Project Management in Software Development: The Complete Guide

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As companies transition into the tech storm of the 21st-century, the hassles of effective project management in the software development pipeline are escalating like never before.

Whether you’re a rising startup looking to optimize total productivity and output of your software projects, or a well-established tech (or non-tech) corporation looking to scale your team’s software management efficiency, project management in software development is crucial to addressing all latitudes of your business model.

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What Is Software Development Project Management?

Project management in software development is the process of planning, scheduling, executing, monitoring, and delivering software projects. 

Oftentimes, when we envision the monster that is project management in software development, we fall down the rabbit hole of imagining a simple ‘one-size-fits-all’ project management model, that mutually streamlines both the business and software-related (code) build and release of a company’s product. 

However, software development projects can be better seen as complex undertakings, where leaders must analyze the cost-benefits and optimization problems between business value and the software development pipeline and processes.

In an ever-evolving landscape where business management and tech are, essentially, both close family relatives, software development projects are complex tasks led by two or more persons. Bounded by time, budget, and staffing resources to produce novel or enhanced computer code with resource allocation and execution in mind. 

More generally, software projects are defined by a comprehensive development pipeline, all the way from initial gathering to testing and maintenance, carried within a given timeline to achieve the intended final product. 

Why Is Project Management Important in Software Development Projects?

Software project management is important because it ensures that there is strategic method towards accomplishing software-related objectives. 

This adds significant business value to new/existing business processes and models. In practice, your business should see benefits such as:

  • A greater competitive advantage
  • Improved resource allocation
  • Tighter budgeting
  • Better communication
  • Clearer and more effective documentation

In contrast to traditional project management models, software development is relatively unique, as software projects require a distinct lifecycle and phased development process that demands several rounds of user and internal testing, updating, and analysis of customer feedback.

As a result, project management in software development is a crucial part of delivering a quality product, and no development model would be much without it. 

What Does a Project Manager Do in Software Development?

Simply put, software project management is the ‘butter on the bread’, mending business management with the software development cycle. Project managers are responsible for efficiently executing all the nitty-gritty details of the software project from start to finish. 

Most importantly, they are aware of all phases in the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) that the software project should undergo, streamlining the initial planning and long-term maintenance of the project at hand. 

By closely monitoring the project management in the software development process, experimenting with various plans, allocating resources/budget, and solidifying communication amongst the team, software project managers ensure that final product goals are met under all constraints while still maximizing customer satisfaction.

All in all, project managers perform the following activities:

1. Project Estimation

Perhaps *the most* vital aspect of the initial project planning phase, project size estimation is crucial in determining the cost, duration, and trajected efforts necessary for the project. 

These estimations include:

  • Time: Total projected time to complete the project and, if necessary, its subparts.
  • Cost: Summary of total expenses to develop the software product. 
  • Effort: Estimated effort demanded to complete the project under any given conditions and constraints.

As a project manager, it is crucial that you accurately specify these time, cost, and effort estimations, as all future planning and executions are dependent on these projections.

2. Scheduling and Resource Allocation

In the context of project management in software development, project managers should schedule and allocate all required ‘manpower’ and resources for software project development after finalizing the estimations above.  

3. Staffing 

Establish and decide on a team structure and staffing plan. Gain feedback from the team on work burdens and their task progress to reallocate/reorganize the staff accordingly.

4. Risk Management

As a software project manager, you must identify and analyze any unanticipated risks that might arise during the project development lifecycle. 

Devise your own risk reduction method to minimize/eliminate potential risks and unintended consequences during software development.

5. Miscellaneous Planning 

Finally, catch your breath! During this stage, a project manager may establish several other plans including quality assurance, configuration management, etc. 

Additional planning is conditioned on project monitoring and control, a cycle where the PM actively diagnoses potential risks and obstacles during development and uses planning to resolve those risks.

Most Important Skills a Project Manager Needs to Succeed

A project manager is not a monarch by any means. The idea isn’t just to put someone in charge and call it a day. 

