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What is software project management? 4 things to know

Erika Carter

Project management for software teams: it’s one of our favorite topics. By the end of this post, project management for software teams could be one of your favorite topics, too.

Much more likely, you’ve arrived here because you’d like to explore how project management tools can make your software teams work smarter, work happier, and be more productive. This sounds very reasonable of you.

But before we address the titular question - what IS software project management? - let’s address its parent question: what is plain old project management?

Project management is the process of leading and structuring work so that teams can achieve their goals and objectives. This involves everything from motivation to tracking progress to resolving potential issues and bottlenecks.

Software project management, specifically, is dedicated to planning, task management, tracking, and resource allocation for software projects. It differs from traditional project management in the sense that software development projects have a unique lifecycle.

This unique lifecycle requires rounds of testing, as well as constant updating based on stakeholder and or customer feedback.

If you’re in software development, you know that it’s essential to ship quality software fast, keep costs within budget, and deliver everything as scheduled. The only way to do this is to have the proper project management tools with the right person in charge of project management.

Without a proper project management process, teams may end up falling behind timelines and failing to meet deliverables. This is because software development projects are complex, with many moving parts and processes to track and report.

Good project management essentially helps every aspect of your business function better because team members can focus on what they do best.

As a result, they are more productive, on time, and within budget. With efficient project management, teams can also help the organization achieve their strategic goals. Then everyone is happy. Who doesn’t like it when EVERYONE is happy?

Benefits of project management for software teams:

  • Proper allocation of resources such as time and money
  • Time and money saving through efficient planning
  • Improved communication and collaboration among team members and across different teams as well
  • Access to data that will help improve internal processes
  • New and better ways to collaborate on projects

Below are 4 things to think about when it comes to getting the most benefits out of software project management.

1. What are the 5 different project management methodologies?

Agile, Scrum, DevOps, Waterfall, and Rapid Application Development

A project management methodology is a set of practices and principles that helps teams plan, organize, execute, track, and successfully deliver projects.

Each methodology has its strengths, but the common denominator among all of them is that their goal is to help you manage your project as efficiently as possible.

Let’s take a deeper look at some of the 5 most popular and widely-used methodologies in project management.


Agile

Most software teams use agile project management. Agile is an iterative approach that aims for teams to deliver value to their customers faster and with fewer bumps in the road.

Instead of delivering everything at once, an agile team delivers work in smaller sets, typically called ‘sprints.’

The agile project management methodology was born out of frustrations surrounding traditional project management’s linear approach.

Due to the limitations of traditional methodologies, projects that changed or moved rapidly suffered from a linear approach that couldn’t keep up with changes.

Iterative models like the agile one were found to be more suitable for projects that had to be revised as needed.

As opposed to having to wait until the end of the project for reviews and amendments (the linear approach), agile software project management allowed team members to respond quickly and effectively to changes and updates.

Agile has given way to the birth of other sub-frameworks as well, such as kanban, scrum, and lean.

However, they all operate under the same key principles of agile project management, which are:

  • Collaboration
  • Speed
  • Openness to data-driven change

Agile project management methodologies usually consist of short phases. All of these phases involve frequent testing, reviews, and adaptation. Tasks are added to a backlog, which project managers allocate through each phase according to priority.

This type of project management methodology is great for projects that tend to change often and must be completed quickly.

Scrum

While scrum can be viewed as one framework within the agile methodology, it really deserves it’s own section.

Scrum is an agile process that is very common in software development and product development. It’s also a framework that can easily be applied to multiple types of projects.

With scrum, iterations consist of short sprints lasting anywhere between 2 to 4 weeks.

During these sprints, the goal is to prioritize building the most important features first and then moving on from there.

Teams that use this type of project management methodology are led by a Scrum Master during each sprint. The scrum master is kind of the leader of the pack.

The team’s performance is reviewed at the end of each sprint during a ‘sprint retrospective,’ allowing teams to implement any needed changes before the next sprint.

This type of methodology is great for teams that value constant improvement, as it offers a great feedback and review structure at the end of each sprint.

