Curious to know what a software development project plan is and how much you need one? Software development planning is a detailed roadmap that defines the step-by-step creation of a software solution to achieve business goals. Most importantly, a custom software development project plan involves a thorough project requirements gathering. And, as we know, about 40% of projects fail because of unclear or lack of project requirements.
In this article, we will not only break down what a software development project plan is but also why requirements gathering and risk management in software projects are so critical. Stay tuned to learn more about software development project plans and then make informed decisions to properly execute your software development projects.
What Is Software Development Planning?
Software development planning is the strategic process of creating a comprehensive plan for a software development project. In a nutshell, it is the development process captured on paper. This plan is based on an Agile software development methodology such as Scrum, or other suitable approaches such as the Waterfall model. It provides a roadmap for the entire software development lifecycle, including key phases such as requirements gathering, project scope definition, system architecture design, coding and programming, quality assurance and testing, deployment and release, and follow-up maintenance and support.
The good thing about a customized software development project plan:
- It allows you to customize the development process so that you end up with the expected results.
- It prevents misunderstandings in team-client communication in software projects, as the project plan is a roadmap outlining the specific actions required to run the software solution successfully.
- It helps to overcome deadlocks because the team or the customer can refer to the plan at any time, coordinate their actions, and thus find a way out of the situation.
How to create a software development project plan? you may ask. Project planning is all about documenting every step, which guarantees the high quality of the finished product. At least no detail will be missed.
To develop an effective software development project plan, you should start with a high-level project plan specifying project milestones, project scheduling, risk management strategies, and change management procedures. In addition, the plan should include software project documentation, project budgeting, and ways to communicate with the customer to ensure effective interaction throughout the project.
Here are questions to ask if you are looking to create a more applicable and useful project plan:
- What problem should the software being developed solve? What is it for?
- Who are the key stakeholders and what are their expectations of the software?
- What features and functionality should the software possess?
- What is the product delivery time?
- What are the critical project development milestones?
- What is the cost of the software project?
- Are there any additional costs expected?
- Which development methodology is recommended: Agile, Waterfall, or some other?
- How will software requirements be gathered, documented, and managed throughout the project? Who is in charge?
- What are the possible risks?
- How will these risks be mitigated and managed during the software development process?
Project managers are expected to manage factors such as adopting Agile and Waterfall methodologies, selecting appropriate project management tools, accurately estimating project costs, and assigning roles such as software development project manager. Adhering to software development life cycle (SDLC) milestones, thorough testing and quality assurance, and implementing optimal deployment strategies are also essential.
Conversely, not having a software development plan with milestones and roles at hand will result in unforeseen costs, feature or product delays, development team productivity issues, delayed time to market, etc.
Let’s elaborate on this issue in more detail below.
Why Software Project Plans Matter
With a plan in place, you can avoid going over budget and meet your desired deadlines. But these benefits are not the only ones that matter.
So, here's why software project plans matter:
- Customer requirements are gathered and met. The requirements for a software project are not the only thing a project plan is based on. It is also important to clarify the requirements of the customer and all stakeholders so that you don't shoot a cannon at a sparrow, but rather create a product that strictly meets expectations.
- Roles and tasks are assigned and voiced. The plan not only makes the project scope of work clear and easy to follow. When you list who is on the project team and what area each person is responsible for, you simplify accountability. The project plan shows who can be contacted with questions and which tasks are in progress or idle.
- The project is carried out according to a specified timeline. To ensure that project deadlines are met, the project development plan should include clear time-bound goals and objectives. This way, each team member can keep an eye on key project goals and milestones and stay on track.
- Product development is within budget. Creating a software development project plan can help the project team stay within the project budget. At the same time, the overall budget will be properly allocated to specific project areas.
- Software development project planning covers all the tasks from coding and programming to quality assurance and testing. Conducting step-by-step and thorough testing of the product is of particular importance because at this stage it is possible to detect non-obvious problems in the software and eliminate them before the product is handed over to the customer.
Why Do You Need a Software Development Project Plan?
A plan may be needed if there are very specific business or project goals that an organized and well-thought-out action plan will help achieve. Simply put, a plan allows you to manage, optimize, control, and get the planned result on time.
All the goals that can be achieved as a result of software development project planning can be broken down into project goals and business goals.
