If you are starting a software project today there is a seventy percent (70%) chance that it will experience one or a combination of delivery delays, budget overruns, or outright failure. Similar to other types of projects, there are a variety of things that cause software projects to fail in the same way that there are numerous things that have to be managed in order to deliver successfully. To make things even worse, it is very easy to derail a software project and have no idea it is derailing until it is too late.

There are 4 things I’ll like to share that I believe lay a foundation for successful software projects, they are:

1. A clear business goal.

2. A set of requirements.

3. Unbiased estimates.

4. A delivery plan.

These things may seem obvious but they are commonly overlooked and done poorly. Let’s examine each one how together they form a foundation for a successful software project.

A Clear Business Goal

Software projects exist to achieve a specific goal or set of goals (even if experimental). A software project goal could be to make sure a piece of software is available by a certain date or to deliver some business value within a given budget. This goal is what will determine the end of the project, and this has to be set and made crystal clear at the beginning of the project. It also has to be clearly communicated to project stakeholders. It is ok if the goal changes during the execution of the project but then, everyone needs to know it has changed and what the new goal is.

It is not uncommon to find ongoing software projects that have no clear definition of what the goal of the project is. It is also common to find a lack of shared understanding of the project goals among project stakeholders.

Not knowing the end target or goal exposes a software project to delivery delays, budget overruns, and possible failure.

A Set of Requirements

To achieve the business goal of a software project, several features have to be built (or not built, just as important) and these features make up the requirements of the project. The nature of the software project will determine if how much upfront work needs to go into the definition of the requirements. Exploratory projects may tend to leave the detailed definition of requirements till later on in the project. Software projects that value predictability (this is of concern to business leaders) would need to have more effort put into the detailed definition of requirements early on in the project.

Real-world software projects will have their requirements change before the project is delivered and provision has to be made to manage this.

Unbiased Estimates

Poor estimation leads to delayed projects. Mistaking estimates for delivery commitments also leads to delayed projects. When coming up with estimates they need to be unbiased and molded or forced to align with the business goal. In coming up with unbiased estimates, one has to ignore what the business goal is and simply come up with estimates based on the nature and complexity of the requirements. Doing this and coming up with high-quality estimates that are unbiased will assist with the next step. Planning.

A Delivery Plan

Coming up with a plan is what ties everything together and reveals the true state of what can be achieved on the project. The business goal highlights what the end is, the requirements define what needs to get done, the unbiased estimates reveal how much budget and time is required to implement the requirements.

The delivery plan lets you lay out what can be realistically achieved on the project. Most times you may have to forgo a number of requirements. Businesses value predictability as it is better to know early on what will be ready by deadline than falsely expecting to have every requirement ready.

In Summary

It is important to put in the time and effort required to come up with a business goal, a set of requirements, unbiased estimates, and a delivery plan. Stakeholders on a project need to work together to develop these. As mentioned earlier, these 4 things lay a foundation and do not guarantee software project success. Software projects evolve as they get implemented and managing all those moving parts is just as important as having a good foundation when starting out. (Video below)

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