Phased Project Process Increases Innovation and Controls Risk

Sometimes projects, even very large ones, have straight-forward solution paths with few unknowns. Other times a project is closer to the technological frontier where the solution is not obvious, or may not exist with the current technology. Many of these projects offer high economic return for our customers when successful. With such projects it often does not make sense to move forward with the project in a single step, or even in two steps. There are a few disadvantages to taking on such projects in a single step:

  • Spending more time and money while moving down a ‘high-risk’ path that may not work in the end
  • Difficulty predicting costs when new challenges that may arise are unknown
  • Reducing the ability to innovate novel solutions that may become more apparent after starting the project because you are ‘married’ to your initial solution

As a result, in some of these situations it makes sense to do a three or more phased approach to the project. The purpose of this is to:

  • Tackle the highest risk elements first – if you can solve these the chances of the solution being a success will be greater; if you can’t, then the least amount of money was spent on determining there is no good solution
  • Allow for more innovation – it is easier to incorporate a new, novel idea when the final solution has not yet decided upon
  • Control Cost– along with the cost benefits of tackling the high risk problems first, DMC is better able to estimate the costs for each additional phase than if the entire project were estimated once up front.

It is typical at DMC to solve a complicated and novel problem with a phased approach. This has the advantage of building milestones and decision points into the project process which maximize team communication and minimize risk and wasted effort. The phased approach works like this:

  • Feasibility Study: Investigate the elements of the project plan which have the greatest unknowns, or the lowest probability of actually working. The goal of a feasibility study is to attempt many approaches which may work, and identify which ones, if any, are likely to work best. The purpose is to narrow the field of possible solutions, to concentrate effort on the best, and to avoid expending further effort down dead-end paths. The feasibility study is performed, if possible, with available materials and cobbled together apparatuses to reduce cost. Often times, loaner hardware can be obtained from suppliers. The results are gross, often indicating only that an approach fits into one of these categories: Slam Dunk, Works Well, Barely Works, or Doesn’t Work at All. Statistically significant results are generally not taken at this point.
  • Detailed Investigation: Here we take the most promising methods which Work Well or Barely Work and try to quantify how well they work compared to system requirements. Specific equipment may have to be ordered or special apparatuses built to give a method maximum effectiveness. Many part samples may be investigated to quantify the process variance. Also, process speed is studied to determine the amount, if any, of parallel operations required to make production rate. Operations are studied one at a time in a semi-automated environment. The determinations of the detailed investigation are statistically significant and are meant to be repeated in a fully integrated system. A large project may have several areas of Detailed Investigation.
  • System Integration: In this step a system is designed and built around methods which have passed the Detailed Investigation stage. At this point there are no more major, high-risk unknowns in the process, and what is left to do is to fit all the elements together both mechanically and in time sequence. This is often an expensive and intensive effort to get everything to work together. But if all of the methods have been through the Detailed Investigation stage, it is not a risky stage.


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