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Applied Software Project Management: How to Get Software Projects on Track and Keep Them There

December 2, 2005

Sebastopol, CA--Many software organizations have problems delivering quality software that's finished on time and meets its users' needs. Fortunately, the root causes of these problems are few and easily understood. Solutions to the problems have been discovered, explained, and tested in thousands of software organizations around the world. For the most part, the solutions are straightforward and easy to implement. And yet, software projects continue to fail. The high incidence of failure might seem puzzling to some or even preordained, but longtime software developers Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene know that there are tried and true techniques that can help any project manager. "Avoiding these pitfalls is not hard," they explain, "but it's not necessarily intuitive." In their new book, Applied Software Project Management (O'Reilly, US $39.95), they share tools, techniques, and practical advice to get projects on track and keep them there.

"Jenny and I have been talking for years about what makes projects fail, and how to change the way we build software so that our projects succeed," explains Stellman. "When we were working together, we'd spend hours trying to figure out the root causes of our problems. And then, after we moved on to different organizations, we saw the same exact problems over and over again! We talked to a lot of people, and read a lot about project management techniques and practices. We expected to just fix our own problems, but discovered that everyone seems to suffer from the same ones. Something had to be done about this, and that was the inspiration for the book."

"We know that many software projects fail, and most projects fail the same way," Greene adds. "But instead of taking that as a call to arms, a rallying cry to avoid the common pitfalls and well-understood problems, a lot of software developers and managers take comfort in the fact that they're surrounded by lots of other failing projects!"

"They feel like it's not possible to succeed, like these traps are so common because it's impossible to avoid them," says Stellman.

Stellman and Greene are convinced that failure is entirely avoidable. In Applied Software Project Management they take a practical approach, describing the specific tools, techniques, and practices needed to run a successful software project or fix an ailing one. A project manager can use the book to diagnose and fix the most serious problems that plague software projects. They also share advice on avoiding the problems that a project manager might encounter when bringing these tools into an organization.

"There's a pervasive--and incorrect--idea that all of the research that's been done on project failure and fixing their root causes is somehow 'just academic.' The truth is that a lot of people have misinterpreted the information that they've been given," Greene observes. "They've had a lot of trouble implementing the ideas, and the reason that they've had trouble has to do with politics more often than the validity of the ideas themselves."

"To boil it down--and this is a core principle we talk about in the book--many projects are run entirely on gut instincts," Stellman adds. "But the specific problems that plague software projects are really resistant to management by gut instincts! If you manage a project with your gut, and only make decisions based on your intuition, you'll keep running into the same problems. And those are the ones we talk about in the book."

"So the book first explains the engineering aspects of the tools, techniques, and practices that are needed in order to solve the problems that cause project failure," says Greene. "But then it goes further, addressing why people are resistant to these ideas and giving advice to project managers who need to navigate the thorny political problems that prevent them from successfully implementing the practices."

From planning a software project to building a schedule, gathering software requirements, managing the design, programming, and testing of software, and even effecting changes in the way projects are run in one's organization, Stellman and Greene have covered every aspect of software production that can and has gone awry. Anyone who has struggled with chronic problems producing software on schedule and without defects will find much-needed clarity in this book.

Early praise for Applied Software Project Management:

"If you're looking for solid, easy to follow advice on estimation, requirements gathering, managing change and more, you can stop now: this is the book for you."
--Scott Berkun, author of "The Art of Project Management

Further reviews

Additional Resources:

Applied Software Project Management
Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene
ISBN: 0-596-00948-8, 308 pages, $39.95 US
1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

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