Project management basics
In today’s incredibly competitive business world, efficiency and cohesion are key. So much so that a growing number of companies are utilizing project management software to facilitate strong and seamless deliverables. Whether it’s a multibillion-dollar project or coordinating an office move, effective project management is essential for yielding optimal results that are both on time and within budget.
Steve Jobs once said:
My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person, they are done by a team of people.
First off, great cultural reference by Apple’s former CEO and co-founder. Secondly, successful PM is all about determining:
- What you want to achieve (this should align with the client’s goals)
- A strategy for implementation
- A timeline with benchmarks and/or deliverables
A project manager is often the unseen hero who assures that every person on a team is involved and understands the core aims. Afterall, a successful project requires a lot of planning, management, organization and communication, and that definitely takes patience and skill!
According to Nancy Murray, the managing director of WorkBook from Deltek, nowadays:
Agency executives often resist when project management experts offer advice or tools to improve efficiency, as they want to focus on creativity.
Management style varies with the type of company and office culture. For example, possessing state-of-the-art management software may not be the most cost or time effective way of doing things, but it can have a significant impact on productivity. That said, there are plenty of jobs that can also be done better and faster using more simple, low maintenance tools. It all depends on the project or company. At times, having access to up-to-date software and practices will be the saving grace for completing a project on time whereas other instances may only require a text editor, a keyboard and a rough outline. It really depends on the task at hand.
The past is behind you—learn from it
First, I’d like to touch on some of the PM processes that set the groundwork for today’s agile software.
Coined the name ‘waterfall,’ each phase of this process is fed into by a completed step or product from the previous phase. This makes the process easy to understand, as it’s sequential, and also highlights the importance of analysis before design, and design before implementation.
However, the waterfall method is often criticized for being restrictive and inefficient. It focuses on knowing all of the requirements up front and is therefore not very flexible to change. In other words, it is not designed to face mid-stream changes easily or without high price, because it would require revisiting earlier stages. Plus, testing appears late in the process, and flaws found late can become quite problematic and pricey to fix.
With the waterfall model, clients don’t get to see the product itself until the very end of development, which may be conflicting with the client’s vision and needs.
Let’s take a closer look at a process called Spiral. When it was introduced in the early ‘80s, it established a basic process for designing and implementing a software system, by returning to phases of the process after they had been finished.
The spiral model has four phases, which have related targets: determine objectives, identify and resolve risks, develop and test, and plan the next iteration. The four phases represent one full iteration. Each iteration revisits the four phases, resulting in a product prototype after each completed iteration. This allows the team to audit the product, get some feedback from the client and then boost the product for the next stage.
While additional changes or functionalities can be added at later stages, it puts the project at risk of not meeting the budget or timeline. This is why the spiral method is only good for large projects and requires a lot of analytical expertise to assess risks (considerable risk-assessment tasks can eat up a great deal of resources to be done properly).
The ability to revisit previous steps of the process definitely gives the spiral method an advantage over the waterfall model, but in order for the spiral method to be successful, it requires years of experience, technical expertise and accessible data for risk assessment and estimation. Therefore, the spiral model’s success ultimately depends on the size of a company and its resources.
How can agile principles apply to software development? This method assigns early and continuous delivery to ensure close partnership and feedback when developing a product.
The Waterfall model delivers to the client only at the end of the development process. In addition, Waterfall relies strongly on documentation and approval when moving between phases. and the culture of sign-offs and contracts is not agile.
The spiral model works much better with agile practices because it allows continuous and frequent releases to gather feedback. These releases are then refined and improved in the next iteration. Small releases and short iterations are core aspects of the agile process and are intended for efficiency/catching errors.
Let’s take a closer look at Extreme Programming (XP). Although XP is suited for small development teams, no more than ten people, it has a bunch of awesome principles.
There are 12 practices to follow in XP. They work together, so following all of them will enable the greatest result. They include:
- The Planning Game, where the client and team work together in planning the product. This is a time-consuming process divided by the larger sessions (where features, priorities and timing are discussed) and smaller sessions (where features are completed).
- Small Releases, which must occur as often as possible to gain an abundance of feedback.
- System Metaphor, which makes it easier to explain the product’s purpose. For example, the shopping cart metaphor in online shopping builds upon a concept from real world shopping.
- Simple Design is needed to make required features work and satisfy the client’s needs.
- Continuous Testing – In XP, tests are made for a required functionality or feature before its code is written.
- Refactoring, which is aimed to restructure the internal design of the code without changing its behavior. It means that product requirements are added more easily, and are thus adapted to change.
- Pair Programming, which means having two pairs of programming eyes to consider each edit.
- Collective Code Ownership, which allows other team members can add to the code or any other part of the product.
- Continuous Integration should be at least once daily!
- 40-Hour Work Week (multiple weeks of overtime would be a sign of poor estimation or management).
- On-Site Customer is intended to be near the development team throughout the project to clarify and answer questions.
- Following coding Standards,which makes the code easier to read, and it encourages the practice of collective ownership.
World of project management tools
In essence, all of the practices listed above will not work without the right software.
We have prepared a list of inexpensive tools, which can facilitate collaboration across a small team and the basic business needs for managing tasks:
- Bitrix24 is suited for small and mid-sized companies that are aimed at service, consulting and sales. For an inexpensive cost of about $39 per month, utilize this tool for tasks and projects, time tracking, checklists, document management, chat and video conferencing.
- Clubhouse is free for up to three users then charges up to $8.50 per user, per month. It is designed for teams that use Scrum to manage software projects.
- Freedcamp is a free tool for file sharing, editing, discussion boards, project templates and invoices. Additionally, it has responsive customer service and an easy setup. For an upgrade, you pay $5.99 as the owner and $1.99 for each user
- KanbanFlow is suited for large teams and aficionados of Kanban boards. You do not have to pay for additional users, task and boards, they are unlimited. But if you need file attachments, search, and integrations, you will need to pay $5 per user, per month.
- Trello is also similar to a Kanban board. You set tasks for project members, and they can add comments, attach files, assign due dates, and a lot more. Pay $12.50 per user, per month, and you will be able to control who can access your projects, attach files larger than 10MB and gain access to other tools for integration.
- The last, but definitely not the least, our favorite – Slack. When your team needs to launch a project, hire a new employee, set up some code or finalize next year’s budget, Slack has you covered. Note that f you opt for the free version, you’ll find that your older conversations disappear. So if history and file space is important to you, Slack’s paid version may be your best bet.
Hope you enjoyed getting familiar with the project management practices and software systems shared above. That being said, a lot of great services were not included in our list. Will you help us broaden it? Leave your comments below.