Software development teams rely on project management to make their workflow efficient and guarantee deliverables. Working with a remote or distributed software development team often means having a grasp of the basics of project management. It also means putting together a solid project management plan. Read on to read up on some of the fundamentals that might come in useful.
A software development company or vendor will often provide an IT project manager for the client, unless he already has one on the team. The manager on the vendor’s side will help define the goals, scope and resources just as some of the key components of the software development process. In this scenario — case closed, you are well on your way to an efficient workflow. Mostly, that is. Communicating objectives and requirements will still have to rest with someone.
In a lot of cases, however, it is the client who wants to oversee the process from start to finish, especially if he is intrinsically responsible for its deliverables. Many clients already perform the role of project manager without realizing it. Luckily, there is a more formal approach to the process, that makes sure no important bits are left out. Especially when approaching a complex software product development request or custom software development in general.
The role of the project manager
The role of project management can be defined by the functions a project manager performs. These can differ based on the outlined objectives, industry expertise, or the mere responsibilities outlined in a bigger hierarchy. If one thing is clear, the project manager is responsible for overseeing and controlling the entire development process.
To do his job well, a PM will perform the following functions:
- Define scope and objectives
- Manage time and schedules
- Manage resources, team, materials
- Manage risks
- Manage stakeholders
- Identify gaps
A PM will rely on a number of approaches or methodologies to best tackle the set of tasks outlined in the project plan. These can range from simple Waterfall, Agile, and Kanban methodologies to more complex ones like RAD.
While not a project management methodology in its own right, the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), can be a great resource for learning the terms used by experienced project managers. Employees tasked with steering project tend to break it down into 5 stages, which further illustrate the steps and functions of a PM:
A project management plan will need to account for the different stages of software development, as well as the goals set out from the onset. Writing a project plan means drafting and approving the methods, defining how the project will be executed, monitored and controlled once development starts.
Step by step project management plan
The weight of responsibility can be overburdening at first glance, but a well-written plan will help organize the process and relieve stress. However, it should not be approached lightly. Liken a project management plan to a business plan. The result will depend on the time and effort you put into planning out the steps and stages.
Without further ado, here are the steps to put together a project plan to make you confident enough to go into development.
1. Goals and scope
Collect as much information about the project as you possibly can. If you already have the information, try splitting it into categories and subgroups that define the relationship between the different components. List all of your requirements and how they relate to the additional information. The goal is to paint a broad, but understandable picture of what you are hoping to achieve, so that someone unrelated to your niche or task could understand it.
Document and edit the requirements to pinpoint the objectives that need to be achieved in light of the collected information. This is one of the founding, crucial steps that defines the rest of the project from here on out, so it makes sense to invest enough time into it or make time in advance if you are working on a deadline.
2. Stakeholder management
Identify and communicate with the decision-makers and incumbents and outline how much of their time they will be prepared to dedicate towards the project. Being a party interested in the outcome of the project, they need to understand that their input may be crucial to bring the project to fruition.
3. Task listing
The project goals will need to be divided into achievable tasks. This means that this is the step to do so. Even if you are unsure of how the tasks will be accomplished, it is worth listing what has to be done and what it will help achieve in terms of the bigger picture.
Essentially, this step outlines the milestones that need to be reached, the schedules of work that have to be accounted for, as well as the resources that will be necessary.
4. Risk management
At this stage, the parties involved will identify potential risks that can impede development, product launch or the circumstances connected to unforeseen events. To prioritize the risks, software development companies often rely on a risk matrix.
A risk matrix helps plot risk likelihood and risk severity. The former is also sometimes called chance of risk, while the latter is sometimes dubbed as risk extent.
While it is not always a rigorous system, the point of the matrix is to manage foreseeable risk and make adjustments if necessary.
5. Finalizing the plan
Once all the details are in place, go over the document with the key stakeholders and get their approval. Not only does this instill confidence in moving forward, it also defines the key responsibilities of everyone involved. If everyone is on the same page, the likelihood of a successful and smooth workflow becomes higher. In the event that changes have to be made, simply rinse and repeat the steps in this order.
If you feel like the IT project you are about to embark on is a complicated one, discuss the details with your vendor in advance. Oftentimes, it will be in the vendor’s interest to go over the finer points of your project plan and help consolidate it or draft it up from scratch.
If you are the sort, who approaches their project with the utmost care, it might make sense to download a project management plan template in advance. Filling out the project framework ahead of contacting a vendor will give you a better idea of your requirements. With that done, your vendo, will be able to better consult you on the project specifications. At the end of the day, you will have made both of your job a tiny bit easier.
Whether you are relying on an outsourced project manager, an in-house PM, or on yourself to get the job done, hopefully, the resources and guidelines above get you there that much closer.