Here are a Few Things I’ve Learned about Project Management, and the Software I Learned Them From
For a couple of years now, I’ve run a modest software development outfit I started with two of my best friends.
After surviving the obligatory rough start, our team has been growing steadily as more ambitious project find their way into our whiteboards. However, as we grew and began hiring more programmers to keep up, we realized that the happy-go-lucky approach to development we had been using up to that point (to great success, I might add) was starting to fall short.
Deadlines began to stack up and get confusing, resources were being mismanaged, and delivery dates were suddenly an issue.
Even though we had solid communication, the fact that each of us was basically running small independent cells was not working out. Individually, each team was very successful. But when it came to putting it all together, things kept falling through the cracks.
Eventually, we came to that “No, really. We need to do something about this” moment. And, as programmers often do, our heads turned immediately to software solutions for answers.
Little by little we began testing, implementing, and discarding different kinds of software in our efforts to tame our unwieldy development process (which up to that point had been mostly powered by chaos, a lot of heart, late nights, and junk food) into an efficient, streamlined company you wouldn’t be embarrassed to show to potential investors and clients.
Figuring out how to properly manage projects as you go hasn’t been easy. Most software suites out there rarely do everything you need them to without some sort of third-party plugins to get them there (looking at you, Jira MS Project Import tasks.) However, it is something that every software developer out there, big or small, needs to figure out sooner rather than later if they want to grow.
Hoping that our findings can help other fledgling companies figure out the whole project management thing (or aid established studios improve upon what they already have built) here are a few pieces of software we are using to cover our project management needs, and a couple of insights on how and why we use them.
MS Project Desktop
Let’s get the obvious one out the way first. MS Project is a staple in the industry, and for good reason.
If I had to summarize this tool in a single word, it would probably be “Organization.” The gist of Project is to give your team a place to write down all the tasks necessary for the advancement and completion of your projects. Now, this might strike some as a ludicrous oversimplification, mainly because you can do so much more with this tool, but I find reassurance in simplicity.
Once the info is there, it’s easier to optimize said tasks and keep an eye on things that might not be going the way they are supposed to go.
Which tasks need to be prioritized? What are the time estimates for their completion? Is there a particular segment of development that is running out of allocated resources?
In the beginning, we made the mistake of keeping these things in our heads. And it was feasible because our team was small and worked on linear projects. I now know that anything beyond that requires your crew to have a cornerstone to keep everybody – especially team leads, – aware of the current state of resources, budgets, and timeframes.
Unlike other office products, Project has a steeper learning curve. So here’s a helpful guide that helped me a lot when I was learning the ropes of the software, and still keep handy for reference.
A fantastic application by Atlassian, Jira is a powerful Issue and Bug tracking software, that also includes project management functions.
There is plenty of good software out there that serves as issue tracker. What eventually got us to settle with Jira was their focus on Agile software development. The ease it provides for planning development iterations, reports, and their flawless bug tracking functionality.
Anyone who has even passing experience with programming will know how vital issue tracking is to get any software to working stages, let alone being “shippable.”
After one of our bigger software projects had us stepping on each other toes, debugging the same issues independently, we realized we needed a powerful tool to avoid making the same mistake in the future.
Jira took care of that problem.
Remember I mentioned that stock software rarely does everything you want or need it to do?
At this point, we were getting our workflow and project management in shape thanks to MS Project, and Jira has solved our issue tracking griefs. However, Jira also provided a host of great management solutions that complemented Project really well. We wanted to take advantage of those, but having two software suites doing the same would have us falling in redundancies and confusion once more. We needed something to take care of our Jira MS Project import woes.
Bridge connects both apps seamlessly and takes care of Jira MS Project import and export functions, so you can enjoy their individual strengths without sacrificing the rest.
After we implemented Bridge, a member of our team could browse Jira and submit project reports, and those changes would transfer back to Project for the rest of us to check out. It made our pieced-together setup work as a unit. Being able to create Jira Issues based on Project’s task is simply godsent.
Bridge took care of our Jira MS Project import/export data synch needs, but a bigger team came with other challenges.
Remember I mentioned we had solid communication as we started out? That’s easy to maintain when is just you and two or three other people. When our team hit the double digits, we had to put tools in place that kept us all in the same page efficiently.
As far as collaboration, communication, and coordination apps go, Trello is definitively my favorite.
It allows for advanced, agile functionality without sacrificing a structured workflow. It is the perfect place to share ideas, make lists, and post quick to-dos in a simple, yet effective way.
Effective communication is essential to any task and central to good Project Management, so Trello helps us all be on the same page, and interact even when we aren’t in our desks.
We have at least four other important software solution around our office dedicated to Project Management that I’d like to include, but I’d run the risk of boring you with length. Needless to say, the four I did mention here form the core support for our structure and complement each other seamlessly, providing the agile workflow environment we need.
Yet, more important than that has been the valuable lessons gathered from implementing and learning to use them: Organization, Effective problem solving, Coordination, and Communication, all essential ingredients for your company’s growth.