Software Project Management: Going From Good to Great

Software project management refers to the active process of planning, organizing, and managing resources to successfully complete new product development. Skilled software project managers use all of the available resources to deliver the best end-product possible.

When it comes to software project management, there is a considerable amount of variation. Great project managers strategically apply their knowledge, skills, and experience to effectively plan, manage and complete a project. If you are interested in learning more about how to improve your project management process, here are some suggestions.

Managing a Project? 7 Ways to Go from Good to Great

Although there is no set standard operating procedure for successful software project management, there are ways to improve overall effectiveness. Follow along to learn seven ways how to take a project from good to great:

1. Planning – Most deficiencies in a project are the result of poor or improper planning process at the beginning. During the planning phase, it’s vital to determine the project definition, the work plan, and basic management procedures. Having a clear understanding of the project helps facilitate a more fluid project management experience from start to finish.

2. Identify risks in advance – During the planning process, it’s important to identify possible risks that could occur at some point in the project. Once the risks are identified, it helps to assess the level of immediacy. Risk may be defined as high, medium, or low. Being aware of potential problems that may arise throughout the project can ultimately save valuable time and money, especially when these are evaluated early in the planning process.

3. Scheduling – Throughout the project, monitoring the work plan to identify what tasks have been completed and what tasks need to be done will help keep team members up-to-date on the process. Monitoring the work plan schedule helps determine whether tasks are completed on time, allowing any changes to be made quickly if necessary.

4. Budget – Similar to the work plan schedule, it’s important to keep track of the project budget on an ongoing basis. Keeping a project operating within budget is an important skill for any project manager. Careful and frequent monitoring is a key part of maintaining the established budget for a project.

5. Scope Management – During a project, stakeholders may request minor or major changes that were not part of the original project definition. Knowing how to effectively navigate change requests is imperative to the overall success of any project. Even the smallest scope changes in a project can accumulate over time, leading to so-called “scope creep.” This may negatively impact the resources, budget and deadlines.

6. Urgent Resolutions – Even when risks and issues are identified early in the planning stages of the project, a team may face unforeseen problems. Issues may become a big problem to the project if they are not resolved in a timely manner. It will do the team and the overall project a great service if everyone is focused on fixing issues with a sense of urgency. This keeps the flow of the project moving forward as smoothly as possible.

7. Communication – Communication breakdowns can lead to a number of problems throughout a project. Sometimes team members may have different expectations, or they may not fully know the status of a project. Open and honest communication between managers, team members, and stakeholders needs to be encouraged on a frequent basis. The most successful project managers ensure that everyone on the project is on the same page in all steps along the way.

Producing a great end product for a software development project should be the main objective of any software firm. Implementing effective project management may be the difference between delivering a good or great final product. For a company to remain competitive in the market, hiring a software outsourcing firm that uses best practices in project management will ultimately yield the best results.

Five Tips For A Great Software Demo

Whether you need to close a sale, gather end-user feedback, show progress to your customer, or simply explain how your product works, sooner or later, you will need to demo your software product.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to perform hundreds of demos to audiences of various sizes. I’ve also had the chance to attend demos hosted by others. The following represent the top 5 tips I’ve learned over the last decade regarding demos.

Manage Your Audience’s Expectations

Have you ever gone to see a movie everyone raved about and walk out totally disappointed? More often than not, moviegoers feel let down not because the picture was bad, but rather because it was worse than they anticipated. It didn’t meet their expectations.

Similarly, if people show up to a demo thinking they’re about to see a finished product, they expect it to be virtually defect-free, aesthetically pleasing, and user-friendly. They wouldn’t be impressed for example with a Web-based application that contains typos or JavaScript errors if they’re under the impression it’s going live in a week. However, if they know beforehand that you’re presenting a throwaway prototype, this same audience will be much more lenient. And they will gladly provide much-needed feedback to help you with your work in progress.

Managing your audience’s expectation is critical to a successful demo. If you want them to walk away from your presentation pleased, make sure you set the right expectations beforehand. Be honest with them. Don’t try to oversell your demo. Just sell it, and try to over deliver.

One Bad Apple Spoils The Whole Bunch

All it takes to screw up a demo is one person. If someone starts negatively critiquing every single widget in your application or constantly interrupts you simply because he/she likes to hear the sound of his/her own voice, your demo will be a disaster. It is your job to ensure that these bad apples don’t show up to your presentation.

