Sunday, September 23, 2012

Overview of a Project Plan

Releasing new software products, on-time and on-budget, represent a significant investment for an organization.  Because of the critical nature of software products on company's profitability, more attention needs to be paid to effective project management and how it impacts the overall business strategy.

Releasing products on time & on budget should not be a "one-off" isolated event, but a repeatable & predictable aspect, and a core business capability that drives the profitability of the business. 

Releasing products on time is a core project management function and the effectiveness of an organization's project management process can make or break the bottom line of the business. 

With this in mind, stakeholders are demanding greater accountability in the way projects are managed and demand full visibility into the project plan and project status. To ensure successful project, Project managers work with the program management office (PMO). This article provides an overview of a ideal project plan needed for software product development.  

The Project Plan

An ideal project plan has seven main sections.

1. Project Overview
2. Risk Assessment & Risk Mitigation Plan
3. Project Governance Plans
4. Development Plans
5. Quality Assurance Plans
6. Project Work Schedule
7. Project Resource Plans

1. Project Overview

Project Overview sets the context of the project by defining the purpose, objectives, scope, constrains, assumptions and reference documents. 

Product Requirement Document is usually the starting point for the project. The PRD defines the product functions - which translates into project objectives, project scope, and project timelines. Project managers then work out the project constrains,  and assumptions.

The Project Overview should have the statement of purpose of the project. This helps communicate the high-level understanding to all stakeholders. The project overview should also have the background of the project explaining why the project is necessary and critical for the organization. The goals for the project, i.e., the project success criteria must be clearly articulated in such a way that every one in the project team understand what has to be accomplished.

The project scope - i.e., the boundaries of the project must also be defined in the project overview. The project scope clearly tells what will be done and what will not be done, where ever it is needed - for example work allotments for contractors etc.  Things outside the project scope will not be done and planned for. Project managers must constantly monitor and prevent out-of-scope activities.  

Once the objectives and scope are defined, the project assumptions & constrains are listed. This assumptions and constrains become the basis on which the project plan is written. If the assumptions turnout to be wrong, the project plans will have to be changed accordingly.

2. Risk Assessment & Risk Mitigation Plans

Once a PRD is presented to project management office, PMO starts the Risk assessment and develops the Risk mitigation plan. All projects have to be classified into High, Medium & low risk projects. For more details on project risk assessment see: ( 

Once the risks are identified, the risk mitigation plans must also be developed and documented for each of the identified risks. The risk mitigation plan may involve changes to project schedule or release plans.

3. Project Governance Plans

The project governance plans defines the management oversight, coordination and review activities for a project. In most cases, the project governance plans may not be explicitly called out in a project plan because there would be an established Program Management Office (PMO) - whose main job is to provide management inputs to the project. Even in such cases there are few specific details of management plans will have to be published in project plan. Such as:

1. Project Team Organization: The size of the project team, Names of team leads and other key personnel.
2. Contractors (if any)
3. Reporting structure for all project personnel.
4. Frequency and schedule of Management Oversight & review meetings, status reviews.
5. CCB members and frequency of CCB review meetings

The PMO provides various management functions for the project: Resource allocation, budgeting, review business case, Project review, validate project assumptions, standardize tools & process etc.

4. Project Development Plans

Project development plans define how the product will be developed. It contains details on how the development team will develop the product that meets the PRD. This lists out all the efforts involved, all the development tasks that has to be accomplished, tools used. Typically, the project is divided into stages and list of  tasks to be done in each stage is listed out, along with milestones to be achieved and deliverables for each stage. 

For software product development projects, development activities include defining OS/System Platform requirements, allocating hardware and software tools needed, high level design describing data flow, conducting design reviews, product documentation, code reviews, providing training for operational use.  
Developmental stage leads the quality assurance stage.

5. Quality Assurance Plans

The quality assurance (QA) plans are a set of tasks that are required to ensure that the final product meets the PRD. QA plans details the checks and balances to be used to help ensure that each developed software product satisfies the defined requirements. 

The QA plans also lists out the checks and balances that are in place in form of quality assurance, verification and validation, test and evaluation, and configuration management. The QA plans are detailed for and tied to the development tasks - i.e., every developmental task must be tied to a QA task. 

In software product development, QA planning status with examining the PRD for congruency, testability, and consistency; preparing test plans; writing the test strategy; determining standards conformance; completing test procedures; conducting acceptance testing; performing test procedures in the operational environment; base lining products; and archiving incident reports and change requests.  

Product QA activities include defining test strategies and test data; comparing prototype requirements with the skeleton prototype; preparing acceptance test procedures; preparing beta procedures, preparing product acceptance testing and customer acceptance.

The QA plans supports the product development plans and provides management an insight into the status of the product development activities. 

6. Project Schedule.

The project schedule contains the complete schedule of the project as its stands on that day. At the start of the project, an initial schedule is planned out and as the project develops there could be changes in the plan. The project schedule captures the current schedule and the original planned schedule for documenting the project progress and post project assessments.

7. Project Resource Plans

Project resource plans identified all the resources required to complete the project. This includes all people, tools, hardware resources etc. Project resource plans document the initial resources allocations and actual usage for documenting the project progress and post project assessments.

Closing Thoughts

Detailed Project plan is the first  indicator of the preparedness for project success in any new product development projects. As product manager, I look at the project plan as a key indicator of how work is progressing and plan for next steps accordingly.  The absence of a detailed project plan is a leading indicator of an impending failure. The level of detail in the project plan is vital in taking right decisions for the success of the project. 

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Project Work Plan