Project management is a careful undertaking and requires a unique skillset that not just any person can offer. 

Here are the most important skills a project manager needs to succeed:

1. Leadership

Naturally, anyone managing a team should have leadership skills. But what does being a strong leader mean?

Strong leaders motivate their teams, coach them through task completion, and give them guidance on any issues that may arise. 

Much of leadership is psychological. Technically, everyone on the team knows what they’re supposed to do. 

But setting actionable goals, measuring team performance, and giving constructive feedback makes a great impact on how the job gets done. And a project manager is responsible for these duties. 

2. Communication 

Communication is an important skill in just about every industry. But it becomes increasingly important if you’re leading a team of software developers. 

Project managers must have the technical expertise to communicate the details of the software project as well as the interpersonal skills to build and manage meaningful relationships with team members. 

3. Time Management

It should go without saying that time management is an essential part of the project manager role. 

Having a deadline isn’t always enough and having someone behind the scenes to ensure that everyone’s on task is often the missing gear in an otherwise slow-churning machine. 

4. Organization

Organization is perhaps the most important skill for project managers. But it’s a broad term and various factors play into one’s ability to organize, from communication skills to time management. 

Simply put, a project manager should be able to see the big picture and break that down into the itsy bitsy details that make up a software development project. 

They should also be able to map those details out into workable tasks. 

5. Critical Thinking / Problem-Solving 

Often project managers are the first-responders when it comes to addressing bottlenecks and crises that pop up during development. 

In order to succesfully resolve these issues, they must be quick on their feet and think outside of the box to come up with solutions.

Software Development Project Management Methodologies

Software development methodologies provide a structure for how you will go about building your software product. 

These methodologies are also called project management methodologies as they serve as guidance for organizing your projects and delivering optimal performance. 

Below is an overview of some of the more popular software development project management methodologies. 

1. Agile

Agile is by far the most popular software development methodology there is.

HubStaff found that 36% of software development teams are using Agile, with almost 40% of teams using a hybrid solution of methodologies. 

The central points of the Agile method are iterative development and consumer feedback. 

Based on an Agile manifesto written in 2001, developers collaborate with customers as they build software, iteratively implementing and testing software adjustments as they go. 

2. Scrum

Scrum is an extension of Agile. It features a distinct system that helps developers approach the development process. 

Much of what happens on a srum team is managed via the concept of sprints, a short, time-boxed period allotted for completing a set amount of work. 

The Scrum methodology similarly includes sprint retrospectives, sprint reviews, sprint planning, and daily scrums. 

3. Waterfall

The waterfall methodology empahsizes a linear progression of development. It’s merely a step-by-step process of creating software from planning requirements to deployment. However, the integrity of this model is also its downfall. Professional developers rarely use this model because it does not adapt well to customer input, changing requirement, or unforeseen circumstances.

4. Lean

The Lean methodology stresses the optimization of resources within a business. It stems from an operational thinking strategy that gave Toyota Motor Company its success. 

In short, the fundamentals of the Lean methodology are to eliminate waste and create value for the customer. 

Within software development, Lean thinking means foregoing extra features and preventing delays whenever possible. 

Note that Lean and Agile are often confused. While some consider Lean to be a framework of Agile, comparing Lean vs. Agile reveals they are not as similar as some may think. 

5. Feature-Driven Development

Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an Agile methodology for developing software. Like Agile, FDD is iterative, incremental, and customer-centric. 

As the name suggests, FDD involves developing software based on its features and creating feature-specific teams. 

Frequent status reports are also a mainstay in feature-driven development. 

7 Best Project Management Tools for Software Development Projects

Project management works best with project management tools. Project management tools provide a platform for managing the software development process, whether that’s assigning tasks or setting deadlines. 

The following project management tools should be plenty helpful for software development project management:

1. Trello

Trello is a web-based, task-management tool that is based on Kanban project boards. Kanban itself is a framework that highlights the importance of visualizing workflows.

In the same vein, Trello uses boards, lists, and cards. Boards represent the overarching project while cards lend to individual tasks. Drop-down lists indicate what stage your team is in completing a task.

