Project Management for Software Development: Which Method is Right for You?

Learn about the most popular methods of project management for software development and how to choose the right one for your team.

Project management for software development projects can help you set a realistic timeline and budget, keep developers on track, help your team work most efficiently, and ensure the finished product meets client expectations.  There isn’t just one way to accomplish these objectives, however. There are multiple options that can help you effectively manage software development projects.

Waterfall vs. Agile

Sometimes considered “traditional” project management for software development, waterfall project management follows sequential steps. Your team works through projects, in order, from planning to design to building to testing and then to implementation. Waterfall requires meticulous documentation to ensure your team stays on track and delivers a product that meets the client’s specs. Downfalls of the waterfall method include managing changes and errors—if you discover anything that requires the team to deviate from the original plan, you have to go back and start over.

On the other hand, with Agile project management, teams can correct errors and manage change more efficiently. According to the Agile Alliance, instead of completing an entire phase of the project, Agile teams take an incremental approach. These self-organizing and self-managing teams build usable versions of the software in parts or “user stories.” Each version that the team develops on the way to final product adds new functionality. Agile requires customer input that developers use to ensure the client will be satisfied with the final product.

Agile seems to be the more popular choice among software developers. Coding Sans’s research for its report “State of Software Development in 2018” found 84.82% of developers surveyed use Agile methods.

Choosing the Right Agile Project Management for Software Development

ISVs can manage Agile teams using a variety of methods. Here are a few of the most popular:

Scrum: Scrum adds structure to Agile and defines roles and responsibilities. Scrum divides projects into “sprints” so team members can focus on specific tasks and objectives, rather than the project as a whole. Between sprints, teams hold stand-up meetings to report on progress, discuss how to remove impediments, and to plan next steps.

Kanban: Similar to Kanban management used in manufacturing, this methodology matches work in progress to the team’s capacity. There are no predefined roles; Kanban teams use a “pull system”—team members pull a new task after they’ve completed one. As developers work, they can make changes, and managers encourage them to improve the product and their efficiency continuously. Kanban stresses full transparency—all team members can see the status of all parts of the project, often using a Kanban board for visualization.

Scrumban: This Scrum-Kanban hybrid that combines Scrum’s structure with Kanban’s visualization. It’s also a good way to introduce a Scrum team to Kanban to broaden capabilities.

Extreme programming (XP): This method stresses simple solutions and making incremental changes to adapt to the customer’s requirements. It is dependent on customer input—and the team responding productively to that input. It also involves collective code ownership, following coding standards, and testing all code before release.

Lean software development: Similar to lean manufacturing, lean software development focuses on providing the greatest value to the customer by continuously improving efficiency and decreasing waste. In software development, this means focusing only on necessary features, ensuring everyone on the team is as productive as possible, and building in efficiencies such as test units written concurrently with code.

Should You Use Only One Project Management Methodology?

You may find one particular methodology is a good fit for the way your team works, but you may also discover that in different circumstances, different methods work better. If you have a small, straightforward project, waterfall may be the most straightforward and most cost-effective choice. If you have a project that must move quickly and requires flexibility, Kanban may be the better option. Your team’s familiarity with the method is also a consideration—it takes time for a team to learn and work within a project management system. Skilled project managers take all factors into account and apply methodologies wisely. How effectively are you managing your team?  

Jay McCall

Jay McCall is an editor and journalist with 20 years of writing experience for B2B IT solution providers. Jay is a cofounder of Managed Services Journal and DevPro Journal.

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Jay McCall

Jay McCall is an editor and journalist with 20 years of writing experience for B2B IT solution providers. Jay is a cofounder of Managed Services Journal and DevPro Journal.