Want Better Results in Software Projects? Try 3 Simple Questions

Project managers crave successful software projects. They dream of crossing the finish line with a win. Project managers want to help their company and advance their career. Let's look at three powerful questions to help you identify lessons learned.

Unfortunately, some project managers fall into a rut and fail to make progress. These individuals do the same things from one project to another project and expect a different result. They take the wrong actions, pursue the wrong things and operate under wrong assumptions.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." —Albert Einstein

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Some of these mistakes are understandable. Project managers deliver their projects hastily due to excessive pressure from management. Other project managers have no one to coach them and help them identify ways to improve.

Regardless of whether you are new to project management or you have been managing projects for a decade or longer, use these three simple questions to improve project results. These questions may be used in one or more of the following points in your projects:

  • At the project close out
  • When reaching project milestones
  • At the end of project phases or iterations or sprints
  • When seeking to recover a challenged or failed project

Involve your project team and key stakeholders when asking these questions.

Three Lessons Learned Questions

1. What went well?

When evaluating projects, we often look at the negative aspects. Be sure to focus on the positive things and ask this question first. Even if your project was a failure, you and your team were likely doing certain things well.

Examples:

  • The developers completed their coding on schedule and fulfilled the requirements.
  • The project sponsor cast a clear vision for the project and helped the team find an additional testing resource when the project team was starting to fall behind schedule.
  • All changes went through the change control process.

2. What did not go well?

After capturing the positive elements, the project manager may proceed with what did not go well. The project manager should be careful when facilitating this discussion. Focus on the process rather than the people.

The project manager may say, "Let's turn our attention to what did not go well in the project. Specifically, let's identify process issues."

Examples:

  • Some of the stakeholders were unaware of the impact to their department. We failed to include appropriate individuals in the stakeholder analysis and the communications planning.
  • We discovered a high number of requirement defects during testing. Most of the defects originated in the requirements. We failed to prototype the requirements that led to misunderstandings.
  • Some requirements were not included in the design document. Therefore, some of the required features had to be coded late in the project. This rework resulted in adverse impacts to the project schedule.

3. What would you do differently if you undertook this project again?

Once you've discussed questions #1 and #2, you will find the question #3 easier to answer. This question is where the rubber meets the road. The answers to this question can improve results for your future projects.

On the positive side, identify things you've done before that you wish to continue. On the negative side, identify things you wish to avoid or reduce. What proactive things can you do earlier in the project that will reduce your overall effort and yet improve your results?

Examples:

  1. Create a requirements traceability matrix.
  2. Perform additional requirements analysis by utilizing prototypes, context diagrams, and data flow diagrams.
  3. Validate the project requirements.
  4. Complete a training plan during the planning process.
  5. Staff project team with a seasoned business analyst.

Stop the Insanity

Want more project wins? Stop the insanity. Change your mind. Change your behavior. However difficult, review and evaluate your projects systematically. Implement the lessons learned in your subsequent efforts and watch your success rate improve.

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