2. Wrike

Wrike is a project management tools with more than a few hi-tech features. 

Alike to  to Trello, visualization plays an important role in how Wrike works.
However, just as important as visualization is to the platform, are its capabilities. For instance, in Wrike, you can:

  • Build workflows
  • Set timelines for your projects
  • Pin important to-dos onto dashboards
  • Review and approve digital documentation 
  • Build reports and analyze results

3. Jira

Jira is one of the more popular project management tools. The tool specializes in issue tracking and Agile development. 

Sprint tracking and scrum workflows are beloved features of the platform. Likewise, users take advantage of an open marketplace with integrations like GitHub, Salesforce, and Outlook. 

4., typically stylized as ‘’, is a cloud-based platform that allows users to create tools and workflows to manage their projects. 

In addition to project management, is a productive tools for various other efforts such as marketing, sales, customer relationship management, task management, and human resources. 

Whatever your workflow may be, can offer:

  • Visual Kanban-style boards
  • Multiple views (featuring boards, calendar, timelines, Gnatt charts, etc.)
  • Custom dashboards (for tracking progress and insights)
  • Integrations 
  • Automations
  • Apps (for custom views, widgets, integrations, etc.)

5. Zoho Projects

Zoho Projects is a cloud-based project management software with an intuitive user interface coupled with many useful features. 

Gnatt charts, task automations, timesheets, and project customization name some of the software’s biggest pros. You can also integrate Zoho with numerous third-party apps. 

6. Basecamp

Ironically enough, the notorious Ruby on Rails was created to build Basecamp. And it was undoubtedly successful. 

Some features of Basecamp are message boards, to-do lists, group chats, scheduling, automatic check-ins, documentation, and project activity dashboards. 

In spite of all this, Basecamp isn’t designed for software development and lacks boards, estimations, and other helpful assets for Agile development. 

7. Asana

Initially, Asana was an internal tool at Facebook. But released to the public, the tool quickly got its own bearings. 

Asana features Kanban-style boards, Gnatt charts for project scheduling, and an advanced search engine for finding files and tasks.

5 Stages of Project Management in Software Development

Whether you’re a junior or senior project manager, a common principle in the software development and management pipeline will always hold true: following and maintaining the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)

By adapting the SDLC process to your project timeline, your project initiation, planning, monitoring, and closure will be streamlined, enabling the team to finish in time without sacrificing the integrity of the given project! 

Project management in software development essentially uses the general project management template with software-specific goals that streamline the process. 

The 5 stages of project management in software development are outlined as follows:

1. Project Initiation

It may seem intimidating, but do not worry—by establishing a simple foundation of ideas and preliminary goals for your project, you’re bound to create a surefire template for the next four phases of your project management timeline. 

Project initiation involves morphing an abstract idea into a meaningful goal with actionable future steps. 

During project initiation, a PM should develop a business case and define the project on a broad level. Project managers can easily initiate this with a project charter.

A project charter is a document consisting of critical details, including project constraints, goals, appointment of the project manager, expected timeline, budget(s), staffing, etc. 

Once a manager has illustrated a clear path forward with their charter, they should identify key project stakeholders (i.e. future members involved in the project). This can be easily accomplished by creating a stakeholder register.

In a project charter, two evaluation tools are used to decide whether a project is worth pursuing. 

These tools can be tailored to optimize the process of project management in software development.

  • Business Case Document: This document justifies the necessities of the project and includes an estimate of potential financial benefits.
  • Feasibility Study: PMs use this to evaluate a project’s objectives, timeline, and costs to determine whether a project is worth executing. Feasibility studies simply allow you to assess a project based on:
  1. Requirements of the project, and;
  2. Available resources.

It’s important to note that although clear objectives of the project are established during the initiation phase, a project charter should not include complex technical details that are discussed in phase two (project planning)!

2. Project Planning

It is crucial that a project manager diligently lays out the project planning stage, as it is a decisive factor for the project’s roadmap. 

