If you’ve ever managed a software development project, you know it can be a challenge. From complex tasks to coordinating collaboration across different teams, managing software development projects requires a set of skills unique to standard project management.
In this post, we’ll explain what makes managing software development projects different, reveal who is best suited to this responsibility, provide a high-level, step-by-step process to manage software development projects effectively, and share a roundup of the best tools for doing this.
Let’s get started.
What’s different about managing software development projects?
While all projects are important in their own way, the success of most SaaS (software as a service) companies depends upon software development projects specifically. Any delays or issues in the software development process can have a major impact on revenue and customer satisfaction.
In comparison to other types of projects, managing software development projects can be a unique experience for project managers. Some ways software projects differ from other types of projects include:
- Iteration: While traditional projects often follow a linear path from start to finish, software projects involve a continuous cycle of development, testing, and improvement called the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
- Technical and complex expertise: The language of software engineers and product managers can sometimes feel inaccessible for other team members, such as project managers, who may not have the same technical knowledge.
- Technological advancements: With the rapidly changing software industry, bringing a software product or update to market before it’s outdated or irrelevant can sometimes feel like a race against time — and your competition.
- Timeframes: With software teams often working in sprints, software development projects often have shorter timelines than other projects.
- Testing: While a business’ paid ads team might A/B test their ad creative, software development projects require even more extensive testing and quality assurance than the average project.
Given the unique challenges and differences of software development project management, these kinds of projects require a project manager with a skill set to match.
Who is best suited to manage software development projects?
Because of the highly collaborative, complex, and iterative nature of software development projects, those who manage them must possess a number of specific skills in order to ensure the success of their projects.
A project manager well-suited to managing software development projects should have most, if not all, of these key traits and skills:
Software development project managers often juggle multiple projects, tasks, and stakeholders — each with their own special requirements and goals.
As software development projects can involve multiple pivots and changing requirements, software development project managers need to be adaptable and flexible to ensure projects stay on track.
Knowledge of software development methodologies
From Agile to Waterfall, software development project managers need to be familiar with the principles, processes, and tools involved with different methodologies — and how to choose the right one for each specific project and team.
While software development project managers don’t necessarily need to have the same level of technical expertise as the software engineers they work with, a basic understanding of the tools, technology, and programming languages used in project can help them communicate and collaborate with developers more effectively.
Although software development project managers may share similar skills with other project managers, those who are most suitable for the job have exceptional multitasking and adaptability skills, as well as some technical knowledge and experience.
A step-by-step process to manage software development projects
While the exact process may look a little different from project to project, the process of managing most software development projects usually follows these essential steps:
Planning and kick-off
The first step in managing any software development project is planning and initiation. Here, the project scope is defined and outlined, stakeholders are identified and provide buy-in, and the project goals and key objectives are established. During this stage, the project manager will develop the project plan to ensure the project is successful and completed on time — and on budget.
This plan usually includes timelines, schedules, estimated project costs, resourcing and assignment of responsibilities, and a risk management plan. Once the plan is built and approved, the project manager holds a kick-off meeting with key team members and stakeholders.
Once a high-level plan is in place, the project manager works with stakeholders to identify and document the specific technical requirements of the project. This helps clear up any complex or ambiguous aspects of the project, as well as prioritize each task and stage involved.
After the requirements for the project are established, the project manager documents them in the aptly named software requirement specification document (SRS). This document acts as a blueprint for the developers as they work on the project, as it outlines the functional (what the software should do and its features) and non-functional (how it should perform) requirements of the software being developed.
Development and execution
Once the requirements are gathered, the software development team starts working on actually carrying out these specifications during the development and execution phases. Here, they write the necessary code, test to make sure it is functioning correctly, debug any errors that may arise, and deploy the software for further testing.
While this is happening, the software development project manager communicates across teams to ensure the project isn’t hitting any roadblocks, manages change, balances resources, provides stakeholders and developers with updates, and identifies and manages any risks.
Testing and deployment
Once the majority of the active work on the project is complete, the software undergoes final testing and deployment. At this stage of testing, it is the project manager’s job to keep the project moving forward by monitoring the testing process, ensuring quality standards, updating stakeholders as necessary, and coordinating any changes to the timeline and resourcing that may arise during the testing period. For example, if these final tests reveal a previously unidentified bug, the project manager must work to re-evaluate timelines and priorities to make sure this issue is addressed before the project moves forward.
After all final issues and bugs are addressed and resolved, the project can move forward to deployment and launch. Here, the project manager coordinates the smooth launch of the software by working closely with developers, stakeholders, operations teams, and any other relevant individuals across the business.
Completion and maintenance
To close out the project, the software development project manager works to finalize any required documentation (such as a project report), make sure all aspects of the project are complete, and check in with stakeholders to ensure they’re satisfied with the final result.
However, as most software developers and project managers know, this usually isn’t the end of the project. In addition to regular maintenance, updates and changes to the software are inevitable. When this happens, the project manager works with the developers and engineers to evaluate and address these issues according to priority.
Overall, the software development project manager plays a huge role at every stage of a software development project. From outlining a solid plan for success to managing maintenance and updates, a software project manager makes sure that projects are completed on time, on budget, and according to the highest quality standards possible.
The best tools to manage software development projects
The effective management of software development projects relies on having the right tools. As software engineers and developers may work differently than those in non-technical roles (such as stakeholders and some project managers), it’s important to choose tools that are accessible and easy to use for all team members. Here are some of our favorite tools and platforms that fit these criteria:
Part of the Atlassian family, Jira includes a robust set of features specifically designed for agile software development methodologies like Scrum and Kanban. A go-to choice for those working in software development, Jira not only helps project managers track project progress with customizable dashboards but also makes developers’ lives easier thanks to seamless integrations with other development tools like GitHub and BitBucket — and for other tools, you can always export Jira issues to them.
With a super-simple visual approach to project management, Trello allows team members across the organization to easily come together in one place. Using whiteboard-style Kanban boards, Trello lets users quickly see and track project progress, comment on cards, receive automated notifications, and more.
With the ability to sort projects and tasks into lists, boards, timelines, and calendars, Asana provides a flexible experience for engineers, project managers, and stakeholders alike. Because of its automation capabilities and powerful interface, Asana is a particularly good fit for those managing large or complex software development projects.
With AI-powered automation features such as task assignments and nudge reminders, ClickUp can save software development project managers a ton of time when it comes to repetitive or unpleasant tasks. Additionally, ClickUp offers a robust mobile app that lets project managers and team members check in on projects from anywhere at any time.
With the ability to seamlessly connect multiple tools (including those listed above), Unito is the perfect fit for project managers trying to find a solution for all teams and working styles across an organization. Thanks to customizable workflows and real-time two-way syncing, software development project managers and the developers themselves can stay updated and on the same page at all times.
More than managing
With so many moving parts and often complex technical requirements, managing software development projects can be a tough undertaking for even the most experienced project managers. But, with the right combination of technical knowledge, project management skills, and powerful tools, software development project managers can effectively help deliver high-quality products and positive results — all while keeping both developers and stakeholders happy.