Getting Software Project Management Right

Embedding good project management practice from the very start and throughout of the software development process is one of the secret to success.  A tried and tested process ensures timely and budgeted delivery. There are a number of principles that a project manager should follow for optimum success.

1. Plan and monitor the project – It is surprising how often proper project planning is neglected, resulting in failure. Planning doesn’t just mean preparing a schedule. It means ensuring you have an understanding of who needs to do what, when and why.  Other important elements you need to understand include; how you will communicate internally and externally, what your key milestones and deliverables are, how you will demonstrate project success.

Planning should be a collaborative process with input from all involved. A Project Initiation Document and baseline Schedule should be agreed with the client. Ensure plans are monitored regularly, adapting to changes in scope, resource availability, business and organisational needs and project risks.

2. Manage expectations – Clients don’t want surprises. The ability to set and manage expectations, particularly in relation to time, budget and scope is key. Set out a strategy for formal and informal communication, whether its weekly calls, face to face meetings, written reports or daily stand-ups and you’ll be able to pre-empt and manage any surprises.

3. Deliver the right solution first time – Too often in software development the delivered solution does not meet client expectations. In this industry, the later a defect is detected, the more expensive it is to resolve.

The key is in helping clients to understand their business drivers and user needs, and working with stakeholders to define a clear, unambiguous statement of work supported by a robust business case.

Test project deliverables regularly against the requirements so that the product and client expectations are aligned. Use document walkthroughs, UI design mock-ups, show & tell sessions, sharing of test results, and user acceptance testing against defined acceptance criteria. At each step, give clients the opportunity to verify that their expectations are being met so that there are no surprises later down the line.

4. Manage scope – One responsibility of the project manager is to ensure that only the required work will be performed and that each of the deliverables can be completed in the allotted time and within budget. Another reason projects fail is a lack of control of the scope resulting in spiralling costs and missed deadlines. For example, the client may request additional features or analysts may over-spec the requirements. The Project Manager must be vigilant for such changes and ensure that any deviation from the requirements is managed with the client. Embedding a culture of awareness to change can lead to opportunities for new business.

5. Learn from your mistakes – Everyone makes mistakes. What differentiates a successful project team is having the ability to understand and learn from them. Some of the most successful IT companies in the world celebrate failure and see it as part of the continuous improvement cycle, driving positive change in the organisation.

A ‘Lessons Learned’ log should be maintained from inception through to client acceptance. Team members should be encouraged to recognise where things have gone wrong, the impact of their mistakes and identify ways to prevent them happening in the future.

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