Project Management and New Product Development

May 30, 2015 | Uncategorized

I worked in telecommunications for 12 years.  My jobs ranged from customer support specialist, training support specialist, billing analyst to my final destination as a project manager.  My first formal exposure to project management best practices was actually a boot camp course I took through PME.  I had spent 10 years in telecom when the decision came to refine my skills and add the prestigious PMP credential to my title.  I took the test and passed on my first attempt!

The realization that I would continue to utilize my project management credentials outside of the information technology field—namely as a mother and entrepreneur—never crossed my mind.  Prior to motherhood, where my day to night transition became all but a blur, my schedule consisted of clear direction, planning, scheduling, executing, and of course, rolling with the proverbial punches that naturally came with assigned tasks until they were finished.  The contrast between PMP and MOM couldn’t have been more black and white.

That said, after becoming a mother and bringing to reality an idea that I credit for the most part to my son, I learned that the rules of project management absolutely can and will make multiple areas of life and business more manageable.  This is where my real life journey in project management began, and I took a concept from a simple idea in my head, to something tangible.

Three years ago, when my son was 4 months old and heavily into the teething stage, I noticed that he took a serious interest in his feet.  It seemed as though he went from never having an awareness of them, to being completely enamored with his toes and utilizing them as his preferred teething toy.  Considering he had made it abundantly clear that in this phase of teething he had seemingly no interest in any of the store-bought teethers I offered him, it didn’t take long for me to realize this form of entertainment could possibly turn into a business venture.  Very soon after, it did just that.

Teething Toes is exactly what it sounds like.  Made for babies in the stage of chewing their feet (this is actually a developmental milestone), Teething Toes is a sock with silicone toes attached, made to use when babies pull their feet to their mouth seeking comfort.  A few bonuses to the concept are the facts that it stays on without help from anyone else, it can be placed in the freezer for an added layer of pain relief during the teething process, and it is machine washable. Below is a prototype in use.



After an initial meeting with a patent attorney, my husband and I sat down to discuss next steps.  Given the fact that we both had such a strong belief in the potential, we decided to make a budget for what we’d be willing to invest, and move forward with obtaining a patent.  Our charter was written, and together we authorized the project to begin! I refined the charter and began to plan the project by outlining all design possibilities for Teething Toes, gathering photos and even making sketches of the product.  These details, along with a brief project schedule and budget made up our very informal Project Management Plan.

In parallel to the legal processes, I worked with a US-based manufacturer to come up with a design for my idea, the prototype, and an overall manufacturing solution.  It was at this point I recognized that my Project Management Plan did not have enough detail and the requirements were not precise. This caused continual rework. I was tracking deliverables from multiple areas, i.e., my patent, the trademark, the design, and of course the prototype itself.  What I needed in addition to my own research were test cases to verify the prototype met user requirements.  I knew simply showing pictures and video of my son using Teething Toes wouldn’t suffice to sell the idea.  In effort to build confidence for anyone looking to find out more, I sought out volunteers through a local trade show I attended, where I handed out free prototypes in exchange for feedback in the form of video, pictures and written testimonial.  I utilized my social network to gather even further opinions and left a call to action on my website asking those interested to contact me for prototypes.

Needless to say, in the process of three years, scope management was crucial.  Scope creep was a constant, design changes continuous, and effective change control mandatory.  The good news is that I eventually found my stride.  Teething toes and project management best practices quickly became synonymous and I gained momentum to move my product forward.  Fast-forwarding to today, even with all the aches and pains that have gone along with this process, I am extremely proud to say that Teething Toes is slated to go on the market December 2015.

Although this project is technically closed, the transition to operations is ongoing.  In completing my lessons learned, I reflected on the fact that a more concise plan, risk assessment, and improved requirement baseline would have helped reduce the duration of my project.  While I experienced the highs and lows of any project manager, I hope to reap the rewards that only a sponsor can enjoy. To learn more about Teething Toes or to claim some of the first production run, please refer to our KICKSTARTER site.

Donna Beavers


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