Checkpoint

  • Business Plan is profitable and compatible with company’s strategic direction
  • Proposed product is technically feasible

2.     Planning Checkpoint

  • Realistic plan to build, market, deliver, sell, and support product
  • Includes business infrastructure plan and internal training plan
  • Fulfills promise of the Business Plan

3.      Launch Readiness Checkpoint

  • All functions are prepared to support product

Getting the most out of Checkpoint Reviews
First, make sure you include everyone you need to make a good decision.

Next, get alignment.  During the course of the project, each member of the cross-functional team has responsibility for gathering information and managing expectations in their organization.  For example, the team member from Sales should be able to represent all of Sales.  This is important to assure the team gets key input in a timely manner and won’t be caught later by unexpected opposition.

Prior to the checkpoint review, schedule individual reviews with members of the upper management panel.  Get their feedback in advance, and work to resolve it.  Get them in your corner, so that when the formal review happens (which in large companies can be a really big meeting), it runs smoothly.

There’s a lot to talk about here: post a reply, and we can continue the conversation!

Would you like help setting up effective processes?  If so, let’s talk.

Best Wishes,

Mia Whitfield, M.M.Whitfield Consulting

p.s. Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll be talking about How to Roll out Process Improvements that Work.

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About the Author

Mia Whitfield is the Principal and founder of M.M.Whitfield Consulting, a firm that helps operations and development teams from Silicon Valley software companies deliver projects more effectively. Her collaborative approach brings out the best in client teams. Mia has been leading teams to deliver successfully for over 15 years. Prior to M.M.Whitfield Consulting, Mia served as a Solutions Director at Talus, and in senior project management roles at Symantec, Intuit, and Quote.com. Mia has been on both the front lines, leading teams to bring high quality products to market on-time, and in the back-office, addressing thorny internal process issues standing in the way of success. Mia has both a business and technical background. She holds a BA in Computer and Information Sciences with Honors from the University of California, and worked professionally as a software engineer before moving into project management. Mia's contact information is available on her firm's website, www.mmwhitfield.com
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