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How to capture the goals and objectives for a software project

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For a business to have any chance of success, it must have clearly defined goals and objectives. These should give a detailed and understandable explanation of the ‘why‘ behind a project. Excellently formulated goals and objectives should detail the project schedule alongside identifying what problem the project will solve and the processes and requirements needed to do so. That way, the ‘what‘ part of the project aligns with the SMART criteria of being specific, measurable, achievable and time-based.

Capturing a software project’s goals and objectives is often a lengthy and extensive task that involves multiple team member meetings and development. However, it should not be rushed, as the more quantifiable and definitive your goals and objectives are, the higher the likelihood is of success within the project.


{What is a software project milestone?}

Setting clear software project milestones can be a great way to quality-assure each stage of developments progress. These milestones are fixed dates within a project’s life-cycle in which the aims and objectives will be used to monitor project progress and ensure the development remains within the project scope. In a project management context, they are used as marker-points of progress as the development moves into its next phase.

{The importance of setting milestones in a software development project}

To ensure both the software developers and the rest of the company are on the same page, it is always advised that management set clearly defined milestones. The software development process is best managed in a clearly defined step-by-step fashion. This way, project management teams can sign off on each stage of the development’s process and avoid confusion or unrealistic aims.

Another purpose that a milestone can serve, is a reminder of the crucial dates and points within a project’s life-cycle, which can help keep a team member motivated and increase their functionality.

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{How to achieve a project management milestone}

When working on a software project with milestones, you must view these as fixed points in time – rather than as objectives. Doing so allows team members to focus on the critical project events and dates and ensure that they finish all tasks needed to complete these milestone intentions. It may not always be easy for a project manager of a software development company to distinguish between a milestone and a goal.

One approach that can be useful in determining which is which, is to ask:

  •  Is this a deliverable or a task?
  • Will this impact the project schedule or deadline?
  • Do I need to review this with stakeholders?
  • Is this a critical point in the development of the project?

Ideally, all the most essential and vital stages in a software product development’s life-cycle should be set as milestones. That way, all project team members can monitor each stage of project


{Distinguish what is important}

Are there any dates within the software development process that are more significant than others? If so, you must use project management software to set these dates as project milestones. Having all critical development stages explicitly marked within one place as milestones can help the software development process remain within schedule.

A project milestone can help team performance by clarifying all the work that has gone into a project. Often when a software development project is in mid-swing, team members can get wired into their worlds of work and lose sight of the collective team-effort which a project requires. 

Having every achieved project management milestone somewhere accessible by all team members reminds them of the bigger picture and can motivate productivity.


{Set Critical Milestone Goals}

A practical approach for efficiently organising a project is to merge goals with project tasks. This gives each task allocated more significance and weight, which often increases the team’s productivity, as they are working faster towards each project milestone.

Some critical milestone aims that management may set for a software project include:

  • Complete the software design process.
  • Finalise the software production phase.
  • Finish all software testing.

Once these critical milestones are set, management can set individual project tasks for each team member. This means that every team member can see how their work contributes to completing a more extensive, shared goal.


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{Communicate goals with the project team}

Milestones are an excellent way of communicating the development and progress to stakeholders who do not require (or want) regular operational-level updates. Having the development of a project condensed into a general outline lets stakeholders instantly view the project’s progress and whether it is on track to meet the established requirements and deliverables.

Sharing milestones with stakeholders in this way gives them a clear idea of a project’s proper progression and the team’s productivity. However, most importantly, it shows where – if anywhere – there is room for improvement.

{Have a detailed and clear plan}

The more detail you put into the milestones and checkpoints along with your project development, the less likely you will experience scope-creep. This is when the scope of a project naturally and gradually shifts outside of its initially defined parameters. All projects run the risk of scope-creep, but it is prevalent when developing a software product that has had minimal or poor planning applied.

A particular challenge is that software developers tend to get wrapped up in a software product’s functionality, architecture and code development, rather than focus on the big picture and ultimately the business goals. Setting detailed milestones is the best way to reduce the risk of scope-creep, because it helps software developers understand and focus on what is important to the business.

{Track progress to project completion}

Milestones act as clear and defined indicators of forwarding progress within a development. They are control-points along each stage of the software development roadmap and track events so that all team members can understand and action them.

When milestones are inputted into the project management schedule for each stage of development, it gives everyone a clear understanding of their expectations and highlights the most relevant and crucial requirements. This helps keep project management teams and software product developers in sync and work through each step in the project’s progress in an organised and well-managed way. 

{How to set clear objectives}

To effectively set clear, attainable objectives, you must first establish set goals. Objectives are detailed outlines of the project’s big-picture and ultimate aims, whereas goals are high-level targets set by management to monitor a project’s progress.

