Developing a new software product is a complex, resource-intensive process. No matter how innovative the idea is, great solutions don’t just emerge overnight by chance. Success hinges on getting things right from the start and that means significant and meticulous planning is required before the first line of code is written.
Developing a complete software product is invariably a project requiring collaborative efforts and multiple skill sets combined and orchestrated through a series of phases to achieve a particular objective or business goal.
In this blog, we’ll explore in more detail the concept of software project management, why it’s such an important part of the software development process, how you can start planning your approach and how to spot risks from the outset.
What is a software project?
A software project breaks the process of product development into stages. This ensures all necessary components are given thorough consideration – from validating a need to delivering the end product. It also ensures individuals and teams are organised, progress is measurable, and development remains on track. This all means there’s much less chance of needing a software project rescue down the road.
The exact structure of a software project plan will differ from project to project, but the stages below are broadly universal to every software development project.
Analysis – Having identified a need for your software, research is carried out to validate it, determine the best way to build a solution, what users will want from it and how they will interact with it. Gathering this information requires market research, data analysis, brainstorming between all stakeholders, and interviews with target users.
Design – Once an optimal solution has been determined in the analysis stage, the software’s necessary components will be broken down using pseudocode and diagrams to provide design specifications. These will include the solution’s visual appearance, backend programming and system, hosting and hardware requirements.
Implementation – This is the most intensive stage of a software development project. Having broken the design requirements into various modules and units, the code is written by developers.
Testing – No software project is ever complete without rigorous testing, which includes functional testing (integration testing, unit testing and acceptance testing) and non-functional testing. If errors are uncovered the coding process may be repeated again.
Evolution – Once the software is deemed finalised and free of errors, it is deployed or delivered to the customer. Updates are continually made to optimise and adapt the solution as it scales or demands change.
Why is software project management important?
We’ve discussed (in brief form!) the various broad stages of the software project development process. Each of these stages will be broken down into specific tasks, milestones and deliverables which will require input from a variety of specialists (business analysts, solutions architects, UX designers, technical writers, testers, programmers) and contributors (clients, target users).
Comprising teams of individuals working on hundreds of granular, time-sensitive, and interdependent tasks, software projects are complex beasts to keep on top of. If keeping all these parts moving in concert weren’t enough, timescales and budgets can be set back or derailed by last-minute changes to budgets, sudden changes to requirements, technological advances, market changes, among other factors.
That’s why software projects require designated project managers, who ensure that each stage of the project cycle, from planning to delivery, is communicated and carried out effectively to produce a successful end product with the resources available.
How to plan for a software project
While it can be tempting to dive right into building prototypes or MVPs, allotting ample time to software project planning is absolutely crucial. It will enable you to plot a realistic (albeit rough) route from idea to end-product, and assess whether the resources are available to make it happen.
It’s likely that this route will have to be adapted at some point along the way, nonetheless, without a solid plan to begin with, the software project will inevitably cost more, take longer to complete, and be a lot more complicated and frustrating for everybody involved than it needs to be.
With that in mind, here are some core essential considerations for planning a software development project.
Define the purpose
Before anything else, you must be able to define the purpose and scope of the software development project, the business objectives and intentions for the development project and expectations of the end product.
Once objectives have been defined, the next step is working out what you need to reach them, including the teams, time, skills, responsibilities, tools, and budget. An experienced project manager will have the ability to make these assessments.
As we said at the beginning, software development is resource intensive. Having determined requirements, you will be able to assign costs to project stages to provide estimates or make adjustments to resources to fit with budgets where necessary.
With an understanding of the project’s requirements, objectives, resources and costs, you can plan a timeline breaking down the project into individual tasks and time expected to complete them. This is a rough estimate, but it’s worth adding buffers to enable flexibility if required.
Gather the team
You may have produced a list of specialist roles, but you then need to find the right individuals to fill them. It can take a long time to find the right developers for your project. Outsourcing your project to or partnering with a software development company can provide access to specialists with extensive experience across a range of various projects.
At this point, your software project development plan should be beginning to shape up. However, you should ensure that regular quality and progress checks are added into the plan in order to ensure the project remains on track with estimated time scales, technology remains compliant, risks are being managed, code quality is high, and budgets are in line with expectations.
Projects are rarely over when the software is launched, so a development plan must also take into account ongoing support and maintenance, detailing components of the software which may or will need updating and the support capabilities which can be implemented when required.
How to identify risks in a software project
So far, we’ve emphasised the importance of thorough planning of each stage of the software development life cycle in order to keep projects on track. However, we’ve also made clear that no matter how much planning is done, straightforward execution can be at the mercy of unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances.
Therefore, effective software project management requires consideration of the ability or means to manage or react to risks. In this regard, project managers can benefit by familiarising themselves with some of those most common to software development project. These include:
- Missing requirements that enable the software to meet its objectives.
- Misstated requirements where the original intent has been lost or misinterpreted in the process.
- Loss of critical resources, such as individuals with intimate knowledge of the project or scarce skill sets.
- Poor estimates, with underestimations especially leading to prolonged timescales and higher costs than expected.
- Missing or incomplete skill sets, resulting in lower quality work, prolonged timescales or inability to produce the software entirely.
By identifying common risks from the outset, project managers can communicate them to the wider team and apply them hypothetically to the project ahead in order to create potential protocols in the case of them occurring.
The same approach can be taken and broken down to individual components of the project, such as risks specific to a specific methodology of software development for example, or those relating to a particular organisation or industry.
Gathering subject matter experts and stakeholders together in risk workshops can be an effective way of identifying risks from the outset and planning for their eventuality. Risks can then be reviewed regularly once the software development project is underway.
Successfully developing and delivering unbeatable software products requires diligent preparation and planning from the outset, but this is time well spent and it will greatly contribute to the efficiency of the development process and quality of the end product. With skilled teams and correct resources, experienced project managers will negotiate challenges to ensure the complexity of moving parts runs smoothly to deliver high-quality software products to deadlines that surpass expectations.
illumo digital can serve as an extension of your team, providing the experience, tools and expertise to deliver on your software objectives. Talk to us today about your project.