For software companies, the rise of cloud computing and the subsequent shift to continuous integration and continuous development has created a need for efficiency and effectiveness in the development process. With better planning in engineering, teams are equipped to navigate the development process smoothly and systematically. Over time, better planning can lead to optimized development and improvements in productivity.
Software development can be a complex process with multiple teams, processes, technologies, and data flows working together towards a single product. To understand how better planning can improve your engineering projects and lead to better development outcomes, we need to look at what exactly planning for software projects entails.
What is a project plan in software engineering?
Project plans are detailed documents covering the software development process for each proposed development project. These plans usually cover each stage of development including analysis and planning, brainstorming (or ideation), product design and development, deployment, production and launch, and (where necessary) maintenance efforts. The best way to manage any complex project or task is to start with a detailed plan of action.
In software development, project plans usually include projected start and end dates, plans for launching the project, customer requirements, necessary configurations, installation procedures, dependencies, necessary databases to be used, and training requirements. They’re usually developed by project managers who in turn collaborate with clients and engineers to ensure that the project meets requirements and quality standards.
How to create a software project plan
When it comes to software development, planning in engineering should be a step-by-step process aimed at optimizing development efforts. The goal is to identify areas where challenges are likely to occur and address them before any technical work begins.
This begins with asking questions, like:
- What do the customers need?
- What functionality is needed to provide this?
- What tasks need to be created to implement this functionality?
- What is the order of feature development?
- What are the expected dependencies for this project?
- Who are the key stakeholders in this project?
- Who will be responsible for each of the tasks created?
- Which KPIs will be used to measure the efficiency of development and product quality?
Each of the questions above, highlights key logistical concerns that impact development productivity and the quality of software produced. When planning engineering projects, these are the essential questions you need to cover. With each project, it’s essential to focus on how these areas can be optimized for a more cohesive development process.
What does an effective software development plan include?
It’s important to remember that while planning is necessary to guide the development process, it shouldn’t be too rigid. The most successful software plans are flexible enough to allow teams to pivot when requirements change or when unforeseen challenges arise.
Effective software engineering plans are those that do the following:
- Define the scope of the project
- Define tasks for completing the project
- Create time-based goals
- Assign tasks to teams/team members
- Schedule tasks in line with goals
- Perform risk assessments
- Set aside time to collect and analyze data based on project performance
- Allow for reviews and adjustments to the plan as necessary
The aim of a software project plan, after all, is to guide development efforts at each stage toward the best possible outcomes.
Tips for better software engineering planning
To get the most out of your software development plans, it’s important to ensure that they add value to the development process. The more accurate your planning is, the less likely you are to run into common development pitfalls like poor time estimates, cost overruns, and development that fails to meet requirements.
The following are our tips for improving your software engineering planning.
1. Get your project analysis right
The requirements analysis (sometimes called assessment) stage is a key part of planning that is typically the first step in scoping a software project. To get the most out of your analysis, it needs to be conducted systematically. This means:
- Identifying pains and the context of customer needs by collecting business process documentation.
- Identifying the key stakeholders of the project.
- Getting a clearer understanding of customer requirements by talking to stakeholders.
- Analyzing requirements as defined by customers to ensure they are unambiguous, specific, quantifiable, consistent, and complete.
- Defining the minimum viable product to meet customer expectations.
With a better understanding of what’s really underpinning your clients’ needs, creating plans to deliver exactly what customers want is no longer guesswork. This leads to better scoping and better-focused development efforts.
Accurate planning means having the right information and insights available. That’s why starting your planning with a clear and detailed project analysis is so important.
2. Define your team requirements
Requirements in planning for engineering projects shouldn’t only be focused on client needs—there are internal requirements as well. Every software project provides new challenges, and software engineer and developer needs will often change from one project to the next. So, after identifying your client’s needs, it’s essential to focus on what your teams need to meet them.
Project managers must work closely with their engineering teams to determine the technical requirements for achieving project success. This means detailing and documenting:
- technical specifications and requirements
- testing methods and criteria
- necessary tech stacks
- software and hardware requirements
- most appropriate software development methodology
3. Improve visibility with the right KPIs and metrics
The right KPIs can make a world of difference when it comes to optimizing your development efforts. Part of planning engineering projects is knowing how to measure your performance throughout development and being able to adjust the plan accordingly.
In the initial planning, it’s necessary to discuss with all relevant stakeholders:
- what metrics or KPIs will be used to track performance throughout the project
- what they mean
- how they will be collected
- how they will be used to quantify success for goals set
The aim of KPIs in development is to ensure that development efforts are going according to plan and in line with project goals. Including KPIs and metrics to be used in the planning phase creates transparency and helps set expectations for development teams.
That said, choosing the right metrics means selecting those that accurately reflect performance and progress in the project (and aren’t easily gameable by devs).
4. Be detailed in planning… but not too much
The best plans are detailed enough that requirements, roles, responsibilities, and expectations are all neatly documented and available for stakeholders to review. This creates better transparency and leaves less room for important information to fall through the cracks.
The right amount of detail can help tackle common issues like ownership ambiguities, unclear task definitions, or poorly defined goals—all of which can hamstring your development efforts.
Of course, knowing when to plan in broad strokes versus when to be detailed depends on what kind of project your team is working on. In general, the bigger and more complex a project becomes, the more detailed the plan should be. That said, being too detailed can also hurt your development efforts.
Being too detail-oriented can become a problem when it impacts the team’s ability to begin working. It can lead to analysis paralysis, where projects take longer to get underway because too much time is being spent on creating detailed analysis and documentation. Remember, all planning and no work won’t bring you any closer to project success.
Planning engineering efforts is essential for better outcomes
With any complex project, going in blind is a recipe for disaster. Software projects are often incredibly complex and become only more so when scaled up. Systematic, detailed, and accurate planning is often the lynchpin holding development efforts together. Better planning keeps teams aligned with customer success.
Planning engineering for software projects can be challenging, but with the tips outlined above, it doesn’t have to be. While good planning is key to software project success, you can’t forget the backbone of development––your software development team. Learn more about how you can improve your software development teams here.