DevOps

DevOps is an approach that combines software development and information technology operations. DevOps aims for shorter development lifecycles and high software quality. It also uses many agile principles.

DevOps prioritizes fast development and deployment coupled with quality assurance. Strong collaboration and constant communication between stakeholders is highly encouraged.

Teams that prefer DevOps do so because of benefits like a shorter development cycle, reduced defects, and environment stabilization, among others.

Waterfall

The waterfall methodology can also be considered as the ‘old way’ of doing things, less iteratively.

The idea is to break down all tasks within the project into linear sequences. Each phase depends on the deliverables produced in the previous phase. It’s kind of like math in the way that it just builds on top of whatever was done previously.

It then progresses through all project phases into one direction from the starting point, hence the name.

In this traditional approach, each stage of the project must be completed before the next one is started. The typical stages of waterfall project management are:

  • Requirements specification
  • Analysis
  • Design phase
  • Implementation
  • Testing
  • Deployment/installment
  • Maintenance

As you can see, the project moves from one stage into the next as it progresses, much like a waterfall.

Given the linear nature of this approach, however, it gets tricky when errors occur or when there’s a need to revisit a previous stage.

For this reason, the Waterfall methodology is only recommended for projects that have clearly defined, unchanging end goals.

Stakeholders’ expectations must also be fixed, and the project must generally be predictable and consistent.

Rapid Application Development (RAD)

Rapid Application Development (RAD) is also a type of agile software project management methodology. This model is based on prototyping with less specific planning or goals.

It relies heavily on fast production, with less focus on planning and more emphasis on development and coming up with a prototype.

The main goal of this type of approach is faster software development.

RAD uses rapid prototype releases to gather user feedback within a short period. It then uses that feedback to work on the project and improve on it instead of focusing on coming up with a project plan.

This type of approach works well for software teams who need to provide clients with a working prototype of their product at the soonest possible time.

The idea is that despite the imperfections present in the current working model, the team can improve on it and create multiple prototypes that stakeholders can choose from.

RAD project management is best suited for experienced teams that can come up with a prototype quickly and make adjustments as the project progresses.

It’s also ideal for teams that have stakeholders who can collaborate and communicate regularly, as this is essential for the success of the project.

Read more: 

2. What should you always take into account when starting a new project? 

Set clear goals, get stakeholder alignment, anticipate risks, manage non-development work, and avoid unnecessary changes.

Set clear goals

When starting a new software development project, always set goals for the project from the get-go.

Make your goals easily measurable, so you can likewise measure progress easily as the project goes along.

Having concrete goals also makes it easier for the team to know what they’re supposed to work toward through each stage.

Get stakeholder alignment

Make sure everyone on the team is on the same page and that everyone knows what is expected of them at every stage in the project.

Having a great project management tool will help you plan effectively, as well as collaborate with every stakeholder at each turn.

Anticipate risks

One of the advantages of project management is the ability to identify potential risks and bottlenecks so that you can prepare for them before they even occur.

Effective project management involves making note of these risks in advance and keeping an eye out for them.

Manage non-development work

Project managers should keep non-development work out of developers’ tasks so that they can focus on the product.

This means relying on automation for tasks that can be automated and efficiently assigning tasks to other team members. This is helpful to ensure that developers focus on their timelines and tasks.

Avoid unnecessary changes

Most project managers know that when dealing with software development projects, changes in certain tasks can’t be avoided.

However, leaders must avoid altering tasks that have already been assigned unless it’s necessary.

Otherwise, changing things while in mid-development might cause significant delays, low team morale, and overall confusion regarding the project’s progress.

3. What makes a good project manager for a software team?

Expectations management, communication, time management, problem solving, workflow management, and creativity.

While software project managers don’t necessarily need to be developers or coders themselves, it helps to have a strong background and deep understanding of software development.

This will help them stay on top of things as well as understand the challenges that their team is facing.

Some of the skills of top project managers for software development teams are:

Expectations management

Managing software development projects requires leaders who know how to manage stakeholders’ expectations.

Staying diplomatic but firm is essential, as saying yes to virtually every request may spell disaster for the project and the team.

