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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

What Would Be Your PM Approach: Elizabeth Harrin

In another post from What would be your PM approach series we have answers from Elizabeth Harrin – author of Project Management in the Real World book and A Girl’s Guide to Project Management blog.

There are three situations. For each the question is the same – what would be your project management approach?

You work in a big company and are put in charge of big complex project which is about to be started. People in the company are familiar with Prince-2 but time or budget overruns aren’t anything new, although they’re kept at industry average level. A project team is gathered from different teams – they haven’t worked with each other on any project yet.

If the company is already familiar with PRINCE2 I would use that – a complex project isn’t the right time to be introducing new methods. Get them all in a room together for a kick off meeting and set the scope and objectives. Then plan and execute the project using PRINCE2 but paying special attention to the soft skills (that methodologies pay scant attention to). Overruns on time and budget are normally down to poor communication and expectation settings i.e. people giving the estimates they think you want to hear, not what it will actually take. Establish trust in the team early on so that you get realistic estimates and progress updates from people. This is a good scenario: nothing scary here, any half decent PM should be able to get this team to deliver something successfully.

You’re hired to clean up the mess in projects in company of 70 people. So far the company struggles to do any project on time or without major problems. Project management is pretty non-existent and software development along with quality assurance is drowned in chaos.

The fact that this company has recognised it needs some kind of order is a good thing. They don’t need a whole team of project managers; in a company of 70 I expect they all do routine tasks and project tasks so a large portion of the workforce will have some element of PM in their jobs. As an organisation they need a structured approach to what is a project. I would suggest PRINCE2, only because that’s what I know well, but scaled down to meet their requirements and tailored for a software environment depending on their development approach (waterfall etc). Really, any structured approach will do. They also need to get their directors some project sponsorship training so there is some senior ownership of problems and the understanding that is required to sort them out. Why is the QA function chaos? The QA function should be an organised oasis, so this really needs to get sorted out. Establish the issue, retrain the QA staff, give them a strong manager and let QA do its job properly.

You organize a startup of four people, including yourself. The idea you work on however puts pretty strict requirements when it comes to software performance, high availability and quality. The team isn’t going to grow for some time but in a perspective of year you hope to see a dozen people on board.

For four people a project management methodology is overkill. Set yourself goals and key dates, nominate one person to be the one keeping track of progress and leave it at that. In a start-up, if you can’t get motivated to hit key dates without asking you for status reports then you’re in real trouble! Project management and software development are two different things. Whatever software development method you choose (and there are plenty) you lay project management over the top. In this example the scenario sounds more like you are asking for a software development methodology and I don’t do that, so I can’t offer any practical advice. Any project should have key success criteria and for this one it sounds as if up time and quality are it, plus “software performance” which isn’t specific enough to be a key success criteria. How you write a piece of software to hit those criteria is up to you…

That’s all from Elizabeth. Take a while to check the rest of the series.

in: project management

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