21 project management tips, trips ,traps and myths

Paresh Jain

Who said that geeks can't make you laugh? Who said that nerds do not laugh? Who said that computer engineers do not have a sense of humor?

I have always found my peers and pals in software development having a great sense of humor. At least they do not mind laughing at themselves. Some describe their humor to be weird.  Others do not!

The art and science of software development and the subject of software project management have provided us with many a 'one-liner', that provides great insight into practical aspects of business. It  is needless to say that it also provides us with some comic relief.

I am borrowing some of these words of wit and wisdom and attempt to impress upon the reader with some practical aspects of software development.

Here goes....

1) It takes one woman nine months to have a baby.

 It takes a woman nine months to have a baby. But project managers are those who believe that impregnating nine women can create a baby in one month. And they believe that it is fun attempting that.
You may laugh at the statement. But many project leaders and managers attempt do the same.
Moral of the story -- a project does not get completed fast, by simply increasing the number of developers. Sometimes increasing the team may actually delay the project.

2) Golden rule of estimation # 1

The same work under the same conditions will be estimated differently by ten different estimators or by one estimator at ten different times.
Moral of the story -- estimation of the size of a project can never be an exact science, and perhaps it will never be. You can estimate a project accurately only once it is completed

3) Conning a developer

You can con a sucker into committing to an impossible deadline, but you cannot con him into meeting it.
Moral of the story -- it is easy to ask a programmer make a commitment on a specific task. But just because he said that he would try to finish it does not mean that he will deliver on time. A good project leader will figure out whether the deadline is achievable first and whether the developer in question can deliver on time,  before he assigns a task.

4) No and I do not know

The most valuable and least used word and phrase in a project manager's vocabulary is "No" and " I do not know".

Moral of the story:- project managers often agree to meet deadlines without ever consulting their team because they want to keep the client/boss/CFO happy. They never say No to impossible tasks.  And they cannot accept the fact that they are ignorant of something which a team member is aware of.

5) Small projects in a large project

At the heart of every large project is a small project trying to get out.

Every project needs to be phased, and split into smaller projects. That is the right way to tackle a large project.

6) If it looks like a duck

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.
Software developers often ignore the obvious. In their minds they recognize a bug as a bug, but they tend to look at it as a feature or an extraordinary situation that will never repeat again. So, just fix it.

7) On problems

A problem shared is a buck passed. Too few people on a project can't solve the problems - too many create more problems than they solve.

When you notice a bug, a missing feature or something that is causing errors, you share the query on a mailing list, ask a colleague to fix it or just send a mail to a few other coders. This attitude is often self-defeating. Once you pass it on, you ignore the bug till it bothers you again.

8) On users

A user will tell you anything you ask about, but nothing more. A user is somebody who tells you what they want the day you give them what they asked for.

The biggest problem with a typical user of a software application is that they cannot visualize the application till they see it. When they see it, they will remember what they really need out of it. Solution to such a predicament, is taking the user into confidence as you build an application. Have interim releases and take user feedback.

9) If you fail to plan ....

If you fail to plan you are planning to fail.
Planning is the most important aspect of software project management. Unless you plan the project well, it is as good as starting on a failed project.

10) If you don't attack the risks....

If you don't attack the risks, the risks will attack you.
What the Israeli army taught the IT manager! Israel during the 1967 war with Arab countries did pre-emptive strikes to demobilize and dismember the Arab forces. If the risk factors in a project are on analyzed and pre-emptive measures taken, the chances that your project is crashing down is indeed high.

 11) The bitterness of poor quality...

The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of meeting the date is forgotten.
If you forgot to test the code in an attempt to meet the deadlines, the n you are shipping a time bomb. The chances that the code base is buggy is very high. And no one will bother whether you met the deadlines.
Hence the moral of the story is to ensure all quality checks are done, even if the project is delayed.

12) A badly planned project will take....

A badly planned project will take three times longer than expected - a well planned project only twice as long as expected.
This is to emphasize that anything you estimate may take more than you have estimated. There are always the unknown elements that miss the scope of the plan.

13) Good project managers admit mistakes

Good project managers admit mistakes: that's why you so rarely meet a good project manager.
This is stressing on the rule four we mentioned in the list. Good managers admit mistake, since they believe that hell breaks lose when they hide the obvious.

14) Fast - cheap - good

Fast - cheap - good: you can have any two, but not all three.
This  isone of the golden rules of any software project. If you need the project to complete on time or even before it, and yet be good, you cannot have it cheap. You need to invest into the best of resources--the best systems, tools, software, consultants and developers. It will cost you a bomb and will never be cheap.
Similarly if you want it done fast, but with cheaper resources be assured that you will have a poor result.
And finally if you need a cost effective but good result, then it can never be done fast.

15) Ridiculous deadlines

The more ridiculous the deadline the more money will be wasted trying to meet it. Te first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time the last 10% takes the other 90%.
The above two IT proverbs indicate one solid statement. The more the pressure you put on a team to finish a project the more the project will get delayed.

16) There are no good project managers.

There are no good project managers - only lucky ones.
Project management is all about leadership. Once napoleon said about an officer being promoted to be a general. " I know he is good. He is brilliant. But is he lucky?"
The emperor knew the value of luck. A good project manager is always lucky, otherwise he is no good. Some MBA grads call that business instincts.


17) Dates on the calendar

Warning: dates in the calendar are closer than you think.
Whatever be the deadline, you will be optimistic that you can finish a project within the stipulated time, and most of the time you will not achieve it.

18) Managing IT  people

Managing IT folks are like herding cats.
People management is a tough job. Human beings are complex as the homely feline creatures. It is tough to keep them motivated as a group. That is a huge challenge, which need to be factored in when you plan a project.

19) It’s not the hours that count

It's not the hours that count, it's what you do in those hours.

Spending 70 hour weeks will not help a project. It is what you do productively in 40 hours in a week, that really matter. Hence avoid working long hours.

20) Collection of management laws

If it can go wrong it will - Murphy’s law.

If it can't possibly go wrong, it will - O’Malley’s corollary to Murphy’s law.

It will go wrong in the worst possible way - Sod's law.

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion - Parkinson’s law.

Finely chopped cabbage in mayonnaise - Coleslaw.

If there is a 50% chance of something going wrong then 9 times out of 10 it will.

A two-year project will take three years, a three year project will never finish -

Murphy, O’Malley, Sod and Parkinson are alive and well - and working on your project.

21) A project isn’t over

A project isn’t over, till the final fat cheque comes in.
This is the golden rule of any project, whether software or not. Until the client pays he is not satisfied. He will not be satisfied unless you deliver according to his wishes.

Well, there are many more. But these sums up most of the gyaan which any software project can offer.

Paresh Jain works as direct quality with JK Solutions.