When setting these goals, it is always advisable to refer to the S.M.A.R.T system mentioned previously. Another useful acronym to consider when setting intentions is the A.C.E.S approach, where management must determine:

  • Achievewhat are you looking to do?
  • Conserve – what do you need to retain to do so?
  • Eliminate – what must you get rid of to achieve your goals?
  • Steer-clear – what should you avoid altogether?

When defining your project aims, you should always ensure that these aims align with the software development company’s values to facilitate achievable and realistic objectives.

Using an acronym such as the ACES approach can help set attainable objectives and ensure that each step is in the right direction towards the project’s ultimate aim.

{Practical}

When setting objectives for developing a project, it might help to view it as a marathon – rather than a sprint. Objectives are the plans that your business has to achieve your aims, and therefore have to be clear, practical and concise to be genuinely effective. Some steps that a project manager may take to ensure they set practical objectives include:

  • Make sure all objectives align with the company goals and values – Often, in software development projects with multiple requirements, it can be easy to become side-tracked in minor aspects of a project that do not always speed development.
  • Create and stick to a schedule – Scheduling each of the project’s requirements and important events gives them a more profound sense of gravity and significance. You should always avoid periods of no urgency within a software development – or delays due to poor time management.
  • Try and map-out every foreseeable development – As with all projects, it will never be possible to completely and accurately plan for every stage of progress from an idea to completion. However, you should understand some of the crucial steps in a project and document these are clearly as possible.

Setting out your business objectives in this way from an early point in the project’s process can keep everyone on-track. 

{Clear}

Clarity is something that cannot be stressed enough when setting objectives. If objectives are to be actionable, they must first be understood by all involved company members. This is why objectives should have a tangible and specific project outcome if they are successful and understood by everyone.

Being transparent with your objectives stresses the intent of the project and can help prevent scope creep. When writing clear objectives, consider a project:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Why?
  • When?
  • Where?

{Focused on end-result}

Any software project has the potential for scope-creep if the results are not emphasised and kept fresh within the team’s minds. Focusing on the end of a project during team meetings and events can also create a clear and set pathway towards completion. For example, developers cannot complete objective ‘Z’, until ‘X’ and ‘Y’ have been finalised.

Keeping the ultimate endpoint of a project continually visible can increase team productivity and drive and allow stakeholders to monitor project progress through each step in the process.

{testable}

If the objectives you set for a project are not testable or quantifiable, how can you know they work? Similarly, if workers cannot test a project’s objectives, it cannot be easy to gauge when software milestones are reached or objectives are met. How can you have any idea of a team member’s functionality without clear and measurable objectives?

It is also essential that all objectives are quantifiable to keep each team member accountable for their actions and contributions towards completion. Having a clearly defined / structured user acceptance test plan is key to ensuring the end user experience is high and the system supports functional requirements.

{The ‘Elevator Speech’}

An ‘Elevator Speech’ or pitch is a short, prepared speech that succinctly sums up the aims of your project and its reason for existing. Ideally, these pitches should last no longer than between 30-60 seconds or the elevator ride duration (thus the name). An elevator speech’s primary aim is to generate interest and engagement around a project without delving too deep into the logistical or operational aspects.

Writing an elevator speech can be a valuable process in helping project management teams identify a project’s defining characteristics and what makes it unique. When trying to write an elevator speech, there some basic steps you can take. These apply to most outlines, but  you may have to tweak yours depending on the nature of the project:

  •  Sum-up the main goal of your company or development.
  • Give some background information to contextualise your product or business.
  •  Stress your project’s USPs (Unique Selling Points).
  • Ask your listener an open-ended question that connects them with the project.

Once you have worked out an appropriate speech for each of the above sections, you should collate them all together and begin the process of learning it off-by-heart.

Remember, the shorter an elevator speech is, the better. Therefore do not be afraid to cut sections to make the speech overly long or complicated. The idea is to give the gist of a project and why it’s essential – not to cover absolutely every detail.

{The risks of not setting project milestones properly}

Milestones primarily exist as guideposts for a software company to monitor progress. Rather than being aimed at the project management or senior management teams, milestones are principally intended for the team to refer to. People commonly assume that milestones indicate a project’s status and how far it is from completion. However, in reality, this is not entirely the case.

Although milestones do allow stakeholders to overview a project’s progress, their primary function is to identify and indicate critical points and times when significant decisions are required.

Milestones are only milestones when they hold set dates by which the milestone goals are reached. Without these dates, all you’ll have is a list of ‘wants’ rather than attainable aims.

