The PM’s Guide to Software Development Project Management

Project management is an essential practice for any niche. However, it’s even more crucial when software development is involved. To launch your products fast, you must ensure that your project manager’s (PM) workflows are streamlined and their processes are up to industry standards.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through all important aspects of software development project management. From how it all works and comes together, to what it’s best used for; and how it’s uniquely different for software, compared to other industries.

For top-of-the-line project management templates, prebuilt processes and completely simplified workflows, start using Alvanda today.

Defining Project Management for Software

Software project management is the practice of using a multitude of tools, skills and assets to efficiently and effectively bring a software product to market. 

It is the cumulation of all separate elements that come together to achieve clearly defined objectives, while respecting a given budget. Software development teams make use of project management for many parts of their work, including:

  • Creating new products.
  • Maintaining and updating existing software.
  • Developing and optimizing an information system.
  • Breaking development into stages.
  • Formalizing QA for products.

Since software development is a complicated practice, project management is a must. It looks at the bigger picture from a bird’s eye view, and then focuses on each detail to make it run smoothly.

Of course, one of the most essential parts of successful project management for software is using a project management platform (such as Alvanda). This is a cloud-based solution where you put all information into one place, and where all relevant in-house parties can access it easily.

The Software/System Development Life Cycle

The system development life cycle expedites speed-to-market, while also addressing organizational constraints and arranging everything into phases. Of course, as experienced PMs know, project management for software works best when paired with the Agile methodology.

Expect some timeline interference to come along. Think of change requests or better ideas for some implementations during development. 

However, also be mindful that you don’t go out of scope! Scope creep can easily take down your project. You should also try to stick to the phases and order defined in your software development life cycle.

The benefits of a well-defined SDLC include:

  • Clearer view of resource allocation, timeline and objectives.
  • Improved staff and cost decisions based on concrete data.
  • Better deliverables that stick very closely to design and development standards.
  • An iterative process that’s easier to approach for developers.
  • Easy milestones tracking.

Software Development Project Management Process

Professionally handled software projects go through 4 important stages:

  • Requirements
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Completion

Stage 1: Requirements

This is when the project is initiated, and the basic requirements are defined. Depending on the project’s nature, a PM will outline important notes such as the core features of a new software. Or, what additions must be added to existing software.

An important meeting is also held, called the “kickoff call”. This is characteristic to any project, and it’s where all stakeholders meet and establish the project charter; the most important objectives and goals. The charter then plays a major part in getting funding, if required.

Stage 1 is concluded when all important stakeholders (such as the client(s), team leaders, project manager) sign-off on the understanding.

Stage 2: Planning

After you know what must be done, the team must put together an action plan. One of the fundamental parts is agreeing what the deliverables are, and by when they must be presented. “Deliverables” means any significant output, like the final product itself or a build version.

The project plan also establishes how success is going to be measured. Quality criteria are tackled and discussed, until a few common points are reached. For example: the software’s performance, UX, speed-to-market, future updates, etc.

Planning is also where you’ll do a SWOT like analysis of your project, focusing especially on threats. Make sure to have contingencies planned.

Then comes the last part of this stage, where the plan is structured into actionable steps for the execution phase. For example:

  • Creating a list of all tasks and assigning them to appropriate team members.
  • Setting project milestones/key landmarks towards completion.
  • Identifying crucial dependencies between tasks.

Stage 3: Execution

This is the bulk of the work for the entire team. The plan is set in motion, and active design, development and QA is taking place. Before getting into this stage, make sure you’ve read and applied our checklist on the 9 project management musts. 

It’s imperative you do your best to stay on track. Scope creep can be a serious threat for execution, and it’s just as important to have a risk management team ready to go for your previously identified threats.

A project manager’s role in this stage is mostly monitoring and reporting on the project’s actual progress versus the planned one.

Stage 4: Completion

A final software development project management meeting is held between the PM and team leads. The work is evaluated, and the used processes are documented carefully. Identified blockers are reported, so that they can be avoided in the future.

If the team considers anything in particular had held them back, it’s noted down to be addressed in the future. All of the aspects play a part in making the next project plan better.

Agile Software Project Management

“Agile” is a set of principles that was created by software developers. It focuses on meeting client demands through an iterative approach for design and development. Constant change is embraced, allowing teams to go outside the planned structure without complete chaos. 

