10 Tips for Software Project Management Success

Gimena Aguerreberry
May 10, 2021

Managing software projects is difficult under the best circumstances. A project manager must balance stakeholder interests against the constraints of limited resources and time. Project management is about people, technology, business, risk, and expectations.

Project managers are often posed with some serious challenges that can derail the success of a project. Common challenges include keeping up with the pace of the project, managing resources, and making sure it is on track and within the desired budget.

There is no unique way to ensure project management success but there are some tips that can produce remarkable results.

Keep these suggestions in mind on your next project, because these 10 tips for managing a software project through the entire development life cycle will benefit both new and experienced software project managers alike.

1. Define Expectations

Before initiating any major project, you can help the company layout realistic expectations, with a series of steps to ensure the team completes the project on time and within budget.

At the beginning of the project, make sure the stakeholders share a common understanding of how they will determine whether this project is successful. Too often, meeting a predetermined schedule is the only apparent success factor, but there are others. Begin by identifying your stakeholders and their expectations. Next, define some clear and measurable business goals. Some examples are:

  • Increasing market share by a certain amount by a specified date

  • Reaching a specified sales volume

  • Achieving a particular processing volume

These business goals could include achieving schedule and budget targets, delivering committed functionality in a form that satisfies customer acceptance tests, complying with industry standards or government regulations, or achieving specific technological milestones.

2. Define the project scope

The process of developing a project scope statement will define the business needs of the project as well as identify boundaries and constraints.

This will ensure that all key stakeholders have a clear understanding of what the project will do and how it will be built. For the development team, it will reduce the likelihood of the addition of desired features—and additional work—above and beyond what was defined in the scope.

Every project must balance its functionality, staffing, cost, schedule, and quality objectives. You should define each of these dimensions as either a constraint within which you must operate, a driver strongly aligned with project success, or a degree of freedom you can adjust within some stated bounds.

3. Write a Plan

Some people believe the time spent writing a plan should be spent writing code. But the point here is not so much about writing the plan, but doing the planning-thinking.

The time you spend analyzing what it will take to solve the problem will reduce the number of surprises you have to cope with later in the project. Today's multi-site and cross-cultural development projects demand even more careful planning and tracking than do traditional projects undertaken by a co-located team.

4. Define Critical Milestones

Every project is defined by moments, a series of agile practices that will eventually lead to a finished product. No matter what type of endeavor you are working on, the entire thing will be delightfully based on two things: the main phases and the sub-phases.

The major milestone is the day the software project must be finished, but there are many deadlines in between the start date and the end date. So when you are mapping out a project management plan, you should include milestones, paying careful attention to which features of the software depend on others. Focus on the four key phases of the development life cycle: Initiation, Planning, Execution, and Closure.

It’s especially helpful to delineate which deadline corresponds to which sprint since this will help with the allocation of resources for each sprint. You’ll be able to identify potential challenges or bottlenecks, such as a feature that may be particularly challenging to build or a feature that will require a completed design from the user experience team.

5. Assemble your team

Ideally, you will have a role in hiring the members of your team to ensure that their skills and experience align with your needs. If the developers are already on board, assess their professional and personal abilities to determine which developers are best suited for a project’s particular tasks and objectives.

When team members can focus on their strengths, they will complete tasks faster, which will help the project manager keep the work on time and commitudget.

Businesses survive and thrive by showcasing their employees’ strengths and hiding their weaknesses. You need to adopt the same mentality when you are delegating assignments, tasks, and responsibilities.

6. Stablish Goals

The software development team’s goals are closely tied to the project’s overall deadlines, milestones, and business goals. These will be short-term goals, such as the desired output of a sprint, as well as long-term goals, such as the completion of a software module. Communicate these goals clearly and display them visibly, as a reminder to the team (and any new hires who join while the project is in development) of the overall objective.

In addition, a software project manager should set individual goals for each developer. It’s important to balance the business goals of the project with personal development goals, such as learning a new skill or taking on some leadership responsibility on the development team. Set up recurring one-on-one meetings to evaluate these goals and adjust as necessary.

7. Communicate

Communication with the development team should take the form of formal meetings as well as more informal check-ins.

Scheduled meetings provide a structured way to share information, especially from stakeholders. Meanwhile, informal conversations let a project manager ask questions, proactively listen to team members, and build rapport.

Communication is, unfortunately, a professional skill many are lacking in today’s ultra-competitive labor market. To manage a project without any hiccups, you need effective communication between all the parties involved.

8. Lead your Team

Good leadership is about the ability to motivate your subordinates. This can be difficult to achieve because not everyone is motivated by the same words, physical expressions, or even ideas. It is your role to tailor your management style to each person on board.

While the development team works through the sprint, the project manager remains in constant contact with key internal stakeholders, in addition, if a software product is being developed for use by a specific customer or set of customers, the project manager talks to those organizations frequently.

These meetings help the project manager ensure that the developers’ work continues to meet the needs of the project and the customer. When stakeholders want a new feature or a different deadline, for example, the project manager has to relay this feedback to the development team and reset their priorities accordingly.

9. Manage risk and resolve issues quickly.

Risk is inherent in any project. The key to successful software project management is identifying potential risks in advance, as this saves both time and money when mitigating them.

If you don't identify and control project risks, they will control you. A risk is a potential problem that could affect the success of your project, a problem that hasn't happened yet, and you'd like to keep it that way

Every time you outline a requirement, set a milestone, or define a task, think about the risk that could be involved—insufficient data, bugs in the software, incomplete designs, potential lack of buy-in, and so on.

Despite pressure to promise the impossible, never make a commitment you know you can't keep. Engage in good-faith negotiations with customers, managers, and team members about goals that are realistically achievable.

Risk exposure is a combination of the probability that a specific risk could materialize into a problem and the negative consequences for the project if it does.

To manage each risk, select mitigation actions to reduce either the probability or the impact. You might also identify contingency plans that will kick in if your risk control activities are not effective.

10. Evaluate the project regularly.

Since the software development lifecycle takes place in a series of sprints, the completion of each sprint offers an opportunity to evaluate project progress.

If you want the group to rise to a higher plane of software engineering capability, you'll have to invest some time in process improvement. Set aside some time from your project schedule, because software project activities should include making process changes that will help your next project be even more successful.

Look at both the individual sprint as well as the project as a whole, and focus on success, failure, and areas of improvement.

The painful problems arise when you don't know just how far behind (or, occasionally, ahead) of plan the project really is. Strive to run the project from a foundation of accurate, data-based facts, and use project status information and metrics data to take corrective actions when necessary and to celebrate when you can.

"10 Tips for Software Project Management Success" by Gimena Aguerreberry is licensed under CC BY SA. Source code examples are licensed under MIT.

Photo by Annie Spratt.

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