Provide Written Technical Specifications In A Clear And Unambiguous Fashion Applied Software Project Management Book Review

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Applied Software Project Management Book Review

It’s not often that a practical, easy-to-read software project management book is packed full of ready-to-use process scripts. Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene have done just that with their latest book Application Software Project Management.

There are too many books about software project management or software engineering that are stiff, overly complicated, and boring, but this book is not one of them. It was a pleasure to read because their writing style is clear without being simplistic and the authors describe things in precise detail. They seem to understand their audience and start writing in a very helpful and practical way. They have definitely achieved this.

The first part of the book covers tools and techniques that can be applied to projects. Project planning, estimating, planning, analysis, requirements, design and programming and testing each have their own section. Part two is about using project management effectively and includes chapters on understanding change, management and leadership, external project management and process improvement.

A clear theme throughout the book is the description of typical problems faced by software project teams – inadequate requirements, management of changes, lack of quality assurance at every stage of a project, endless testing and error cycles, tension and misunderstanding between software engineers. and business users. Some of these problems are technical in nature, but organizational and management. Stellman & Greene offers practical advice for solving these problems based on their experience on similar projects.

Stellman & Greene certainly knows a lot about the challenges facing software teams. At the beginning they describe the need to overcome chronic problems and this theme is continued throughout the book. For every problem, there is always at least one proposed solution. For example, they describe a common scenario in which senior managers do not trust the technical team’s estimates, somehow believing that the technical team is deliberately over-estimating to buy some time. Their proposed solution is to involve these managers in the evaluation process so that they see the estimates in a clear and orderly manner. They then explain in detail how to conduct a Wideband Delphi estimation session and provide sample templates and documents that can be used in such sessions. They also provide an excellent process script for teams to follow.

Later chapters include planning, scheduling, analysis, requirements, design, and testing. While most of these sections cover each topic in reasonable detail, the section on design is lacking in detail and provides neither an indication of what types of designs can be produced nor a detailed description of what these design deliverables might contain. This is in contrast to the requirements section which includes process scripts for requirements elicitation and analysis as well as a detailed description of use cases and software specification documentation.

Another nice aspect of the book is the checklists that appear after dealing with any of the major project management or software engineering topics. Checklists are important quality assurance techniques that the authors correctly state should be used in software projects as a way to prevent errors. For example, if a checklist applied to the software requirements specification captures the fact that a critical requirement is missing or unclear, then the error can be corrected during the analysis phase. The authors state that by catching and correcting errors early, the cost is minimal compared to the cost of correcting errors found later in a project. Their emphasis on quality assurance techniques applied throughout the project with examples of applicable checklists is therefore very practical and useful.

The authors may want to revise some of the examples they use. They describe the process of updating code to make it more maintainable and use an example of Java code that they update slowly over several iterations. At the end of this process, they say why refactoring will be applied in situations where the code is like spaghetti. This is fine, except that they use a very non-spaghetti example of Java code to convert. By doing this it seems to me that they are falling into a common programmer trap of optimizing code where programmers spend time away from mapping by duplicating code that works well to write the ‘perfect’ code, class or object. I’ve seen this happen on projects where there just wasn’t time in the schedule to allow for it, and it certainly didn’t bring any additional business benefit to the participants. However, this is a minor concern.

I would like to see more pages dedicated to risk management. Time and again, failure to manage risks is cited as a reason why projects fail. The authors describe risk management in detail, however the book would benefit from a better explanation of how and why risk management should be done throughout the project, not just in the early stages of project planning.

One thing I thought the book lacked was a comprehensive look at iterative methods. The implicit assumption throughout is that the software project should follow the water method. I will not agree. There are some important alternatives to the water method that have been developed in the last 20 years, especially those based on iterative approaches. The main drawback with the water approach is that it assumes that everything is known about the requirements at the beginning of a project.

Iterative approaches, on the other hand, assume that requirements will change during the project either because users gain a better understanding of what they need, or because of changes in the business environment. Based on this assumption, iterative methods are designed to better manage this changing environment. With iterative approaches, changes in requirements often require the project to redo previous phases with increased cost and effort. The authors spend almost a page on the Rational Unified Process (RUP) and the authors should consider in detail how their practical advice and processes can be used on alternative iterative approaches to water management.

In the end, I think the book tried to appeal to three different groups of people very broadly. First, part one of the people involved in a software team (project managers, analysts, programmers and testers). The second part is for consultants who are hired to improve project management practices and project managers who need to manage software development projects. The book would have been better if it just focused on the people involved in the software team.

The last section dealing with outsourcing project management is touched upon in a bit of detail almost as if the authors felt they needed to mention it since outsourcing is such a business priority these days. The final chapter dealing with process improvement is too short to deal effectively with such a large topic. Separate books dealing only with these topics would have been more appropriate.

Despite these points, this book is an excellent guide for those involved in software projects, both project managers and technical team members. They will find many that they can apply directly to their projects.

I would recommend this book to anyone working on a software development team because the book has a lot of practical advice to help people improve their ability to deliver quality software. Come to think of it, I would recommend it even to senior executives of companies who have a negative view of their software development teams. Senior managers may then understand why committing resources to process improvement is one of the best investments they can make.

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