Sometimes the hardest part of project engineering and new product development is to put down in words what the requirements are. Specifications alone will not necessarily convey functionality or design intent. Small features or issues that are overlooked in the planning phase can become major issues of cost and time in the course of the execution of the project.
The goal of project management, of course, is to analyze the labor and material costs required to accomplish a task. Most often, for the least cost possible. As design cycles become shorter, the likelihood of a mistake increases. The pressure of time makes it easy to miss details that can wreak havoc later on. This makes the planning stage the greatest opportunity to “get it right”.
The process of defining the project and the scope of work statement usually begins with the broadest and most general statement to define the goal concisely. Something general like “Let’s put a man on the moon” may create a lot of excitement, but as far as a tool to define the scope of work, it actually conveys almost nothing. It is the exact opposite of what is needed to be successful.
Scope “creep” is the enemy of every engineering or product effort. This is where features or technical issues cause increases in manpower and cost that were not planned for. These issues are supposed to be covered in the “contingency” portion of the budget, but often the “creep” can exceed the anticipated value. In the case of “Let’s put a man on the moon” one could say that the immediate scope creep would be “…and bring him back to Earth.” Bummer for the guy who volunteers for that mission if we leave the return trip out.
Where this gets sticky is being able to differentiate between omissions in the planning phase and unforeseen developments that may threaten the outcome of the project. If your employer is the bidder for a project, omissions can be very costly and can cause legal repercussions. If there arises an issue that neither the client nor the bidder could foresee, then it is up to the two parties to come up with a compromise to solve the problem. So in our slightly silly example, if it were discovered part way into the project that the weight of propellant would always exceed the ability to reach escape velocity, then the project would have to be abandoned. In most cases the paper analysis that is done prior to initiating a major project will eliminate a showstopper issue, but there is always a small percentage risk that there is something hidden that can shut a project down.
And then there are the guys like Elon Musk and the team at Space X. It is sad that our government has shut down NASA but it is a brilliant testimony to the spirit of entrepreneurship that private industry is stepping up to fill the gap. May the next decade of space exploration be even more amazing than the Apollo 11 mission.