Software Development Projects Come With High Visibility
The decision to make an investment in any software development project within an organization does not come easily. As capital funds are at a premium, and a significant amount of time, energy & intellectual resources is necessary to deliver the solution, a well thought out decision is critical.
Software development projects haven’t always produced such great results in terms of meeting a variety of metrics or KPIs. Statistics reveal that IT projects don’t often go as planned as they end up delivering less value than anticipated and frequently go over the allocated budget. Additionally, software projects often take more time than expected, have indistinct objectives, and are not in-line with stakeholder ideals .
To be specific, a study in 2012 revealed that IT projects often go 45 percent over budget and seven percent over time (McKinsey & Company/University of Oxford, 2012) . These statistics reveal a disconnect between objectives, plans and goals - the ideal project parameters - with the actuality. This can result from a lack of communication or a lack of mutual understanding on the current project status among all team members. It is critical that software development projects are planned efficiently, that they proceed as planned, and that they deliver the value that was initially predicted.
Whether because of the large investments being made in custom software development projects or a poor past track record, these projects come with high visibility and project owners usually feel some amount of scrutiny to produce the expected results. All stakeholders including executives, business owners, subject matter experts and the development team must be on the same page – regularly - and should be able to produce answers about the project timeline, budget and risks when needed. One way to do this is via a weekly status report that can be produced and distributed in as little as 15 minutes.
Readily Available Information is Critical to Understanding the Real-Time Project Status
There are several questions that project managers should ask in order to ensure that executives, senior level officers, appropriate team members and stakeholders are kept on the same page. These questions can encompass a weekly status report:
- Are we on time, behind or ahead of schedule?
Typically, IT projects do not perfectly align with the projected schedule. Despite being ahead of schedule at times, software projects are more oftentimes behind schedule. In fact, according to a study by IBM, only 40 percent of projects met the projected schedule, budget and quality objectives .
- Are we on budget, behind or ahead of budget?
Financial reports are important to executives, managers, the CFO, and stakeholders. While it is important for projects to stay on budget, it is perhaps more important to have an accurate understanding of where the project budget actually is and to have answers for why a project is ahead, behind or on budget. According to reports, less than 33 percent of software projects are completed on time and on budget .
- What tasks have been accomplished?
Since a team of several members today carries out most development projects, communicating completed tasks is key so that everyone knows what needs to be done, and what has already been done. Keeping this in-line with what stakeholders desire is equally important.
- What tasks are yet to be accomplished?
As noted above, software development projects need to continually move forward to meet appropriate deadlines. This can only be done when it is clear to the entire team what tasks have been accomplished, and what tasks need to be accomplished.
- What roadblocks or risks are there?
Developmental setbacks and issues are often the norm with software development projects. Clearly identifying probable roadblocks, and taking them into account when setting project deadlines, is critical to staying on track. For instance, according to a Geneca study, several software development personnel admitted that unclear objectives, stakeholders that were not in-line with the project, and excessive remediation caused 75 percent of project participants to doubt that the project would succeed . Focusing on the latter, there is always a risk of software development issues coming up that require remediation, so this should be taken into consideration.
In Agile Development the Team Generally Has a Daily Standup
The Dev Team Should Know Where Things Are
Agile development is a SDLC model associated with iterative, flexible development structures, modular development, and the utilization of a general initial plan. Unlike the Waterfall model, Agile development focuses on establishing a basic initial design, followed by additional planning once each step (module) is developed. This means that it is critical for teams to communicate and to be on the same page, such as with daily meetings and weekly status reports.
One of the best ways to keep everyone informed (with all information – both good and bad news) is for the project manager or lead to create and submit a 1-page weekly status report at the end of each work week to disseminate critical project information to stakeholders, sponsors, executives and all appropriate team members. Information should flow up-hill to more senior-level management; from the project manager to the project sponsors, VP development, CTO, CIO, CFO, and then the CEO. If the above system is used correctly, a critical project overview can be quickly dispersed to all executives and team members on a weekly basis. This weekly overview can help to illustrate the current status, along with revealing warning-signs of potential challenges, risks or roadblocks that could alter the budget or time-constraints of the project. Such a system would thus keep all organization members informed on all aspects of the project; with this, the PM can better manage all member activities, plan future tasks, log successes and keep the project moving forward.
The status report system can be created in 15 minutes each week, and easily shares critical information to all concerned parties. In addition to the points above, the report can include points specifically geared towards the executives of the company:
- Where we are on planned timeline vs. actual timeline?
- Where we are on planned budget vs. actual budget?
- Decisions that need to be made.
- Extra staff, additional skills needed, requirements that are ambiguous, personnel that are unaccountable or causing roadblocks, etc.
It is critical for an efficient software development firm to keep the CIO and CTO completely informed on the status of all software projects. Keeping the development process transparent builds trust and strengthens communication and efficiency. When asked critical questions, senior level officers, such as the CIO, should be informed enough to give sufficient answers. Thus the PMs can utilize the efficient system of making weekly status reports to keep all projects moving forward and ensuring that everyone is kept in the loop.
In an age where technology projects often fail to live up to expectations, it is critical for executives, shareholders and team members to be on the same page. Project teams have a tendency to hold back bad news in order to fix issues before they become known. Utilizing a weekly status report with complete transparency will alert everyone to potential risks early on so adjustments can be made appropriately. Planning ahead, keeping the project moving forward and on time, and keeping everyone informed on the status of the project, can greatly increase the productivity and efficiency of an application’s software development lifecycle. One of the best ways to ensure that these goals are met is by creating a status report at the end of each week. This crucial step only takes 15 minutes, but can help to produce better software products after it is implemented.
- “Facts and Figures” (International Project Leadership Academy).
Retrieved from: http://calleam.com/WTPF/?page_id=1445
- “Delivering large-scale IT projects on time, on budget, and on value” (McKinsey & Company).Retrieved from: www.mckinsey.com/insights/business_technology/delivering_large-scale_it_projects_on_time_on_budget_and_on_value
- “Making Change Work” (IBM).
Retrived from: https://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/gbs/bus/pdf/gbe03100-usen-03-making-change-work.pdf
- “Chaos Manifesto 2013” (The Standish Group).
- “Why up to 75% of Software Projects Will Fail” (Geneca).