Whether it’s a kitchen remodel, a quilt, a movie, or a custom software design, people get fired up for new projects.
Because humans love to create.
And businesses create value by balancing momentum and creativity with desirable business outcomes.
Otherwise known as project management.
Antonio Nieto Rodriguez has written extensively about the fact that we now live in a project-driven world. Project Management (PM) is part and parcel of daily life for successful software developers.
What follows are some of the essential PM principles and phases Harmonic Data uses to deliver value consistently.
The Power of Resonance in software development project management
First, a philosophical note: As musicians, our founders like to apply the musical concept of resonance to the art of project management.
Music communicates through vibrations.
But many factors influence the quality of sound. For example, the strings vibrate with a violin, but the wood, cracks in the finish, and even the room itself create subtle nuances to the sound.
We like to think of projects and project management in the same way.
Team members, processes, and workflow all influence harmony and alignment so that the end product provides the best value with the least dissonance. For example, the team shouldn’t try to solve the problem until it’s clearly defined.
Once we are aligned on the purpose and quality of the project, we can work our way through the following phases.
Phases of Project Management
Institutionalizing efficient processes for project management focuses the people on the right problem at the right time.
So let’s start by dividing our project into phases and identifying the goals for each stage.
Harmonic approaches project management like a movie production. Creators “build” the story in pre-production, production, and post-production stages.
In any good story, characters experience challenges and attempt various solutions before vanquishing the antagonist and resolving the conflict.
Creators plan the pre-production phase, choose a script, cast the actors, and prepare for production. In the production phase, they shoot all the scenes. Finally, in post-production, editors weave all the clips together, adding special effects until the film is ready to be distributed.
At Harmonic, we approach projects much the same way.
We split the pre-production phase into two segments: planning and assembly.
The Planning Phase
In the planning phase the focus is on developing a clear understanding of the problem to be solved (aka the dragon to be slain).
This part of the process involves an extensive dialogue with the client. Because although clients know what they’re trying to do, their processes are often so ingrained that it’s difficult to step back and see the problems from a fresh perspective.
The Workshop Phase
For meaningful dialogue to happen, workshops are much better than meetings.
In meetings, communication often flows one way; workshops, however, encourage dialogue. Here’s where the invested parties definine the problem together and push for a deeper perspective. It’s similar to how two eyes and two ears offer slightly different perspectives from one eye or ear to the other, allowing us to triangulate and better locate the source object.
Harmonic workshops consist of two types: brainstorming and “skunk works.”
In brainstorming huddles, teams break down and understand the problem, explore the possibilities and formulate the potential of this new project. We invite clients to attend workshops and be part of the process.
Skunkworks workshops happen only after the problem is understood. Here, participants devise various options for solving the identified problem. Possibilities must be put to the test, challenged, and revised until the best workable solution emerges.
The Assembly Phase
Once the problem and solution have been defined, it’s time to plan a strategy and gather the necessary resources: tools and teams.
Pre-production code comments: - Clarify timelines/deadlines. - Agree on cash flow speed. - Identify ROI opportunites and target audience. - Leave room for future phases/sequels - Don't skimp on pre-production planning and workshops! You'll save time and money and ensure your project meets it's potential.
The Production Phase
After defining the problem, developing a plan, and gathering the resources, it’s time for production to begin.
A few paradigms help keep production moving: boundaries, urgency, and drive.
- Boundaries represent the parameters of a project, like restrictions, variables, and immutable facts. These boundaries are instituted via consistent messaging and training for team members and clients.
- Urgency comes from the client’s needs. Since each project represents an opportunity for clients, delays can mean lost time and revenue. So a project needs to be completed within a realistic timeframe: one that balances “get it done right” with “get it done.” Projects could extend indefinitely by chasing perfection. So rather than chase perfection, it’s best to chase functionality.
- Finally, drive, though similar to urgency, is more internal than external. It stems from emotional investment, creative process, and the personal satisfaction of creativity. Skilled project managers work diligently to foster environments that support drive.
One way to encourage drive is to make processes simple and bureaucracy free. Overly complex systems and processes stifle creativity and aren’t sustainable long term.
Pre-production code comments: - Urgency = Path and Cadence, defined with the client - Good communication smooths out changes and makes space for opportunities - Early, incomplete wins can be more important than waiting for a complete solution - Drive = Burn Rate, not everyone prefers a fast pace - Production is about choosing the right path and cadence.
In the post-production phase of project management, the product is ready to implement, and it’s time to train the clients.
It’s in the post-production phase that documenting the creative process yields results. Discussing and recording what works well and what challenges surface provides opportunities for growth and improvement. Not only for the current project, but also future software development project management opportunities.
Even though the product is delivered, the project management process continues. Product maintenance, feedback loops, and growth opportunities are all vital to the ongoing project management effort.
In essence, project management teams should always consider the “what’s next?” Projects bring people together to solve problems, which builds relationships and opportunities to solve more problems. Think of product delivery not as the end but as a new beginning that reframes possibilities for “what’s next?”
Post-production code comments:
- Solid documentation aids adoption. - It’s not just about delivery—be sure the users are sold on the solution too. - Don't underestimate the importance of a strong Post-Production phase!
Defining software development project management pays dividends. By identifying the goals for each phase, teams solve problems more efficiently. In addition, focusing on one aspect at a time facilitates thorough thinking and problem-solving.
Finally, new processes must become new cultural norms in the organization. It simply becomes a “this is what we do” mantra.
And what else could you ask for in a group of people committed to delivering consistently high-quality projects?