Why Is Software Project Management Important?
Project managers have a big responsibility — one that involves much more than avoiding overdue, over-budget software projects. Software project management ensures that the project in question aligns with business goals, achieves high-quality results, and delivers real value to all stakeholders.
Software development comes with multiple risks and challenges — frequent technology changes, immature technology, sloppy development practices, and staff and management turnover, to name a few. Creating software brings other potential challenges as well, such as navigating through stakeholder politics and communicating clearly with end-users, developers, and others. Failure to address such issues can lead to poorly defined system requirements and other problems.
Software project management helps project managers overcome these complexities by inspiring end-user and stakeholder involvement, managing risks, and creating an environment for transparent communication. All of these capabilities help you set realistic project goals, estimate resource requirements more accurately, report on project status, and handle commercial pressures. Software project management offers strategic alignment, leadership, planning, practicality, quality assurance, and proven processes to combat chaos and complexity.
What Are the Types of Software Projects?
Software projects can fall into several categories depending on numerous factors, including the intended use of the software, the type of company developing the software, and the type of end-users. Here are a few of the most common types of software projects:
- New software tools developed by existing software vendors or startups
- Updates, patch fixes, and version releases of an existing software solution
- Mobile applications
- Homegrown, internal support software solutions
The 5 Phases of Project Management
The five phases of project management, developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI), work to standardize project management practices. Each step of the project lifecycle represents the activities necessary to complete the project.
The 6 Phases of the Software Development Project Lifecycle
The software development lifecycle (SDLC), a unique software project management lifecycle process, aims to design, develop, and test the quality of software tools. (Note that there are several SDLC models — Agile currently dominates the industry due to its flexibility and fast pace.)
Depending on the methodology you use (e.g., Agile, traditional Waterfall, iterative, v-shaped, spiral, big bang, or a hybrid approach), the phases of software development — also known as software project management stages or steps — you follow may be linear, overlap, repeat, or have varying amounts of focus placed on them. You may find different naming conventions across phases, but the following six steps are the most common designations for the major software development phases:
Who Is Involved in Software Project Management?
The responsibilities of software project management — as well as the project results — touch many people and teams across an organization. A software project manager is typically responsible for the management of a project, and developers, engineers, IT, quality assurance (QA), employees from various business departments, contractors, and leadership are also involved at varying stages of the process.
Additionally, clients and customers are involved in the SDLC during user acceptance testing (UAT), which is the final phase of the testing process. During this stage, users (typically clients and customers) put software to the test with real-world test cases to make sure the development is complete.
Software Project Manager Job Duties
Like other types of project managers, a software project manager is the project leader with a diverse set of responsibilities, including project planning, leadership, activity monitoring, time management, budgeting, communication, risk analysis, resource management, and change management. The primary responsibility of the software project manager, though, is to ensure that the team adheres to the SDLC.
If we look at the phases of the SDLC, we can better visualize the many hats worn by the software project manager.
- Define the project scope.
- Gather feedback and buy-in from all stakeholders.
- Create a master project plan with the estimates of the project timeline, the schedule, and the total project time. Below are the two major techniques that managers use to make the above estimates:
- Decomposition Techniques: These methods use a breakdown of significant project activities to estimate size, effort, and associated costs.
- Empirical Estimation Techniques: These methods use an educated guess from an expert or group of experts. The techniques base decisions on previous software development projects and apply lines of code (LOC) or function points (FP) in the formula. COCOMO and Putnam are two empirical techniques.
- Divide work into subtasks and relate similar tasks.
- Assign responsibilities based on availability by creating resource requests.
- Create a change control, quality control, communication, and risk management plan.
- Host a project kickoff meeting.
- Estimate project costs, including software, hardware, tools, licenses, human resources, travel expenses, communication needs, training tools, and additional project support.
- Create a business requirements document.
- Create an implementation plan.
- Take an active role in the software design document.
- Execute the active development portion of the project.
- Monitor activities and milestones.
- Share status reports with all stakeholders.
- Measure progress and performance along the way.
- Ensure that all tasks are complete.
- Evaluate project performance.
- Execute the next steps.
- Remain informed on user acceptance testing results.
- Ensure the team makes appropriate updates.
- Close project activity.
- Ensure that all procedures are in place to maintain the new product.
- Ensure maintenance items are assigned to relevant personnel.
- Create a checklist that customer can use to monitor maintenance activities.
Risk analysis and management will take place throughout the entire SDLC. The project manager must have the skills and insight to monitor for, identify, categorize, and manage risks that may occur. If problems arise, they must be able to manage changes (i.e., identify, validate, analyze, control, and execute changes) to reduce or remove risk.
Based on the aforementioned responsibilities of the software project manager, it comes as no surprise that a qualified candidate must possess outstanding multitasking skills. Strong communication and leadership skills, as well as technical acumen, are also vital, along with the ability to pay close attention to detail and remain organized amidst constant change.
Software Project Management Metrics
Each project is subject to unique metrics based on the goals of the business. In other words, all metrics should answer business-related questions. Below are four useful software project management metrics:
- Satisfaction: How satisfied are stakeholders with the project? Similar to a net promoter score, this post-project survey contains a question that calculates the overall satisfaction on a numerical scale.
- Delivery: This refers to the percentage of projects that the team completes on time.
- Cost: This refers to the percentage of projects on which the team stays within budget.
- Defects: This refers to the amount of defects that the team identifies and repairs during the project versus the amount of errors that users report post-implementation.
The Benefits of Software Project Management
Project management can be a significant expense for some organizations, but when software projects involve numerous stakeholders, tasks, and teams — and the results impact customers — the benefits easily outweigh the risks. A project manager can reduce overall expenses by streamlining operations. A project manager has the power to keep a project on time and within budget, but, more importantly, they can create a relationship between internal stakeholders and clients, improving communication and visibility into projects. Additionally, they can reduce risks that negatively impact an organization and minimize the number of issues that can burden software development teams.