How to Evaluate Software Vendors Based on Project Management Skills

Project management plan often serves as an indication of a project’s success. Logically, if everything is well organized then it’s highly likely that the final product will meet expectations. In the software development, a project management plan is particularly important. When there are many decision-makers involved and requirements change frequently, it’s imperative to establish ways to deal with all the variables, including the management of the process itself. A defined project management plan, therefore, creates a sense of stability in the turbulent software development process.

Key criteria to assess the project management plan

Project management is a broad term that describes how the vendor approaches everything from communication to changes in the requirements and document exchange. Project management affects both the client and the vendor, yet it’s the vendor’s job to define the process and make sure it works based on client’s requirements. Once it’s done you can assess the proposed plan using the criteria below:

Define the process before the work starts

Document the process in writing either in a separate document or in an email communication. There is no right or wrong way here. The vendor is expected to send the process description for client’s approval but the client can also suggest a process. A project management plan makes both parties more comfortable working together and creates a framework to follow in case of any issues.

Choose and adjust the process based on project needs

The process must work for both the client and the contractor but first and foremost it has to serve project goals. A good rule of thumb is to assess the process from the “Does it serve the project?” angle. Client or contractor’s preferences are often considered the main determinants, but while they are important, priority should be given to the needs of the project. This requires an honest assessment of the requirements, ability to let go of personal preferences and active collaboration of the parties involved.  

Clarify what’s expected from you as a customer

A software contractor will most likely reach out to define your responsibilities. When the expectations are high and there are financial risks and gains, it’s in the contractor’s interest to make sure the other party is dedicated to successful project completion. But as a client, equally concerned about the outcome, you want to know what kind of commitment is expected from you. Don’t just blindly accept what the contractor says, you can define your role and level of involvement based on the project needs.

Understand how issues will be handled

A plethora of issues can arise during the course of the project. These are not errors in code or product, rather they are issues related to the overall course of the project including the process itself. When you know whom to talk to when the issue arises and understand how the problem will be handled, the time and effort that go into conflict resolution will be minimal.

Define how your business goals are going to be achieved

Project management has a direct impact on the result. It must be clear how the contractor’s actions can help you achieve each of your business goals. Software contractors aim to understand clients’ needs and offer the course of action that leads to goal completion, but often the goals aren’t clear to the contractor or the clients themselves. If it is the case, consider getting together with the contractor again and reaching a complete understanding of your business plans.

Agree on metrics to help you determine if the project is going in the right direction

With the metrics in place, the contractor will be able to objectively evaluate project performance despite all the uncertainties. They will also be able to correct the course of action faster. From the client’s side, the metrics provide a sense of control and clarity on when the intervention might be needed.

Ways to test the contractor’s project management capabilities

Depending on the scope of the project the process can be defined in an email or in a separate document. Even small projects require process clarification. Before you commit to a project, agree on small steps to test the contractor’s project management skills. The small steps could be:  
  • Project analysis
  • Short fixed price project
  • Proof of concept
All three provide a perfect chance to see the contractor in action and determine if they can manage your project.

Sample project management plan

Every project management plan is different, yet these are the main points we suggest discussing with a software contractor:

Project scope

What is included in the project, goals and objectives, quality requirements, and any unknown areas as of the project start date.

Project deliverables 

What will be delivered as a result of the project and when the deliverables are expected.

Project team organization, roles, and responsibilities

Who is involved and in what capacity. What’s expected from each team member on the client and contractor’s sides.

Resources needed to complete the project

This section describes the material resources required for successful project completion: hardware, software, office and communication equipment requirements.

Schedule and milestones

This section lists intermediate milestones and delivery dates.

Change requests management

How change requests are handled and what is the process for submitting a change request.

Risk management 

This section describes how risks are identified and mitigated.

Issues management

Issues are the problems outside the project manager’s authority. This section identifies what issues are and how they can be addressed.

Communication management 

The system of communication is outlined here. It defines the mechanism of communication between the team members and the client.

Project quality management

Defines the process that needs to be put in place to assure quality at all stages of the project.

Adjustments to process after customer feedback 

This section refers to how the contractor will handle the feedback about the project management plan. The plan isn’t a set thing, sometimes it needs to be revised and adjusted after the process was agreed upon and the project starts.

Conclusion

Taking the time to agree on a project management plan can save time and prevent financial losses. A project management plan is usually proposed by the vendor but can be adjusted according to the client’s preferences. The content of the plan and the way it’s presented to you can differ. Short projects don’t require anything but an outline of the plan in an email. Owners of large projects may want to receive a comprehensive detailed document.

 

When you review the plan try to assess it from the project needs and business goals perspective. While personal communication preferences do have a place in the project management plan, you want to eliminate everything that doesn’t serve the project. Finally, a project management plan isn’t just a starting point of a project, it can be treated as a project itself. While you agree on the process, you inadvertently establish and evaluate expectations. In that regard, a project management plan is a part of a project that brings the expectations of both parties to a common denominator.

 

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