5 questions to ask before starting any systems engineering project

June 14, 2020

When managing a systems engineering project, it can be difficult to stay focused on the end goal. Multiple stakeholder input, scope creep, and unclear expectations can all contribute to a disorganized process, even for smaller projects.

Our technical systems engineering consultants have streamlined this process by asking these five key questions before any project:

1. What is the deadline?

First and foremost, identify what your deadline is. With some clients, you might be given a more fluid deadline. In any case, it’s important to create a solid internal deadline for your team to follow.

Besides the obvious, setting a deadline can be helpful for:

  • Understanding how much time and money to allocate for each stage of the project.
  • Keeping your team motivated and focused on the end goal.
  • Allowing you to celebrate milestones along the way and track progress.
  • Learning how to budget your workload for future projects.

2. Who is the client?

It’s important to stay mindful of who your client really is. What we’ve seen many times is that multiple stakeholders are brought on during the lifetime of a systems engineering project. While your client may feel it’s necessary to have the input of multiple people from their team, this complicates the approval process. The more complicated the approval process becomes, the longer the project will ultimately take.

At the outset, you should establish the following in writing:

  • Who your client is.
  • Who has the power to approve decisions from their team.
  • Who your main point of contact will be.

Be sure to ask if any stakeholders will be brought into the process in the future, so that you can adequately prepare. When you need to set boundaries further down the line, you can gently remind your client of what you initially agreed to. All of this will help you avoid a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario.

3. What are our deliverables?

In order to reach your end goal, your team will need to produce many different deliverables that all come together. One deliverable may depend on the other, so it’s critical to identify exactly what your team will produce during each step of the process, from concept to launch.

4. What are we not delivering?

Have you ever successfully gone through the first approval process, only to find yourself with more work than anticipated? In many cases, this is due to “scope creep,” which happens when continuous changes are added to the project’s scope and expectations.

Identifying what you will not be delivering is one of the best ways to prevent scope creep. For example, are there any deliverables that the client’s team will be providing instead of your team? At the beginning, you should clearly set out what you’ll be producing, and identify who is responsible for each of these elements.

5. How do we define success?

Without clear benchmarks for success, it’s difficult to track the progress of any project. At the outset, it’s a good idea to identify two different types of benchmarks:

  • Internal goals for your own team: This will help you gauge the success of your project, identify problems, and help keep your team motivated.
  • What “success” means for your client: What exactly is your client trying to achieve? Try to get as specific as possible, such as, “Increase revenue by X dollars.” Or, “Increase customer conversion by X percent.” Understanding this will help your team best achieve the client’s goal.

Ultimately, every project will have its own challenges, and you can’t prevent every obstacle. But, by asking yourself these five key questions as early as possible, you can avoid many common pitfalls.

Need help organizing your next project? Our Indianapolis-based team of systems engineering consultants would be happy to help. Contact us today for more information.

systems engineering consultant team working together