- Define and assign roles and responsibilities to team members;
- Create a list of tasks, categorize them into groups, and assign them to performers;
- Meet deadlines and budgets;
- Meet the requirements of all stakeholders;
- Deliver a product of the right quality.
- Analyze business processes and make changes as they occur;
- Improve task performance;
- Update processes and policies;
- Deliver project tasks on time, which can be done by reducing or eliminating factors that cause downtime, such as lack of resources.
Here's what you get when you implement a software development project plan:
- Multiple and disparate tasks are organized and under control;
- You can choose the most time- and cost-effective solution;
- The project is based on only the most reliable, proven, and cutting-edge technologies, tools, and procedures;
- User needs are at the top of the agenda;
- Any complex task is effectively handled by subject matter experts.
This is why it is useful to have a well-thought-out project plan for software development.
What Is Included In a Software Development Plan?
Software development is a complex process that involves many people. To make it understandable, it is necessary to use accurate planning and visualization of development stages. Agile project management tools can be of great help in this.
Using these tools or other technologies, you can visualize the SDLC steps so that the whole team can see what the software development plan consists of.
Typically, an agile software development project plan includes the following key milestones:
1. Planning stage (Ready). At this stage, it is clarified why the project is needed and what the objectives of the project are.
2. Project Scope Definition (Steady). This includes anything that is expected to affect the pace of work and the outcome, such as milestone deadlines, project timelines, budget, team members, key tasks, contingencies, etc.
3. Action Phase (Go). In this phase, the actual creation of the project according to the plan takes place.
For the plan to take you to the expected outcome, it makes sense to hire experienced engineers. For this, you can turn to an IT outsourcing team with relevant expertise. Software development planning should be one of the core competencies of such professionals. By working with an experienced team (you can consider a staff augmentation model to ensure smooth operations), you are more likely to get what you are looking for. Your money and time will not be wasted.
A Comprehensive Software Development Project Plan Structure
Below we'll take a look at what a typical software development project plan includes, so you know what stages a product goes through before it's ready, and how much effort and time it can take.
This step will result in a list including items such as:
- A description of the product stating its goals and concept;
- Requirements, which are usually in the form of an SRS (Software Requirements Specification) document;
- Subject matter acronyms, including any appropriate abbreviations to make the document easier to work with.
Keep in mind that the software development plan should be flexible enough to be modified at any time.
Once the goals and objectives of the project have been clarified, it is necessary to determine how and with what resources they can be achieved. Resources include the following:
- Project budget;
- Team members;
- Skills and expertise;
- Project milestones;
At each stage, intermediate objectives will be achieved and specific functions will be implemented. However, the focus should still be on the original objectives and requirements outlined in the SRS document, without overburdening the project team with frequent change requests.
The project budget should include mandatory costs and contingencies that may arise during the product development process. You cannot anticipate all costs at once and draw up a clear budget, but this step will give you a rough idea of the costs to be spent.
Roles and Responsibilities
All groups of specialists, both internal and external, with whom to interact during the project are identified.
You will need team members such as:
- Quality Assurance Engineers. Testers can be part of the internal QA team if they are involved in the development of the project from the get-go, or an external team if they are not involved in the initial stages.
- Marketers. Marketers should be involved in the software product development process from the outset, as many aspects of the future success of the product being developed are shaped by marketing.
Now everyone involved in the process knows exactly who is responsible for a particular issue and can easily find the person in charge.
Business Processes Map
In addition to describing the responsibilities of each specialist, it is crucial to draw up a flowchart of activities. Having a business process map in place will allow you to control work processes and anticipate bottlenecks, the number of employees involved, and their interaction.
This section provides the scope of work to be performed, a software project cost estimate, and a project roadmap. As for the development phases, the project plan describes the task as a whole with a rough outline of the work plan, objectives, and resources. Meanwhile, each phase and iteration of product development is accompanied by a list of clear and achievable goals.
In addition to preliminary plans for the product release (when the MVP should be ready), the team should also indicate its status - beta, demo, or alpha product.
Software Development Risks and Restrictions
During the development process, the project may encounter unforeseen circumstances such as increased costs and delayed delivery. All possible risks that may arise, such as those related to management support, budget, expertise, schedule, workload, etc., should be identified and noted.
