Once the product breakdown structure has been developed satisfactorily, it should be possible to produce a product flow diagram as illustrated in Figure 6.3 to show the sequence in which products must be developed.
Everyone involved will have an opinion on the best sequence and the process of creating a product flow diagram can help draw into the project a wide and varied range of expertise. It is sensible to involve the people who helped develop the product breakdown structure in drafting the product flow diagram. And it is desirable that senior managers take part as their views will be valuable. As everyone will be asked to estimate the time and investment needed to deliver each product, involving them early helps them to understand the project and the emerging approach.
In constructing the product flow diagram the redundant, higher-level products should be removed and the remaining products should be placed in an order defined by their dependence. This can be time-consuming, but planning is a difficult and demanding process; it is better to identify the challenges and deal with them before it is too late or they become too costly to fix.
It is a good idea to use the same facilitator and to nominate a note-taker because products will be talking shape during this process and some of their characteristics will need recording.
At the outset, identify the start and end products, noting that there may be many products with no prior dependency. The sequence should flow from top to bottom and the remaining products should be positioned until most of them are on the board. To reduce misunderstandings, all products should retain the same names as on the product breakdown structure. The facilitator should regularly review how things stand and challenge them, and if appropriate change the order. It is important to allow debate, but the facilitator should not become so involved in the debate as to lose the chance to listen out for new products, which should be added to both the product breakdown structure and the product flow diagram. When all products are on the board, the arrows between them should be added, but only in pencil. It is normal for discussion to flare up again when the slightest change is made to the product flow diagram.
If the project is large or teams have already been formed, groups of products can be allocated to smaller teams. These teams may develop their own product flow diagrams, which are consolidated after debate. Alternatively, to improve the product flow diagram, they may work independently on the same products and then meet to identify and resolve differences.
Participants should not be allowed to express the plan in their own way on the product flow diagram. This can confuse others and introduce errors that will find their way into the time line and the resource plan. Every product should have at least one successor apart from the final one and at least one predecessor apart from the first ones.
A common mistake at this stage is to give the product flow diagram a timescale. This comes later in the planning process. Therefore, two products appearing next to each other (for example, presentation slides and course bookings) does not mean that they will be delivered at the same time. Indeed, the words "at the same time" should be avoided when discussing a product flow diagram. This allows the project to be discussed without preconceived and unsupported constraints, and matters relating
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What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.