Lightweight project plans have proven to be the best way to keep development projects organized, because they actually get used.
Making an organized plan to develop your software is critical to the success of the project. We shoot for “enough” of a plan, without entering into the “too much planning” arena. Our experience has led us to believe in the less-is-more approach to documentation and planning.
There are 3 basic concepts we orient around when doing planning:
When we take on a development project, we work on getting a full grasp of the scope of the project. We create a simple outline that we can use to organize the rest of the project around. We’ve found that this outline is something that everyone involved in the project can easily grasp (much better than a 3 inch thick stack of paper that no one will ever read).
The Scope document helps us with all kinds of key decisions in the development process. It:
- Naturally leads to a simple way to categorize functionality
- Morphs naturally into a structure that hints at what a good navigational scheme will be
- Quickly becomes a way to start prioritizing phases and features of the product
We can usually work out other magic things like rough project duration and pricing by getting the Scope right.
We believe in “just enough” specs. Usually that means that we create a click-through of the software-to-be, which allows key decision makers to see roughly what the application will look like, what the workflow will be like, and what each page will do.
We’ve found that the visual representation works best for everyone involved.
Getting a visual representation going early makes it much easier to flesh out the real functionality and helps everyone prioritize the phases of development (ie, to decide what to make first, second, third and what can wait til later).
The click-through mockup also allows us to make sure that all functionality is accounted for and thought through. It’s very easy to make a written document that lists functional requirements, only to realize when it comes time to make the user interface that, frankly, what was in the written spec doesn’t make a lick of sense as far as what will make for good user interaction.
Having the visuals around also makes it easy to spot things that have to be added to the system that may not have come up while creating a paper-based description.
The Scope and visual Specs all get worked into a Roadmap that goes into our easy to use web-based project management software. The Roadmap becomes the living project plan: it’s easy to edit, review and prioritize things in the Roadmap. It’s easy to move features from one planned phase to another, to plan future phases and to see what was done in previous phases. It’s easy to ask questions of each other (and have a record of answers), to get a quick status on progress of the project and much more. The Roadmap becomes the place where the past, present and future of the project live.
We came up with this system through experience working on large and small projects, all of which were time-critical, required a great deal of flexibility and had frequent releases. By handling Scope, Specs and Roadmapping this way, we have been able to provide a high level of communication to the right people at all times during a project’s progress.
If you’d like us to Scope a project for you and create a useful, lightweight, plan to build and manage the project, please contact us.