Software Project Monitoring and Change Control
Software development planning is incomplete until quality assurance and testing are included. These operations will allow you to understand how the project is progressing toward its goals, whether the deliverables are meeting the original goals and objectives, how resources are being used, whether you are on budget, and so on.
The custom software development project plan may specify aspects to be controlled:
- Software project timeline and project budget;
- Requirements compliance;
- Quality assurance;
- Management methods;
- Conflicts and problem-solving;
- Product improvement plan;
- Project completion.
Maintenance and Support
A software development project plan (even if it is a sample software development project plan) should describe and document the process of maintaining and supporting the product throughout its life cycle.
The technical support process described will allow product owners to avoid being tied to developers. It will give a clear picture of the kind of help and support a vendor can provide to product owners:
- Technical Debt. Developers should deal with all code-related problems. The team should describe the procedure for dealing with technical debt and ways to control code quality to get clean code.
- Testing. There should be a clear plan for testing and QA operations.
- Documentation. The project team not only provides the owner with detailed documentation on all aspects of the project but also makes sure it is accessible.
- Future support. Future interaction between the owner and the engineering team should be described, taking into account post-project support and possible scaling.
*Note that the sequence of some sections of the project plan may vary depending on your preferences and style of work.
8 Steps to Create a Software Development Project Plan
Let's move on to more detailed steps for creating an effective project plan. Well-described and planned steps will lead to the desired outcome. So, here are the steps that should be covered in a software development project plan.
Step 1. Project Analysis and Planning
This stage includes the following steps:
- Market trends analysis
- Competitor's product analysis
- Understanding the goals and objectives of the project
- Compiling the project specification.
Along with the analysis, project planning takes place. The information obtained and sifted at this stage will help set the right direction for the project.
Step 2. Requirements Gathering
Requirements gathering is the crucial stage where the project stakeholders gather and document detailed requirements for the project. During this process, interviews, workshops, and discussions are conducted to get an idea of what needs to be implemented. These requirements are necessary to accurately define the scope of the project.
However, in addition to gathering requirements, it is critical to follow the following steps:
- Assemble the project team and assign roles
- Determine what requirements you will collect
- Make a list of questions (Who are the users? How is the security of the product addressed? What integrations are needed? etc.) that need to be answered by the team.
You should list the technologies to be used, the type of software and hardware, the project management approach, testing methods, ways to assess risks and identify constraints, and ways to address these issues.
Step 3. Project Scope Definition
Issues such as timeline, budget, and scope of tasks are considered at this stage. That is, the next step in the product development process is to research, analyze, select, and document all aspects of the development process:
- End product delivery timeframe
- Available budget
- Intermediate project milestones, resources needed (budget, technology), and delivery dates
- Communication methods
- KPIs to understand how well the product is meeting the goals.
It is also important to document all the information gathered during this phase so that all participants are kept in the loop.
This phase of the software development project plan is about defining the scope of the project, i.e., what should be covered by the project and what should not. A clear idea of the scope of the project is necessary to avoid project sprawl and to ensure that the defined boundaries are respected.
Step 4. System Architecture Design
System architecture design focuses on high-level structure and software design. This phase defines the overall system structure, functionality, software, hardware, and technology stack, describes the interaction of the various software components, and ensures scalability, security and performance. The result of this product development stage may be a database design, MVP or prototype.
Step 5. Coding and Programming
Once the system architecture is defined, the development team moves on to the coding and programming phases. This phase involves writing code based on the requirements and project specifications outlined above. It is about turning the project into a functional software product. This phase in the software development project plan is considered to be the most time-consuming and complicated one.
Step 6. Quality Assurance and Testing
Quality assurance and testing are critical steps to ensure that the software meets the specified requirements and performs as expected. Testing involves several levels, including unit testing, integration testing, system testing, and acceptance testing. It is aimed at identifying and eliminating defects to enhance the quality of the software.
Quality assurance and testing should be conducted alongside development. However, to make sure that the product is developed as per expectations, a checklist should be made in advance. What exactly should be checked:
- Code quality
- Compliance with deadlines and budget
- Compliance with project requirements and customer expectations
The testing phase is also crucial after the product development is completed to make sure that the final product:
- works as it should
- is bug-free
- meets the expectations of the end users.
Step 7. Deployment and Release
Deployment is the process of delivering software to end-users. This is where the product goes live. This process involves setting up the software in the production environment and ensuring its smooth operation.
