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Three Pillars of Software Development Plan: Cost, Schedule, and Scope

by Anna Rassypnova

5 Mar 2015

You have a bright idea for a software project that could move your business to an all new level. Whether you’re planning a complex enterprise automation solution or a simple mobile app, all projects have common constraints. According to these constraints, an idea turns into a working software product. Acknowledging the primary limitations, and good software development plan will help you avoid stress and save money down the road.

In this post, I’ll show you how to prioritize core aspects of software development planning. We are also going to talk about the most common project constraints. Let’s look at perhaps the most critical and basic software development plan — the so-called Iron Triangle.

What is the Iron Triangle?

Any software project has three basic interdependent elements:

  • Scope: Many projects with a high potential fail on this constraint. All because the feature set is not estimated or understood at the very beginning. When you decide to expand the project's scope, cost or time increase will surely follow.
  • Time or schedule: Remember, 'time is money.' You can do much manipulating and changing the project’s schedule. For example, you can increase the project’s scope using additional time. If you want to speed up the process, you can increase the budget or decrease the number of features.
  • Cost: All projects have a budget; as a customer, you know exactly how much money you are willing to spend on a new solution delivery. When reducing the project's cost, you also have to shrink its scope or enlarge timing.

The magic of software project management: let the analytics begin!

Wondering how you can get a clear view of a project and estimate the necessary resources? Curious how to finally have a solution of a gratifying quality right on time? That’s what the analytical stage is for! Analytics translate customer’s demands into the technical language, create a formal description and draw the project’s mockups.

As a result of analytics you’ll get the crucial information necessary for making decisions:

  • Development time evaluation according to the required functionality;
  • Detailed and well-grounded cost evaluation;
  • Human resource level considering specialists qualification and experience;
  • Possible technical difficulties and other risks;
  • Proposed ways to avoid the risks.

Once you obtain this information, it’s time for prioritizing and choosing the project realization team. The professional team keeps you informed and gives you a clear and holistic view of the project. You can compare the offers based on the analytics information from several possible providers. There could be some difference in the details, and that’s okay. However, if somehow you have a significant difference in the project evaluation it must be a signal for additional questions.

When the evaluation puzzle is put together, the project starts to move along according to a software development plan.

Only you know what’s the best for your business: which features are essential or what happens if the deadline changes. So as soon as the evaluation puzzle is put together, the project starts to move along the Iron Triangle’s sides. In this period the right technical team maintains the high communication standards. Because if the balance is found and priorities set, it becomes a stable foundation of the project’s success.

Typical challenges and how to overcome them

Below are some of the most common scenarios you may encounter once the analytics are complete.

When everything’s fine

software development plan schedule goes okay

If the feature set, schedule, and budget evaluation entirely correspond to your expectations of software development plan. It means that miracles do happen or just the prep work is done correctly. It usually works when the technical requirements are as detailed, and the project includes popular solutions with no customization. Alternatively, when cooperation conditions you offer are very flexible. No doubt it’s time to start working on a project.

When time is not on your side

software development plan schedule

The schedule should contain all stages of the project. That includes design, solution development, quality assurance, production server deploy, app store release, etc. Let’s imagine, you have a hard deadline that cannot be moved and you realize that the project requires way more time than expected. There are two possible options:

One way is to spend more money, add specialists to the team and finish the project on time without making concessions on the functionality. It seems a good idea but in fact, it sometimes doesn’t work and a decision must be taken individually, considering the project’s special aspects. In some cases, additional staff will only increase the schedule. Also outdoing the budget is not always desirable and possible.

Second way is to part project into phases. In this case development of the essential features is included in the first phase. The product cut version launches according to the project plan timetable, but software development continues.

During the second and next phases, the developers update the product. They can port an app to the other platforms, add more features and functionality, improve the user interface, etc. It all depends on your project’s goals. This way you get the whole scope, stretching the schedule, you do not fail the deadlines and even save some money.

When It costs a pretty penny

software production budget

Phasing the project is also a good decision if you find out that amount of necessary money beats up all your planes. It is a quite common situation and Azoft's managers have a great experience in finding the balance between functionality and finance.

Here’s a good example. We recently worked on a project for educational startup from RSA. The system of publishing and sharing the information inside the closed groups (schools and universities). The project included iOS and Android apps and complex backend with the administrators’ web interface.

After the evaluation, it became clear — the project is much more money-hungry than the customer expected. But after the negotiations we came up with the solution which satisfied the client completely:

  • The team proposed possible ways of the economy: leaving out non-critical features and simplifying solutions.
  • The customer decided to look for additional funds and Azoft offered to the client the special payment conditions.
  • The project was part of phases to launch the applications by the start of the academic year.

Launching both Android and iOS applications at the same time was critically important for our customer. So we decided to put development effort on the core options and put off into the next phase some backend features. As a result, the users got handy and well-designed mobile apps on schedule. Which was no doubt the number one priority for the client?

Budget evaluation always depends on schedule because software developers get hourly rates.

Budget evaluation always depends on schedule because software developers get hourly rates. So alternatively you can look for a company with the lower specialists’ rate. However, as we’ve already mentioned, if you have a significant difference in the budget evaluation, it may lead to the problems. We previously discussed it in one of the previous materials: Rescuing a Fledgling Mobile App Project.

When you have two birds and one stone

software production plan

As you can guess if the budget exceeds your expectations as well as timing, you can achieve balance by combining the approaches described above.

Of course, priorities can change not only at the analytics stage and sometimes you have to rebuild them after the development started, but that’s a topic for another article.

Real professionals can solve the Triple Constraints of Project Management puzzle.

In every software project finding the balance between cost, scope and schedule are your passports to success. Basics of this balance are your contractor's competence, experience and communication skills.

Working on ambitious projects for our customers we’re building this balance. The feature set or schedule may be changed, but there’s one thing we always fight for — our product’s quality.

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