Typically, this can be fulfilled with agile project management, effectively breaking down weeks of planning into mere days. 

The PM should identify technical requirements and develop a detailed project schedule by creating a clear communication plan and establishing goals/deliverables.

Additionally, requirement analysis can be used during planning with inputs from the customer, sales department, market surveys and domain experts in the industry. 

For project management in software development, cross-collaboration is crucial, as it links the development team with the business management teams.

3. Project Execution

During project execution, all hands are on deck, and team members begin completing the actual work and subtasks of the project. 

A project manager should look forward to establishing efficient while diligently monitoring the collective progress of the team.

Additionally, a project manager must maintain effective collaboration between stakeholders and all team members involved. 

Ultimately, this will ensure that everyone is one the same page and the project runs without any glaring issues.

4. Project Monitoring and Controlling 

Although project monitoring is a process that associates with each and every stage of the project management timeline, project managers should use this time to specifically ensure those project objectives and deliverables are fulfilled.

A project manager will ensure that no one deviates from the original course of the project by setting both Critical Success Factors (CSF) and Key Performance Indicators (KPI). 

Finally, the manager will also quantitatively record and track the effort/cost during the process, ensuring that constraints such as budget and time are met with long-term sustainability in mind.

5. Project Closure 

Finally, you’re here—phew! This final phase of the project management process typically follows after the final delivery of the product. Occasionally, external talent is hired specifically for the project on contract.

Additionally, a PM will be responsible for terminating these contracts and completing any necessary paperwork and documentation.

Oftentimes, teams will hold a reflection meeting upon project completion in order to contemplate their comprehensive successes and failures before, during, and after development.

This method of reflection provides a sense of continuous improvement for the team, enhancing the overall productivity and output of the team for the company. 

Finally, a project manager should review the entirety of the project (from start to finish), complete a detailed report that covers after facet (e.g. five stages of project management in software development) of the project, and securely store it for future reference.

The Most Important Skills for a Project Manager to Succeed

Be a Supportive Team Leader

A rising project manager should develop leadership for the mutual benefit of the project, the company, and its team. 

More specifically, an effective software project manager arranges a team of diverse members with various skills who can efficiently complete their given task(s).

Motivate your team members

By encouraging your team member(s) to work properly, a project manager ensures that a non-intimidating, yet effective, team atmosphere is established. 

Additionally, this will prevent burnout amongst team members and enable them to fulfill project requirements in a timely manner.

Tracking progress

Ultimately, it is imperative that a project manager monitors progress in real-time for both the short-term and long-term stability of the software project. 

Additionally, the PM will ensure that the product is developed with the correct coding standards.

Documentation and project report

The PM will eventually prepare final documentation of the project for future reference and implementations, detailing project features and techniques. 

All in all, these reports will contribute to future project management in software development-related tasks.

Acting as a liaison

Remember when I mentioned that software project managers are the butter between the breads of business and software? 

Well, this is put into action, as PMs link the development team with the customer by analyzing customer requirements and relaying them to the development team.

Through a proactive relationship between development and management, managers will communicate new updates to the client(s) and finetune the project when necessary.

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Whether you’re grappling with a large corporate team that develops cutting-edge software solutions, or a small to mid-sized startup in the first round of creating their beta software, project management in software development is more essential than ever before.

By streamlining your software development process with a five-stage SDLC and project management timeline, your company is bound to finish and release final products in a timely and organized fashion. 

However, in order to accomplish this ‘holy grail’ of efficiency and organization, project managers must enthusiastically manage a team of developers and guarantee that deadlines are met!

For most companies to fulfill a project, finding the right people is like finding a needle in a haystack, leading to missed deadlines. 

However, you can outsource and hire remote developers to complete and build your team, guaranteeing that project deadlines and constraints are met. Learn more by reading our complete guide here!

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With over 10 years of experience in software outsourcing, Alex has assisted in building high-performance teams before co-founding Trio with his partner Daniel. Today he enjoys helping people hire the best software developers from Latin America and writing great content on how to do that!
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