{POOR-quality or immature software}

Companies often get wrapped up in deciding the best software to use when milestone setting. There are literally thousands of different project managing software and methods that managers can use to set milestones, but a good idea is always to start simple.

Before diving into the technical side of milestone setting software, there is nothing wrong with using marker-pens and post-it notes to establish a firm grasp on the project’s evolution and to map out any key events within its’ life-cycle. Mangers of digital projects are often attracted to flashy or new software programs or tools. While these are certainly useful in some contexts, the systems used when setting software development milestones should always be secondary to the milestone themselves. 

{Poor team performance}

Productive and effective teams are made up of individuals that understand what is expected of them and enjoy being part of the process. Obviously, it isn’t always possible to enjoy every task. Still, team members who feel involved and included in developing a project are generally proven to be more efficient workers.

The best way to address a failure or lack of team performance is to make sure everyone has specific, ambitious goals set out for them. Having specific goals set at an individual level can improve poor team performance for the following reasons:

  1. They direct individual team members towards understanding what is most important.
  2. They force individuals to focus on how they will achieve these targets.
  3. They cause individuals to use their unique skillsets in a way that benefits the company.
  4. The more testing a task is, the more individual skillsets will be needed.

Poor team performance can be one of the biggest contributors to the failure of a project. By assigning each team member specialised work, you can make sure they are working to their full abilities.

You can also find a way to link these to a larger project milestone, which can improve the overall motivation and drive of a team – as they can clearly see where their efforts are going.

Doing this will also minimise the risk of some team members avoiding work or completing requirements slowly. The contributions that a team member makes can be viewed individually – making it harder to blend into the background. 

{Software rejected by the user}

As with any acquired skill, the true art lies not in using your skill but using it sparingly. This is true regarding project management software for a software development company, as there is often a disproportionate amount of focus applied to the software that is being used rather than what it is being used for.

Given the sheer volume of project management software out there, companies who attempt to corporate numerous different systems into their project often find it to have a damaging impact on the usability and accessibility of the project.

Those who employ the help of professional software development companies can find they help highlight solutions to meet their project’s requirements and offer their years of experience in using (or not using) the correct software.

Before you get off-track by focusing entirely on the type of software you use, always ask yourself this:

Is ‘X adding value that the customer will notice?

If your answer is no, then you should probably stop what you are doing and focus on something that does.

{How to achieve project success}

Generally, all projects follow the same formula or series of events:

  1. Defining the project
  2. Planning the project
  3. Project execution

Within each stage of this formula, there are several steps project managers can take to attain quality results and help keep the project on track:

1) Defining the project

  • Demonstrate the need for a project, and explain how you can feasibly accomplish them.
  • Get authorisation and approval from all involved stakeholders.
  • Analyse all the risks involved, and highlight how you can overcome these and meet objectives.

2) Planning the project

  • Establish and define the scope of the project.
  • Create a list of ordered activities or stages in the project’s life-cycle.
  • Achieve estimations for all various deliverables.
  • Create a project schedule and budget plan.
  • Identify what risks lie ahead and how you will overcome them.
  • Organise a project plan.
  • Enlist the help of any external experts or professional developers.

3) Project execution

  • Execute the identified deliverables of the project.
  • Test team performances and efficiency.
  • Refer back to the project milestones to determine progress.
  • Control and monitor all project activities as they unfold.

Each software development project, app or product is unique. However, the processes involved in turning a roughly formed idea into a polished, finished end-product is largely the same for every project.


{Frequently Asked Questions}

A project milestone plays an invaluable role in project planning and development as they give all team members a clear indication of how a project is developing.

An effective software project milestone should serve as a marker-point within the project’s life-cycle and growth. When milestones are met, it is clear for everyone on the team that things are progressing as they should.

If a milestone is not met, it gives management and stakeholders a clear understanding of where the challenges lie in a project and how to overcome them.

Project management milestones help keep work on-track, as they highlight key dates and events in which project development must match expectations. Some project management milestone examples could include:

■ Crucial management or stakeholders meetings
■ Key deliverable dates
■ Beginning and endpoints for each phase of a project
■ Stakeholder approval dates

While software development may ‘survive’ without milestones, it is always advised to keep everyone focused on the same goals.

Without clearly defined milestones to summarise the development of a project, it runs the risk of scope-creep, resulting in setbacks, delays, and even failure.

The number of milestones that any one project have should largely depend on size and project scope.

Smaller-scale projects often have fewer milestones than larger, more complex ones.

When working out milestones, you shouldn’t think in terms of numbers but rather in project progress and development. The most effective and motivating milestones are those which fit naturally within the project’s life-cycle.

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