Step 8. Maintenance and Support
Once released, the software enters the maintenance and support phase. During this phase, user feedback is considered, bugs are fixed, updates are installed, and ongoing support is provided. This ensures that the software is efficient, secure, and meets the changing needs of users. The purpose of this stage is to maintain product operability and improve the original software.
Software Development Planning Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
Here's what the major software development pitfalls look like.
Goals Are Unclear and Vague
When planning for both mobile development and web application development, you need to pay more attention to the business problem or business need that the project team will focus on, as well as how to measure the success of the actions taken.
Estimates Made At The Initial Planning Stage Are Rough Estimates
There are always unplanned costs and uncertainty, and an experienced development team is aware of this, while an inexperienced one promises to meet a set estimate.
Lack Of Documentation
When planning a software development project, both major milestones and minor nuances (e.g., acceptance criteria, user stories, etc.) should be considered to avoid miscommunication and downtime.
Teams Are Disconnected
A software development project plan should facilitate the harmonized work of all teams and specialists, define communication methods, and describe the management and reporting system. All this will allow teams to stay on the same page and avoid communication breakdowns.
Risks Increase as the Project Scope Increases
The success of a project depends on its scope. The more phases there are, the higher the likelihood of unexpected pitfalls, as the team considers the project as a whole rather than breaking it down into phases when making the plan. This is fine, but it needs to be taken into account.
Lack Of a Holistic Approach
With no specific project management approach, there are no clear milestones and objectives. Using an agile project management approach will make it easier to set goals and manage the process, and the project plan will have clearly defined milestones and achievable deliverables.
A Software Development Project Plan May Serve the Wrong Purpose
As work progresses, the software development project plan should be reviewed to ensure that it reflects the vision of both the team and the project owner, and meets the ultimate goals and needs of the project itself.
Best Practices for Increasing Software Development Project Success
With all of the above in mind, the need to increase the success of a software development project is becoming more and more urgent. How do we get there? It is enough to follow the software development project plan. And also regularly check the progress of work by asking the team the following questions:
- Are we meeting the deadlines?
- Are we within budget?
- Are we using technology effectively?
- Are we reaching our goals?
- How can we do better?
Once again: Software development planning is a big deal when it comes to project implementation. However, chances are that something will be missed. To avoid this, it is worth focusing on methods that have proven to be effective.
Break Tasks Into Modules
When planning a software development project, segment tasks into manageable modules and assign deadlines to each. This strategy optimizes planning, accountability, and progress tracking - critical components of a solid software development project plan.
Do the Research and Make It Available to All Team Members
Start by thoroughly analyzing the market, studying the target audience, studying competitors, and conducting in-depth market research. Based on this basic research, the product specifications that drive the development process are shaped.
Create an Action Plan
Before you delve into the nitty-gritty of a detailed software development project plan, set up a strategic action plan. Outline the sequence of steps required to achieve the best possible results and maximize your return on investment.
Choose the Best Project Management Method
As a rule, the agile software development life cycle method is used for web projects. This is made possible by its flexibility in decision-making, adaptability to change, and effective coordination.
Get Your Team Up and Running
Define clear roles and responsibilities within the team, establishing efficient coordination and communication channels. Specify ways to communicate between team members and separate departments to ensure smooth collaboration.
Invest in Risks
Surprisingly enough, investing in risk planning is essential. Anticipate potential risks and develop action plans to mitigate them, thus avoiding unnecessary costs and project disruptions.
Hire Experienced Software Developers
Prioritize hiring experienced software developers, even if they come at a higher cost. Their expertise can reduce the risk of costly mistakes and ensure a more efficient and reliable project outcome.
Don't Stop Testing
Continuous testing and quality control in software development are paramount to ensure product reliability. Validate the code, identify vulnerabilities, and conduct thorough testing throughout the development process, involving end-users for comprehensive feedback.
A software development project plan ensures that you stay on budget and schedule when developing a software solution. To get it right, follow the software development project plan described above.
At DDI Development, we take the planning process of each project seriously. We must provide our clients with clear quality metrics, assess risks, anticipate pitfalls, and follow the plan while leaving room for change. The software development project plan helps to harmonize all those efforts. Our experts are ready to share their experience and apply hands-on knowledge to your project. Just drop us a line to discuss your idea.