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The Beginning of the End: Defining Project Closure

~ By ExecutiveBrief

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How do you know when your part of the development race is over? Learn how to establish a clear finish line for your project!

When undertaking a software development project, an effectively designed closure plan serves as an outline of required tasks that must be carried out appropriately in order to result in successful project delivery, and adequate preparation is one significant element when it comes to ensuring a smooth transition to implementation. The closure plan must be considered at the outset of the project, as the client outlines their specific software requirements. With a detailed description of the desired end result communicated and understood, the expected capabilities and deliverables of the software are established. But as you enter the final stages of a software development project, what can be done in order to ensure that the program is completely suitable and fully primed for implementation?

Key Components

According to Joe Coley¹, Projects that I've been involved with have been very much subject to additional needs and desires of the user community. In effect, this means that the end deliverable becomes the focus of the closure plan, that is, to ensure a high level of end user satisfaction with the software requested and therefore created. Coley has 20 years of experience in the information technology industry and offers much insight on the subject. When it comes to key components for successful closure plans, he highlights three main aspects to consider, presented below:

  • Assess the project requirements. In order to determine the best course of action throughout the cycle of a project, it is necessary to first consider the scope of the project. Establishing a clear outlook and complete understanding as to the required deliverables will greatly improve the ability to adequately determine exactly what tasks must be carried out in order to meet these deliverables in an efficient and timely manner.
  • Communication. While communication is always essential throughout the cycle of any project or initiative, it is imperative to establish a specific plan for obtaining end-user input, as needed and where feasible. Therefore, a key component to a successful close is establishing and maintaining open lines of communication with the appropriate groups. The end users comprise the group of those who will be utilising the software in real-time business applications; they have the critical business knowledge as to ways in which the software can be created or functionality that can be incorporated so that the result will be a valuable tool with the capability to enhance their business functions.
  • Offer continuing support. When it comes to considering a focus on the continuing support needs of the end-user community, Coley cites a specific reason to do so, There is always an expectation of continuing support in the form of application tweaks, bug fixes, and enhancements. By extending continuing support to the end users, they have more confidence in the software program as well as in their chosen developer.

What Impacts Implementation?

Each project has its own specific design layout and requirements, thereby making every delivery unique. In creating a closure plan, a key initial imperative is to clearly define the client's objectives in relation to their software needs, which should include key elements from the earlier discussion regarding the functionality and other requirements communicated by the end user. Client communication is essential from the beginning in order to have an appropriately formed program structure, ensuring that no important features are overlooked. Establishing and maintaining strong and regular communication during the early phases of the project can help to prevent last-minute additions that the client may want or later decide are necessary to incorporate into the software.

Many of these last-minute additions or necessary changes can be uncovered during the building and testing phases of the software development project. Not only can the exact capabilities of the software be established, but limitations will be identified as well. Often, it is ultimately the end user who will have the best perspective when it comes to specifying the software requirements where implementation and daily application use are concerned. It is the responsibility of the chosen software development company to determine the most effective approaches to fixes and additions, as well as to implement project resources effectively in order to do so in the most efficient and timely manner possible.

Coley highlights that another main challenge to overcome is to ensure that the technology meets the real needs of the end users, which can be addressed by having a method in place to obtain feedback from the end users regarding the software's capabilities. Happy users a successful project makes! It's not over until the end user sings! he says. The focus should continually be on the needs of the clients.

Writing software specific to the needs of a client can have a dramatic impact on the timeline for the program building phase. The tasks demanded of the software can become great, especially as the client delves further into their detailed notes as to individualised performance expectations. More often than not, a client may find that as the development phases continue and as they come to further understand the program's capabilities, they will want it to do more than originally expected.

Each individual program developed will present unique, specific challenges. While some of these are visible immediately, others will be uncovered throughout the process of development. The results that will be delivered at the close of the project are those that were seeded from the beginning, which is why it is so critical that effective lines of communication be established before, during, and even after the project's completion to ensure the satisfaction of the end users following implementation.

