Chapter 1. Introduction

Say a project that started out as a small, stopgap utility has turned into a raging behemoth, sucking seemingly unlimited time from your programmers. Or the president of your company announced that your project will be done this week, even though you know that it still has an enormous number of bugs. Or your team delivered the software, only to have users complain that an entire feature is missing. Or every time the team fixes a bug, they seem to uncover a dozen more—including ones that you know were fixed six months ago. If you are a software project manager, you may recognize these problems (or similar ones) from your own career.

Many software organizations have problems delivering quality software that is finished on time and meets the users' needs. Luckily, most software project problems have surprisingly few root causes, and these causes are well understood. Solutions to these problems have been discovered, explained, and tested in thousands of software organizations around the world. These solutions are generally straightforward and easy to implement. However, they are not always intuitive to people who do not understand project management, and that makes them difficult to introduce. The goal of this book is to teach you about these solutions and help you integrate them into your own organization.

But this book is about more than just solutions to typical project problems. Every single technique, practice, and tool also helps establish an environment of trust, openness, and honesty among the project team, the management of the organization, and the people who will use or benefit from the software. By sharing all of your project information, both your team and your managers can understand your decisions, and they can see exactly why you made them.

It's easy to forget that project management is more than just a technical engineering skill. Good project management really boils down to a few basic principles that, if you keep them in mind, will help guide you through any software project:

  • Make sure all decisions are based on openly shared information.

  • Don't second-guess your team members' expertise.

  • Introduce software quality from the very beginning of the project.

  • Don't impose an artificial hierarchy on the project team.

  • Remember that the fastest way through the project is to use good engineering practices.

A project manager needs to understand every facet of software development in order to make good judgements. You don't need to be a programmer, software tester, requirements analyst, or architect in order to be a good project manager. But you do need to know what these people do, why they are on your team, the common pitfalls they succumb to, and how to fix them. You need to be able to read and understand the documents that they create and provide intelligent feedback. And by relying on objective analysis (rather than gut feelings, personal preferences, or a perceived hierarchy within your team), you can use this knowledge in order to make decisions based on the best interests of the project.

Tell Everyone the Truth All the Time

The most important principle in this book is transparency . A project manager constantly makes decisions about the project. If those decisions are based on real information that's gathered by the team and trusted by management, that's the most likely way to make sure the project succeeds. Creating a transparent environment means making all of that information public and explaining the rationale behind your decisions. No software project goes exactly as planned; the only way to deal with obstacles is by sharing the true nature of each problem with everyone involved in the project and by allowing the best solution to come from the most qualified people.

But while anyone would agree with this in principle, it's much harder to keep yourself and your project honest in practice. Say you're a project manager, and your project is running late. What do you do if your boss—much to your surprise—announces to the world that your project will be done on time? Unfortunately, when faced with this situation, most project managers try to change reality rather than deal with the truth. It's not hard to see why that approach is appealing. Most people in software engineering are very positive, and it's not hard to convince them that an unrealistic deadline is just another technical challenge to be met. But the passage of time is not a technical challenge, and if the expectations are unrealistic, then even the most talented team will fail to meet them. The only real solution to this problem is to be open and honest about the real status of the project—and that's going make your boss unhappy.

And so, instead of telling the truth, many project managers faced with a deadline that's clearly unrealistic will put pressure on their team to work late and make up the time. They silently trim the scope, gut quality tasks, start eliminating reviews, inspections, and pretty much any documentation, and just stop updating the schedule entirely. And, above all, they wait until the very last minute to tell everyone that the project is late.., hoping against hope that luck, long hours, and a whole lot of coffee will correct the situation.

And sometimes it works... sort of, until the users have to work around bugs or missing features, until programmers have to start patching the software, and until managers have to go on a charm offensive in order to smooth over rough relations among everyone involved. Even if the deadline was met, the software was clearly not really ready for release. (And that's assuming the team even managed to squeeze it out on time!)

That's why the most important part of building better software is establishing transparency. It's about making sure that, from the very beginning of the project, everyone agrees on what needs to be built, how long it will take to build it, what steps will be taken in order to complete the project, and how they will know that it's been done properly. Every tool, technique, and practice in this book is based on the principles of freely sharing information and keeping the entire project team "in the loop" on every important decision.

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