All software development efforts begin with an elaborate plan that anticipates difficulties and predicts associated costs.

A development team needs to be guided by a well-formulated plan to work efficiently. Hence, managers should acknowledge the essential nature of effective planning and learn to convert their ideas into well-organized schemes.

1. What is a software development plan, and why is it needed?

A software development plan (SPD) entails all the steps from research to deployment. It specifies each phase of the project and its corresponding duration, together with involved personnel and their responsibilities. The plan also clarifies which functionality will address the customer’s demands and what metrics will evaluate the product.

The role of planning a development project lies in its ability to streamline the workflow and ensure specific goals are achieved. These goals concern the project itself (i.e., meeting client requirements, sticking to the budget, and yielding excellent deliverables) and the business (i.e., improving their performance, boosting customer satisfaction, and maximizing profits). 

Looking at a development plan, team members and clients understand how the job will be done with the allocated budget and resources. This understanding is followed by better monitoring and management of the project. The importance of having a good plan is, thus, apparent for any tech business. 

2. How is a software development plan structured? 

The critical sections of a typical SPD are Introduction, Project Organization, Management, Project Control, and Maintenance & Support. 

a. Introduction

This section defines the project’s objectives and envisions its main business and functionality expectations. 

b. Project organization

The section should clearly state the developers, their specific roles, and who will manage them to improve transparency and reduce the risk of a bottleneck. Additionally, the plan entails other external groups with whom developers will interact. 

  • Testing/QA: Testers can be full-time participants as well, but if they neither work with developers at the early stages nor actively partake in brainstorming ideas and doing research, they might be regarded as an external group instead.
  • Deployment: The deployment team is in charge of making a software product available for the live environment by releasing, activating, and updating it. Developers must know when the involvement of deployment staff begins so that both teams can work together on their areas of expertise.
  • Marketing: Marketing specialists usually engage in the project at its early and final stages. There should be an assigned go-to marketing staff whom developers can contact frequently so that the development process aligns with its associated marketing objectives. 

c. Management

Apart from the estimated schedules and resources, this section enlists the development phases and their goals. Resources, estimates, and deliverables will likely change throughout the project, so the management section should be revised accordingly.

d. Project control

This section describes the guidelines and approaches that team members and concerned stakeholders will use to measure the quality and efficiency of the project. A checklist for project monitoring concerns the following aspects: Requirement Compliance, Budget and Schedule, Quality Assurance, Risk Prevention, and Prospective Improvements. 

e. Maintenance and support

After finalizing the development process, technical assistance continues throughout the product’s lifecycle. As a result, software development companies should include the post-release support they provide in their plans. 

3. Formulate a software development plan step-by-step

After familiarizing themselves with the essential components, managers can devise a good development plan by taking the six steps below:

  • Step 1: Define realistic goals and scope for the project.
  • Step 2: Figure out the requirements (relating to personnel, skills, equipment, infrastructure, costs, and time) needed to achieve the established goals. 
  • Step 3: Set a reasonable budget based on the rough estimates of expected costs, which will be derived from the established requirements. 
  • Step 4: Break down the project into smaller phases and tasks to incorporate them into a timeline after outlining the plan’s basic factors.
  • Step 5: Recruit competent and experienced developers with suitable skill sets before putting them into a team. 
  • Step 6: Regularly keep track of the project’s progress and quality testing to monitor the functionality and delivery of the final product. 

4. Best practices in software development planning

Project managers can realize an ideal plan by considering the five time-proven practices, namely defining the minimum viable product, ensuring consistent and straightforward codes, conducting continuous testing, checking codes with various resources, and setting realistic estimates. 

  • Defining the minimum viable product (MVP): An MVP is a version of the product with basic features to be usable for early customers, who will then provide feedback. Determining the MVP helps the development team navigate better toward maximum user satisfaction. 
  • Ensuring simple and consistent codes: Unnecessary complexity may be avoided by using code that is easy to read and manage. Simplicity and consistency are also useful for future product upgrades, especially when the original developers are absent. 
  • Conducting continuous testing: End-to-end testing sessions confirm the code’s quality and its alignment with user demands.
  • Checking codes with various resources: Before being tested, the code should be cross-checked by other developers. This practice helps detect bugs early and developers can sharpen their coding skills by learning from each other. 
  • Setting realistic estimates: Project managers need to establish reasonable timelines and fundings. A rigid schedule and budget put a strain on developers, while too much time and a budget that is too generous may lead to procrastination and excessive spendings. 
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Five idea practices for software development processes

5. Potential planning pitfalls 

Identifying and avoiding issues that render your planning efforts ineffective is crucial for the success of the following stages. Common hurdles that leaders will encounter in the planning phase are: 

  • Unclear goals: When planning a software development project, managers need to thoroughly understand the needs or problems that their product will address and how the latter’s value will be evaluated. The inability to turn ideas into measurable and defined objectives often leads to an unsuccessful product. 
  • Insufficient documentation: Keeping records of important information, such as required functions or features of the product, changes to the timeline, deliverables after each phase, etc., keeps participants informed of the process. Therefore, inadequate documentation of the project can create confusion and disrupt the team’s operation. 
  • Communication gaps: Ambiguity and deficiency in exchanges among clients, developers, and other concerned departments give rise to misunderstanding and a lack of engagement. This, in turn, negatively impacts the general workflow. Numerous management and reporting tools can be leveraged to automatize the communication process and reduce this risk.
  • Scope creep: Scope creep happens when a project’s requirements and features increase over its lifecycle. For instance, midway through a project, the customer’s demands change significantly, resulting in more features and deliverables. Scope creep may also be a consequence of internal miscommunication. Though undesirable, these changes are virtually inevitable in reality. Leaders should anticipate and be well-prepared for scope creep to better manage and prevent it from causing severe delays.

By and large, a successful software product delivery is driven by a clear and thoughtful plan. It gives team members and managers proper knowledge of the project and helps them become proactive. Therefore, a good plan with an ideal balance of compliance and flexibility can be equally impactful as the development process. 

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