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Why Experience Matters When Planning a Software Project


Planning a software development project is like planning a road trip:

  • The organization’s visions and objectives are the destination.
  • Models and use case diagrams act as a roadmap.
  • A feature map and iteration plan serve as the directions.

Learner’s permits won’t suffice when planning a project, however. Experience is everything.

Creating an accurate quote relies on being clear on what the project looks like, exactly what needs to be done and in what order. The same goes for creating project timelines.

Getting that level of accuracy is demanding. That’s why it is crucial to work with developers who create thorough plans and models during the early stages of a project.


The Importance of Models, Diagrams and Roadmaps

Organizations should strive to create exhaustive domain models, usage diagrams and feature maps. Perhaps most important is their role in identifying and reducing risk.

Taking time to assess everything you need a product to do — and then breaking it down by capabilities, features and functions — is an effective way to see whether anything has been missed and to highlight tasks most likely to cause trouble.

The “structured and systematic approach” of feature mapping is particularly effective in this respect, writes John Ferguson Smart, agile test automation expert. By exploring the ways different parties use an application, developers can understand the business needs of the user and uncover all of the different, sometimes counterintuitive, capabilities that need to be built.

Thorough planning with models, diagrams and maps also makes it easier to estimate costs and delivery times. If the development team knows their velocity and capacity, then accurately planning iterations once everything is laid out in a feature map becomes easier.

Finally, a feature map helps keep the work on track when development work starts. If everything has been laid out accurately, there’s no need to deviate from the feature map. When new features are required, the map can be adjusted to account for them, assuming those features align with the vision and key objectives established at the start of the project.



What Can Go Wrong When Planning a Project?

It’s hard to be truly accurate when creating models, use case diagrams and feature maps. People frequently overlook key details or miss certain capabilities, which then makes it harder to prioritize development and plan sprints.

Too much detail can also be a problem. This is why feature maps are more appropriate than work breakdown structures in the vast majority of cases. Work breakdown structures tend to go one step further than feature maps, breaking every function down into an individual task.

There’s seldom a need to go into this level of detail, especially when entire swathes of functionality may be written off by stakeholders when they see how long it will take to develop the product.

Whether problems lie in modeling, diagrams or feature maps, even the smallest issue can be big enough to derail an entire project. Here are some hurdles to look out for:

  • Scope creep.
  • Timeline extensions.
  • Replanning.
  • Incorrect or unclear work assignments.
  • Budget increases.
  • Missed deadlines.


Experience Makes Planning More Accurate and More Valuable

Experience — specifically, the experience of creating models, feature maps and iteration plans — makes for more accurate and more precise plans.

An organization’s visions and goals, which can often be nebulous to someone without the necessary experience, make a lot more sense to partners who take the time to listen to and understand what stakeholders are trying to achieve.

This understanding helps eliminate internal second-guessing and miscommunication, and significantly speeds up the process of translating a vision into a well-defined feature map. With this knowledge, business consultants and project managers more accurately turn goals into an accurate plan.

Specifically, they’ll better understand how many resources are required for each task, what can realistically be achieved in any given quarter, and the best way to approach a problem, writes software engineer Sihui Huang.

“Engineering is about making tradeoffs,” she explains. “There’s no objective best solution. What you care about is the solution that works the best for your current context.”

Domain knowledge is certainly valuable because it translates into software that’s relevant to end users, says Caitlin Mazur at Zippia. Domain knowledge, however, is not the key to planning. The willingness to listen to a client’s needs and create thorough models is. Developers who lack specific domain expertise can catch up very quickly when they bring solid modeling and planning skills to a project.


The Project Determines the Experience Required

The level of experience each software project requires will depend on the type of tool being developed and the industry it’s being developed for. Experience in creating use case diagrams, feature maps and iteration plans should always be an essential requirement. Domain expertise may or may not be required.


Images: ThisisEngineering RAEng, Kelly Sikkema, Mapbox

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