By breaking down the overall image into smaller pieces, work is divided into manageable portions. So, fewer chances of software not living up to specifications. These are called sprints

During sprints, the development team decides what’s achievable in the given timeframe. Work is then focused on delivering working software in that sprint’s objective scope.

Here are 7 benefits:

  1. Continuous progress and deliverables (important for clients).
  2. Ability to handle change better.
  3. Values team member independence and self-oversight.
  4. Issues can be resolved one-on-one or with small calls (2-4 members).
  5. Sustainable rate of work.
  6. Emphasis on simplicity.
  7. Attention to excellence (both technical and design).

The Role of a Software Project Manager

Software Development Project Management

Not all project managers are made equal. Specializations are very important because the exact best practices depend on the industry. For software products (and any other niche too), we recommend any team to use Alvanda, an intuitive project management tool with many useful features.

Since the PM is responsible for leading the team, they must have certified software products expertise. They don’t need to know how the coding is done, but they must be knowledgeable about the field’s particularities. They must understand what’s being done and why.

Of course, niche-specific information must always be tied in with overall project management expertise.

Usual responsibilities are going to include:

  • Coordinating and assisting team leads of software projects.
  • Creating detailed reports for stakeholders.
  • Ensuring communication in-house and with stakeholders.
  • Managing change requests and the team’s development scope.
  • Properly documenting all parts of the project.
  • Keeping track of project performance and deliverables.

To achieve these goals, PMs use a variety of tools and metrics. However, they’re all centralized in Alvanda already, which is a much better alternative to monitoring everything separately.

Aside from this, it is essential that the communication skills of a project manager are of the highest levels. They must be both an intermediary between clients and developers, and act as leaders in-house. This helps keep the team’s developers focused on what they do best: delivering great products. 

Similarly, by establishing themselves as the person with all the relevant answers, the project manager creates the idea of a point-of-contact for all stakeholders.

Lastly, the PM must ensure at all times that development is moving forward. Adherence to the chosen project management methodology must be supervised, and process optimization implemented whenever it’s deemed appropriate.

Developing Software Without a PM

Can you manage a software project without a project manager? Well, yes, but it isn’t ideal. In situations with budgetary constraints (or otherwise), team leads and team members can take up the duties of a project manager too. 

This route is not advisable at all, but here’s how you can make it work:

  • Train specific members of your team that show leadership skills. Prepare them for scenarios where they must take at least part of the reins. 
  • Allocate project management duties transparently for all team members. It’s important they know who’s doing what.
  • Use a project management software that keeps all information centralized.

Software Project Management Tactics

How to Estimate Cost

It can be hard to define a software project’s scope even for experienced PMs and developers. This is even tricker to understand for stakeholders without the technical know-how. Here’s how to overcome the challenge:

  • Analog estimation: a comparison with previous projects of similar scope and requirements.
  • Parametric estimation: cost estimation is done based on the amount of hours it should take to complete the project.

How to Manage Project Scope

With the Agile methodology, it is common for there to be a bit of scope creep, but it must be kept under control. Greatly increasing requirements will prevent delivery on time and guarantee going over budget.

Everything must start from the planning stage, where the overall direction and potential issues of the project are mapped. If you’re only considering the possibility of scope creep when in the execution phase, workarounds will be hard to come by. 

A PM should speak with team leads and decide what’s an acceptable amount of extra features from the get-go (if requested).

How to Handle Project Risks

Risks are events outside of your control which affect your project. Maybe someone’s doing the same thing as you are but haven’t announced it yet. Maybe your senior developers are going to quit their jobs when you’re in the middle of the project.

Depending on your specific case, you must make a shortlist of immediate threats that would seriously endanger the project. Then, go broader. Keep all details in mind, and create contingencies. In some cases, it’s worthwhile to have a project risk management team that does nothing else.

Simplify Project Management with Alvanda

Business process optimization can be easier than you think. With our cloud-based software, all of your divisions are brought into a singular platform. The platform has all information centralized, for all parts of your system. 

Alvanda brings a truly complete overview to the table, of all aspects of your project. There’s guidance for all team members, interlinked processes, and even ways to apply employee feedback.

Additionally, you’ll also have access to these benefits (and more):

  • Tools for business scalability.
  • Real time analytics.
  • Faster creation and implementation of company procedures.
  • Inline support features.
  • Automated reports.
  • Automated escalation of delays and issues to managers.
  • Identifiable process gaps and productivity problems.
  • Process updates in real time for consistency.
  • Increased productivity and morale.
  • Better onboarding process.
  • Available on any device with internet connection.