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How to Develop a Winning Software Development Project Plan

Starting a project? Plan thoroughly before you implement it! Many managers think they don’t require a plan because the project may be too small, low budget, or simply because they think it’s unnecessary as all team members have a good...

How to Develop a Winning Software Development Project Plan

Starting a project? Plan thoroughly before you implement it! Many managers think they don’t require a plan because the project may be too small, low budget, or simply because they think it’s unnecessary as all team members have a good understanding of the project. However, the fact is that many projects fail due to improper planning rather than complexity or lack of knowledge of team members. In some cases, the scope or specifications may not be established properly or team members aren’t aware of what is expected of them, which again are signs of inadequate planning.

Any project, big or small, short or long term, small or large budget, requires strategic planning.

To ensure the successful execution of a project, it’s essential to carefully plan all aspects and document them in what is referred to as a project plan.

What is a software development project plan? What goes into it? And what are the steps required to build one? We answer all these questions and more in this blog.

What Is a Software Development Project Plan?

Team of developers in a project meeting to discuss project charts and activities

A software development project plan is an important formal document that details the various project elements like scope, specifications, required financial as well as human resources, procedures, activities, and scheduled timeline (along with a Gantt chart or other project management tool), to name just a few.

Most importantly, a software development project plan is, in fact, a formal agreement between the developing company and the client. It helps both parties and other stakeholders in building the right expectations of the project before its initiation.

A project plan answers important questions like:

  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • What is the scope of the project?
  • What objectives will the project accomplish?
  • What are the requirements?
  • What activities will the project need to complete?
  • What are the deliverables?
  • What is the estimated budget?
  • How long will the project duration be?

Why Is a Project Plan Important?

A well-developed software development project plan that lists the project goals and requirements, resources, schedule, and risk management procedures are critical to its success.

A project plan is an integral part of every software development project as it helps guide, monitor, and control the implementation processes.

It provides direction by helping managers steer the project towards its true objective or outcome. It can be thought of as a blueprint of how, when, and what the project is expected to achieve. It serves as the baseline against which you can monitor and evaluate the actual project parameters, functionalities, budget, and scheduling. In addition, it assists in identifying delays or deviations from the set plan, keeping the project on track.

The absence or incompleteness of a plan can lead to a product that doesn’t fulfill client requirements, goes over budget, or lead to delays, proving to be expensive in the long run. Detailed documentation may take time and effort but is worthwhile as it helps eliminate costly errors.

Here’s a snapshot of why a software development project plan is important:

  1. It helps form the basis for understanding among the internal and external stakeholders in terms of what the project is expected to achieve.
  2. It helps the team identify missing parts or devise additional elements that can add value to the project.
  3. It helps in risk assessment and management.
  4. It documents project approval from the concerned parties, which is crucial.
  5. It helps managers monitor progress while keeping the project on track in terms of the requirements, budget, and timeline.
  6. It details the methods to be used for achieving the said objectives and completing deliverables, so team members understand what is required of them.

Elements of a Software Development Project Plan

Contrary to popular perception, a project plan doesn’t simply include the project activities and schedule; it’s much more than that! It’s a comprehensive management document prepared by the project manager and discusses all aspects of the project.

Here’s a look at what a project plan is comprised of:

  1. Scope – The project scope states the goals that the project needs to achieve, along with clearly defined acceptance criteria that are agreed upon by all stakeholders. It also states project boundaries, which need to be established before anything else. The scope statement is one of the most crucial parts of the plan, helping establish the right expectations concerning what the project does and does not include!
  2. Work Breakdown – The work breakdown structure is detailed in the software development project plan. It establishes the work required to complete the project and is divided into a set of small activities that are measurable in terms of the work hours required to complete them.
  3. Project schedule – Lists the project schedule time for each activity and package in the right sequence with a detailed view of tasks required to be done on a day-by-day basis.
  4. Interdependencies – The activities are inter-related and hence dependent on each other. For instance, activity C can be started only when activities A and B are completed.
  5. Review – A point where actual work is evaluated against the planned output or goal.
  6. Milestones – Important milestones give an estimate of the amount of work to be completed at different points in the project. Their purpose is to mark the completion of a set of tasks and hence have no duration (zero).
  7. Deliverables – Every project has a set of outputs in the form of say, prototypes, software, apps, or design.
  8. Hardware & Software Requirements – Every software development project plan lists the required software and hardware resources.
  9. Team Organization – The plan documents the organization of the team and responsibilities and deliverables assigned to members.
  10. Budget – Senior management and important stakeholders determine the budget, which if exceeded, would need approval from senior management. It’s typically presented in a tabular format with the allocation of all possible project expenses including certifications, training, and hardware, just to name a few.
  11. Risk Assessment & Management – A software development project plan states the associated risks and how these can be mitigated if the situation demands.

How to Write a Project Plan

It’s best to begin writing a project plan as early as possible and keep refining it over the course of the planning stage. Here’s a step-by-step procedure for writing a winning software development project plan.

Step 1 – Meeting of all Stakeholders

The planning stage always begins with a meeting of all stakeholders. This includes clients, end-users, senior management, investors, and all other decision-makers. In this stage, define the scope (what the project is required to accomplish) along with clear boundaries of the project. All stakeholders need to agree with the defined scope, which must be developed after taking into consideration client and end-user requirements.

Step 2 – Establish Goals

When project scope and requirements are known and clearly defined, it’s essential to establish clear goals that the project needs to meet. Include any metrics, if applicable. Articulate the goals clearly to avoid miscommunication and communicate the same to all concerned parties.

Step 3 – Develop Work Tasks and Deliverables

Once the goals are established and clearly defined, it’s best to strategize the work that would need to be completed to meet the set goals. Then divide the work appropriately into a series of small units of activities that are measurable and achievable.

Identify the deliverables or output that will be achieved upon completion of an activity. Again, it’s best to set metrics to measure the success of each completed task, if possible.

Step 4 – Design the Project Schedule

Calculate the amount of time and resources required for each task/activity. Identify the dependencies among tasks. At this point set the due dates for deliverables and milestones for important deliverables and deadlines. Consider using a Gantt chart in which you can input the tasks and their durations, interdependencies, resources, and milestones. It will help you calculate the total project duration, budget, and other resources required for the project. For projects that are heavily dependent on material resources, consider using custom inventory software for effective inventory management. There are several competitive advantages of custom software services.

Step 5 – Risk Assessment & Management

Risk assessment is a part of contingency planning and helps us prepare for unforeseen challenges and issues. Be sure to include all the potential risks that the project may be susceptible to. Then assess each one of the risks and group them into high, moderate, and low categories. Brainstorm with colleagues and design a risk management strategy to deal with the risks to prepare yourself. Be creative and find ways in which these risks can be prevented or at least minimized to reduce their impact on the project outcome.

Step 6 – Present the Project Plan to Stakeholders

This may seem like the simplest part of developing a software development project plan, however, it’s not as easy as it seems. In this step, it’s essential to present the project plan as clearly as possible to all stakeholders. Communication plays a major role in the success of a project, so be sure to communicate with all stakeholders and team members what is expected of them. Lack of communication is often the cause of project failures. Also discuss any potential concerns, challenges, or issues now, to avoid the blame game later. Having a clear project plan is instrumental in securing the approval of all concerned parties.

Once the software development project plan is complete, it’s not the end but, rather, the beginning.

Remember that the hard work put into the project planning stage determines the quality of the final product.

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