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Cheat Sheet

Software Project Management For Dummies

From Software Project Management For Dummies by Teresa Luckey, Joseph Phillips

Effective software project management centers on the serious business of getting work done on time and within budget while meeting customer expectations. Software project managers focus on accomplishment, leadership, and owning the scope of the project. To help you get great results, do your homework before developing a project plan; recognize the signs of potential failure; and hold brief task meetings to stay on top of the project.

Pre-Development Checklist for Project Plans

Smart software project managers do considerable prep work before they create a project plan. Applying a pre-development checklist ensures that your project plan will have a strong foundation.

Okay, you're ready to start developing your project plan. Have you

  • Spoken with the appropriate stakeholders?

  • Met with experienced project managers who have already completed similar projects?

  • Collaborated with your project team to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and experiences?

  • Understood how each team member can contribute to project success?

  • Discussed clear expectations with your project sponsor so that you both can develop a clear understanding of what project success will look like?

  • Documented the assumptions and constraints of the software project so that you know how they affect your software project?

  • Developed a solid change-control system so that you can prevent scope creep? (Scope creep is when some stakeholders lose perspective and begin to make requests that were never part of the original plan.)

  • Documented and distributed a clear, concise communication plan?

  • Created the project charter (or ensured that someone else created it) and received sign-off by the project sponsor?

One of the purposes of the project plans is to document and communicate exactly what you hope to accomplish when you create the software. You must document the resources required to accomplish project tasks, the start and end dates of each task, and the predecessors and successors of each task (what has to happen first and what has to happen next).

Before you document all of this information, be sure to

  • Talk with the appropriate stakeholders.

  • Gather all of the requirements.

  • Meet with your project sponsor.

  • Talk to other project managers who have preceded you.

If you do all of these things carefully, you'll likely create a thorough and accurate project plan.

Project Managers: 7 Signs of Potential Project Failure

The ability to recognize the signs of potential failure gives project managers a big advantage in the software project management game. That awareness leads to pre-emptive action in dealing with issues before project failure rears its ugly head.

Here are seven signs of potential project failure:

  • Have you or anyone from your project team started to let a few deadlines slip? That's bad. What's worse is if no one's a bit surprised anymore when deadlines do slip.

  • Has the scope of your project changed so much that you don't recognize it anymore? If too much scope creep has, um, crept in, then your project is in danger.

  • Are you starting to have a high turnover from your team? If people are leaving (for whatever reason), they're taking knowledge with them. But even worse is if they're leaving because morale is low or because they don't respect the project manager.

  • Are signs of low morale evident? Team members might be bickering more than usual, losing interest in the project, or putting silly words in the middle of their software code just to see if anyone notices. Are people sleeping at their desks, coming in late, leaving early, or taking marathon lunches?

  • Has your project sponsor been missing meetings with you? Does he or she seem disconnected from the project?

  • Have your stakeholders started getting a vacant look in their eyes whenever you mention deliverables and risks?

  • Has the sponsor started to micromanage you? Do you lack the autonomy you need to bring the project to successful completion?

Learn these signs of potential project failure, and deal with them as soon as you spot them. Be proactive, and know that the key to turning around an imperiled project is communication. This means not just talking with your project sponsor and team members, but also listening. Then, you must act swiftly and decisively.

Manage Software Projects with 10-Minute Task Meetings

Successful software project managers encourage critical communication by regularly holding 10-minute task meetings. Software projects are labor-intensive and it's easy to have long, time-wasting conversations with team members about issues. A 10-minute task meeting will help you communicate regularly and concisely with your project team.

The agenda of this daily task meeting is simple and requires participants to answer just three questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?

  • What must get done today?

  • What issues or problems are preventing the project from moving forward?

Ideally, this meeting lasts only 10 to 15 minutes, happens every morning, and involves only one project team. There's no real need for other stakeholders to be in on this initial get-up-and-go meeting.

The point is to communicate with one another in small increments of time — sharing what's been done and what's remaining to do. It also gives you an opportunity to learn of any issues or red flags.

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