Right Resources, Right Words, Right Time

One element to consider in ensuring the development of an effective closure plan is that the employees assigned to critical tasks within the organisation must be those who are best suited for their respective positions, with appropriate, applicable knowledge and experience and necessary resources. Also, by displaying strong, confident leadership continually throughout the project cycle, a valuable manager can keep the entire staff focused on the ultimate goal of satisfying the client's requirements. This is where the communication aspect of any development plan comes into play. Project managers act as diplomats; they must establish and maintain ongoing effective communication with the client about their needs and relay this critical information to their own workers who are responsible for meeting the requirements of the software build.

The demands of the client can potentially present its own set of challenges-another reason why it is imperative to keep lines of communication open and clear. The client must feel confident that their needs are being met, and it is monumentally important for the staff creating the program to be made aware of needed changes immediately as they arise. A first-rate leader will find the appropriate balance of communications on both sides of the conference room. As Coley emphasises, Communicate, communicate, communicate! When developing as a team, effective communication among those working on a project as well as effective communication with the customer is crucial. It's elementary, my Dear Watson.

Scheduling of appropriate tests, the build phases based on the project's demands, and the client's expectations of delivery are all important areas where an effective leader should be communicating and reacting as the circumstance dictate. It is through these efforts that the project may maintain its proper flow toward the delivery deadline.

Test…Test…Test

If appropriate testing is not carried out in accordance with end-user requirements, delivery of a project may be severely hindered. Overlooking even a seemingly simple test can lead to poor software performance. Testing the software is the most critical of the phases in a closure plan, and it must be done throughout the build of the software.

As with any project, there's always a degree of variable or unknowns that will occur and must be overcome. By testing regularly, from the early stages through to the end of the project, you are addressing the risk of potential errors and ensuring a timely delivery for a satisfied client.

When it comes to determining the degrees and stages of testing to be carried out throughout a project, Coley encourages first considering the nature of the project itself. Is the project the result of a detailed specification prepared well in advance of coding and basically a design pretty much cast in stone? If there is pretty much a hard and fast design to which you must adhere, then certainly as one enters the closing phases of the project, testing to determine adherence to all specifications is critical, he asserts. I believe this often is not the case, perhaps because there is too much to test, so testing is not performed completely , with reliance instead placed on the testing done throughout the creative process and only minimal 'final' testing.

In an environment where a client requests the creation of software suited specifically to their unique business structure, Coley uses his experience to suggest, This kind of project requires the most extensive testing. Testing throughout the creative process should be applied consistently, and the affects of the changes/additions of new or newly coded functionality should be tested thoroughly as the project progresses. This extensive testing often conflicts with unrealistic schedules and often is not completed, Coley notes.

I believe that all too often, the challenges of testing incorporated changes and/or additions becomes more than a development team can handle effectively. In my opinion, the best testers are the end users themselves. Closing phases of a project are smoother with more user input, he adds. I realise that not all projects can include user input and that getting user input itself can be a huge challenge. However, obtaining their input during any project that allows for it makes such communication an invaluable resource.

Success from Beginning to End

It is essential to be prepared throughout the entire life cycle of a software development project, and an important element of preparation is to have established an insightful closure plan. In order to create a successful closure plan, key components to consider include communication both among the team and with the client, testing throughout the life of the project, and clearly defined expected results from the client at the outset as to how they wish the software to perform.

These components, however, are unique to each project and must be considered on a individual basis; while there may be similarities among projects, what may have worked well during a project in the past might not be best suited for a current project. Establishing and maintaining a plan with the end user in mind makes for a smoother transition and successful close of a software development project.


References

¹ Joe Coley is an independent software developer and member of Northeast Dataflex Consortium, MA, USA.


ExecutiveBrief, the technology management resource for business leaders, offers proven tips, techniques, and action plans that companies can use to better manage people, processes and tools - the keys to improving their business performance. To learn more, please visit: SoftServe United Blog

© ExecutiveBrief 2008


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