Wednesday, 19 February 2014 00:00

The 7 Minute Project Manager

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High intensity, with rapid iterations, and very little rest. Does that sound like your last project?

Well, for me, that was the product description of my last project. The idea was to develop a mobile app product, designed to increase your stamina, lose weight, and ultimately change your life. I just had no idea that, through the creation of the Official 7 Minute Workout mobile app, that all those things would actually happen to me. Yes, it was through this high intensity project, that my project management life changed, and where the 7 Minute Project Manager was born.

The 7 minute workout phenomena was started back in May of 2013 when Chris Jordan wrote the white paper describing a high intensity, interval circuit training workout, combining both aerobic and resistance exercises that could be done without any equipment except a wall, a chair, and your body weight. The workout quickly advanced through exercises utilizing one muscle group while allowing another to rest, in quick, powerful succession, with minimal rest between exercises. The original white paper described a workout of 3 circuits with 12 exercises totaling 21 minutes. However, when the NY Times picked up the white paper, they dubbed the routine "The 7 Minute Workout" and hence the craze began. Within 48 hours of the NY Times article over 50 apps were released on the iTunes Store claiming to be the real 7 minute workout. However, the “official one”, was still being talked about. We were essentially starting from a blank piece of paper. So what was my mission in all of this? My job was simple...come in, and do whatever it takes, to complete the Official 7 Minute Workout app, in time, on budget, and with enough features to displace all other competitors.

The problem:

Well, I was a contractor/consultant, coming in new to the organization and the Strategic Product Manager, I was partnered up with, I believe started three weeks prior to me getting there. And...well, we were told to find a vendor(s) who could help us build this. All we really had to work with was the original white paper, Mr. Jordan himself, and our abilities as product and project managers to deliver a killer product.

The challenge:

Complete this project within four months - an immovable deadline. If we didn't get it out by early January, then we missed the New Year's resolution crowd, and we failed. Plain and simple.

Hence, the 7 Minute Project Manager was born. The characteristics of this creature where based on the ability to adapt quickly, moving rapidly from one task to the next. Schedules and plans were constantly iterated and evaluated for acceleration points. Oddly similar to the 7 minute workout, the project characteristics were high intensity, iterative design and development, with very little time (rest duration) for decisions to be made. This could not be a project done by consensus. Decision making had to be swift and risk mitigation even swifter. There was no time to compartmentalize people’s roles or complain that something wasn't your job. If there was a task that needed to get done, you did it - no matter what. Was the role I played part project manager, program manager, product owner, and QA manager? The answer is YES. All ego's where checked at the door. This project was about teamwork and driving to meet our success criteria!

The need to quickly adapt was like nothing I've seen before. At a moment’s notice, my project schedule would completely blow up, just due to the rapid nature of the project and the impact to missed milestones. When this happened, we quickly performed risk mitigations and enacted the infamous plan B. But sometimes plan B wasn't enough. There were several times where we had to go all the way down to plans C and D. Did we use Agile, SCRUM, RUP, or Waterfall SDLC's? Well, the answer is YES. We had to use and be skilled in all methodologies for this project to work. Did we use internal or external resources? Again, the answer is YES. We used what we needed, stealing bandwidth from resources when we had to. Did we have to go through Security, Compliance, Legal, and Trademark reviews? You bet we did! Again, all of this happening over a four month time period, where stakeholder and senior management engagement increased rapidly as word spread about the project.

Our infrastructure starting the project was not set up to be virtual. Yet, at times, it seemed our entire team was virtual and distributed. We had to think quick and creatively using technology where we could to increase our communication and effectiveness. Tools like, TestFlight, DropBox, Google Docs, and Reflector were quickly discovered and tried.

In the end, some may say that this project was doomed from the start. The expectations were just not real and borderline insane. However, we did it. We completed the project on time and under budget! Not only that, but within the first week of launch, we were featured by Apple in the App Store and had over 100,000 downloads with an average star rating of 4.5. We were the top free 7 minute workout app on the App Store - and all with no app crashes and only a handful of support calls. We hit it on scope, schedule, cost, and quality goals. However, we blew away our success expectations!

My intent in writing this article is to set the stage for a series of three articles that cover more depth and details regarding the project. The first article would describe the innovation/design experience. Next, the series would move forward into development and the number of challenges, approaches, and iterations we went through. Finally, the article series would rap up with a discussion regarding the launch and marketing approach taken to deliver a successful product in the market place.

This project experience comes rich with lessons learned - both good and bad - and I feel that others should be able to benefit from it. Innovation, Product Management, Project Management, and project execution all coming together to create something special.

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Steven Starke

Steven Starke is the author of S.T.O.P. – The Project Management Survival Plan. He is currently the founder of Starke Consulting and VP of  Actuation Consulting where he is focused on developing training material for product team collaboration and advancing the profession of product development.

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