Unless you’re hosting a closed-door demo, it’s very hard to control who will attend it. Omitting someone from your invitation list doesn’t guarantee they won’t hear about your demo through word-of-mouth and simply show up.

Here are a couple of ways to trick bad apples into not attending your demo:

  • Create a scheduling conflict for those bad apples. Make sure they are busy, or better yet, out of the office when your demo takes place.
  • Book two separate demos. Invite the people whose feedback you truly value to the first demo and the bad apples to the second. More often than not, each group will show up to the demo they’re respectively invited to. When it’s time for the second demo, go ahead and give it your best shot, or if you don’t have time, simply cancel it.

I’m well aware that these two tips sound like an excerpt from Scott Adams’s Dilbert And The Way Of The Weasel, but unless you feel comfortable telling your peers, superiors or customers not to show up to your demo, these two options are pretty much all you’re left with.

Do A Practice Run

I attended a demo last week hosted by the CEO of a local start-up. After meeting with him at a trade show, he managed to convince me that his company had developed a technology that could solve one of my client’s needs. I therefore agreed to give him 30 minutes of my time so he could demonstrate his product’s capabilities.

I didn’t need 30 minutes to realize I didn’t want to do business with him. All I needed was 30 seconds.

This guy couldn’t even log in his own Web-based application! He spent the first 10 minutes of the demo looking for a password.

Always do a practice run on the system that you’re going to use during the actual demo. You might know the application like the palm of your hand, but if someone else has access to your demo system, who knows what shape it’s in. They might have removed services, upgraded components or, as was the case with this CEO, changed the user credentials without informing you.

Unless you don’t mind looking like a fool, always do a practice run on your demo system before presenting to your audience.

Pay Attention To Details

The hundreds of demos I’ve performed over the years have taught me that people pay more attention to how the application looks than what it does. You software might be the solution to world-hunger but if a member of your audience notices a typo in your GUI, he/she will point it out!

Readers are especially distracted by readable content – and that’s a fact. Deal with it by carefully reviewing the text on your interface and in your graphics. If you don’t have the time to review and finalize the text, use Lorem Ipsum.

Lorem Ipsum has a more-or-less normal distribution of letters, thereby making it look like readable English yet not distracting your readers. I now develop new prototypes strictly with Lorem Ipsum and add actual text when and only when I have time to write content that I know won’t become a subject of discussion at my next demo. I strongly advise you to do the same.

Point Out The (Obvious) Bugs

Software contains bugs. It’s that simple. Anyone who doesn’t agree with that statement clearly hasn’t worked in the software industry for long. Although we sometimes strive for defect-free products, reality is complex systems always contain defects – even when they’re generally available.

Doing a practice run before your demo will allow you to identify and resolve the showstoppers, and using Lorem Ipsum will deal with the nitty-gritty details that would otherwise distract your audience. But what about the other defects attributed to Murphy’s Law?

In the event that an obvious bug does display itself during your demo, point it out!

In all likelihood, your audience will have already noticed the bug. Any attempt to hide it will give them the impression that you’re not being honest. Consequently, they’ll start to wonder what else you’re trying to cover up.

Point out the bug, explain that you have a solution, confidently state that the fix will be implemented by a specific date, and move on. This sincere behavior will reassure your audience that (a) you’re not trying to sweep one under the rug and (b) the defect will be resolved by the time they deploy your system.

I’m not advocating that you go hunting for bugs during your demo. If you can circumvent them by any means, please do so. But if a defect does surface during your presentation, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. The only person you’ll be kidding is yourself.

Conclusion

There you have it. Five tips for a great software demo.

  1. Manage your audience’s expectations
  2. Ensure that bad apples don’t ruin the bunch
  3. Do a practice run
  4. Pay attention to details and use Lorem Ipsum
  5. Point out the obvious bugs

Do these 5 tips represent all I’ve learned over the hundreds of demos I’ve hosted? Absolutely not! The hardest part about writing this article was probably limiting it to 5 tips. I could have easily thrown in 5 more tips such as (a) control the situation, and (b) always have a plan B. But the goal wasn’t to point out all the tips that can help you out. Only the very top five!