They must know how to say no to certain requests, while being able to offer alternative solutions and timelines to clients and other stakeholders.

Good project managers must be knowledgeable of the team’s tasks at all times. This way, a new project or task will only be accepted if and when the team can take it on.

Knowing the team’s capacity and threshold is a crucial project management skill. After all, teams will eventually suffer from burnout or poor performance if overloaded with tasks due to poor project management.

Communication

Project managers need to be as clear as possible to team members, stakeholders, and everyone involved. One of the most important aspects of project management is clear and effective communication, and project managers must be at the helm of this.

With the abundance of various communication and collaboration tools, good leaders must know which ones to use according to their team’s communication and working style.

Otherwise, teams run the risk of missing important deadlines or misunderstanding task details.

Good leaders know how to engage their team and organize information so efforts remain productive despite the high volume of input.

It’s also important to schedule regular project meetings on top of using project management tools so that everyone stays aligned regularly.

Time management

It goes without saying that time management is a crucial skill for project managers. Teams must stay on schedule despite any road bumps or changes along the way.

It’s challenging, especially in Agile management, because things tend to change as the project progresses.

Nevertheless, software project managers must know how to navigate tight deadlines and manage risks associated with delays and changes in plans.

Efficient tools for project management are a project manager’s friend. They help with planning and tracking, as well as identifying potential risks.

Good PM tools can also provide project managers with historical data to create a healthy forecast for project completion based on old workflows.


Problem-solving

They are also the ones who have to make crucial decisions during crunch time. It’s very important for project managers to have reliable data and to use this data to make informed decisions.

Good PM tools provide teams with reports and analytics that project managers can use when planning and making decisions.

The result is effective risk management, realistic timelines, and efficient workload distribution.

Workflow management

When tasked to manage a large project, some project managers fall into the trap of micromanaging their team instead of their workflows.

Needless to say, micromanaging is counterproductive and a waste of the project manager’s time.

Agile teams work under the assumption that each person is capable of managing their tasks and is an expert in his or her role.

So, the practice of managing the nitty-gritty of each team member’s tasks is futile and must be avoided.

What project managers need to focus on, rather, is workflow management. By ensuring that the team’s workflow is optimized, everyone can be more productive and effective in working towards their goals.

Creativity

Project managers should also encourage creativity among their team members, as blind adherence to structure may stifle good ideas and productivity in the long run.

Creativity and innovation are keys to longevity and survival in the tech industry. As such, software teams must embody these through the way they think, work, and respond to problems.

Project managers must therefore always pursue and encourage learning. After all, it’s crucial to stay up to date on the latest news and trends in the field.

Another thing that’s helpful for teams is conducting retrospectives after each project is completed. During these sessions, leaders ask questions like:

  • What went well during the project?
  • What obstacles did you encounter?
  • What are your learnings from this project?
  • What can you suggest to make the process better?

Then, based on feedback from the team, leaders can create new solutions and workflows to carry over to the next project.

4. What to look for in a software development PM tool

Look for something that is built to support the software development lifecycle: Planning  → Defining Requirements → Designing → Development → Testing

Ideally, the tool should also be capable of supporting agile development and must at least have the following features:

  • Workflow management
  • Automated workflows
  • Sprint planning
  • Issue tracking

Good project management tools must also be easy to use and master for all team members, including those who aren’t software developers.

Ensuring you have a tool that everyone can use and be at ease with will do wonders for your productivity and cross-team collaboration.

Otherwise, the tool itself can become a bottleneck. We’ve seen this happen with a lot of teams that use highly technical tools, only to lose precious time because of the steep learning curve associated with such a tool.

When choosing a project management tool, it’s also important to choose one that integrates seamlessly with all the other tools that your team uses in their day-to-day functions.

This way, team members can operate comfortably and efficiently without having to deal with data silos and multiple windows each time.

A good tool also provides great reporting and analytics for the team to review and access at any time. Such data can be incredibly helpful for workflow improvement and risk assessment later on.

Software project management is a complex undertaking. But when teams have access to the right tools, software teams can achieve their goals and deliver products within budget and on time.

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