Project Management
August 2, 2021

Balancing between price, timeframe and scope of a software project

Maciek Gdula
Senior Project Manager

At Intent, we work with Partners from a variety of industries: from software to hardware, and everything in between. During all our years in business, we’ve determined that no matter our business Partner, what problem they are tackling, or what product they have in mind, they all look for the same thing:

To build the most with the best quality, while keeping the budget the lowest. Click To Tweet

Why tending to all three equally is important and what are the good project management processes and practices to achieve that?

Before we jump into this discussion, let’s define the three main terms discussed here as they pertain to building great products:

  1. Scope. The product we create and everything we build around it comprises the scope.
  2. Quality. For us, this means that the end-user will have a great, bug-free experience using the developed product.
  3. Budget. The funds our Partner has to build the product.

Before we discuss some great project management practices, let’s examine what product development looks like when there is an imbalance of emphasis between scope, quality, and budget. This usually results in products that are half-finished and just not ready for prime time.

Unbalanced Product Development

I. Budget and Quality over Scope

The scenario in which we tightly control the budget and keep the quality high at the expense of a set scope is not that unusual and appears, seemingly, pretty welcome: it shows that we are all aware of feature creep (the inadvertent adding of desired features during development) and would rather develop and thoroughly test a few key features, rather than squish as many things into our product as possible. In reality, this is much more tricky because it assumes that our Partner thoroughly understands the needs of their users and has carried out full UX testing before coming to Intent. In our experience, that is usually not the case and a lot of the assumptions our Partners have at the get-go, after undergoing the UX Discovery Phase, turn out, surprisingly, different from the previously held. Monitoring budget and quality during product development are crucial, but a product with features not corresponding to end-user needs will falter. That is why we always encourage our Partners to take advantage of Intent’s user-testing experience when starting work.

II. Budget and Scope over Quality

Probably the most common scenario in our experience of working with clients is the situation where the budget is set and accompanied by a very ambitious, set scope. A lot of our Partners come to us with their scope fleshed out and calculated budget, though in our experience there is often little leeway to keep the quality good. We often find out that estimates which we receive from Partners at the start do not account for a lot of the fundamental practices that result in good quality tech: unit tests for features, no planning for even rudimentary documentation, or manual test case runs. At Intent, we help our Partners not only understand their user base and business needs but know exactly what quality controls to apply to avoid a buggy release.

III. Quality and Scope over Budget

Last, but not least, it goes without saying that you can create a great and really polished product when there are no budget constraints whatsoever - though that is rarely, if ever, the case.

Tending to Scope, Quality, and Budget Equally

At Intent, we have years of experience in all kinds of software and hardware projects, with Partners ranging from big household names to rising start-ups. Over the years, we honed a lot of internal and partner-oriented processes to help assure that we maintain a balance in the spheres of a software project’s scope, quality, and budget.

The main metric for project management at Intent is the Intent Project Health Score. The Intent Project Health Score is a scorecard with 45 different project metrics divided across the areas of Commercial, Team, Processes, Scope, and Quality. It draws on years of experience Intent has managing software and hardware projects, paying special attention to indicators relating to scope, quality, budget, and more. Every week project managers update it for all projects to get a scorecard with a total of 388 points. This allows us to assess how the project is performing with a single number as well as see a trend over time.

What accounts for the main drivers behind the scope, quality, and budget sections of our metrics?

Project Scope Management

Accessible roadmaps. All our projects have a roadmap that's updated regularly with scope progress, internal deadlines, as well as any external deadlines that our Partners have. This roadmap is always available to the entire project team and to our Partner.

Internal milestone setting. It’s very hard to manage scope over a period of more than a month when there are no set internal milestones in the roadmap. In projects that are several months long, we create at least monthly milestones, so that at the end of each month we know how we are doing towards the release. Based on that, we can make decisions to feel confident about the project deadline and budget. 

Curated weekly reports. These have been an essential part of all our projects for years now. Every week, we send out a report to our Partners that has all the most important information about the project currently: what has been accomplished last week, what is planned for the next one, the status of the budget, and graphs with current product quality metrics. 

Regular project progress demos. Every project has regular, either weekly or biweekly demos. We always encourage our Partner to attend to see first-hand the progress on the project. No worries, though, if the Partner cannot attend: we always send out the relevant recordings in those situations.

Project Quality Management

Maintained quality dashboards. Our quality assurance specialists maintain a project quality dashboard with all quality metrics on the project. It is the single go-to place to find out information about any known bugs with their priorities, all operating systems and devices the product supports, and access information to project environments.

Comprehensive unit tests. Unit tests are an essential part of our development at Intent. This type of automated tests performed by developers slightly increase the time needed to develop individual features of a product, but assures a controlled and stable project end-game and release. In our experience, projects that do not conduct unit tests appear like they are going smoothly, until the period right before the release when the convergence of feature releases results in regression, i.e. the reappearance of old bugs and accumulation of new ones. 

Frequent test runs. The main job of our QA specialists besides making sure that developed features meet their business and technical requirements is to conduct regular test case runs. Our QAs keep logs of all actions feasible in the product and in regular intervals test the entire product to make sure that during the development other sections were not affected by recent additions or modifications of existing features. This can be treated as a warranty that allows the team to concentrate on new development without having to worry and coming back to already developed parts of the product. 

Mandatory code reviews. All the code that a developer produces at Intent is always cross-checked by another developer. This not only assures an additional layer of quality but is a method to assure that all code is produced according to standard coding practices.

Use of alerting services. No matter if the product is destined for desktop, mobile devices, or even hardware, we always choose appropriate automated alerting services. Those not only alert the team to any irregularities in how the product runs 24/7, but also provide vital logs and information whenever a team member or end-user encounters a problem. Just by knowing the approximate time of when a problem occurs, we can easily find the reason behind an unexpected behavior and address it. 

Baseline security standards. At Intent, we understand that different products have different threat models when it comes to security. No matter the type of project, however, we have stringent minimum viable security standards that we enforce across all projects, so you can be sure from the get-go that your product, and thus the data of your end-users, is safe.

Always updated designs. Oftentimes after the designs of a product are created, small UI changes during development for various reasons are desired and implemented. There is nothing wrong in that, but if the appropriate designs are not updated to reflect even those smallest of changes then it is very hard to track back and decide which version is correct later on. Clarifying this takes up time (thus, budget). At Intent, we assure that designs stay updated throughout the project to remain as the single source of UI truth. 

Final design reviews. When getting closer to a release of the project, we take up our UI designers to do a design review of the implemented product. This assures really the highest visual fidelity of the UI layer and animations, as sometimes very small or subtle differences can escape the notice of the development team and Partner for a long time.

Project Budget Management

Shared FTE budget counters. Dedicated project managers update the budget tracking document every week and share it with the Partner. It is very important to us here at Intent that our Partners are always aware of currently accrued and planned costs and we strive to provide full transparency in this regard on a regular cadence.

Common understanding of deadlines and releases. At Intent, we pay special attention to understanding our Partner’s needs related to the final release of the product to end-users. We foster a common understanding of that process and its result from the very beginning of the project to avoid different expectations of what's going to happen during and after release.

Product owner support. Depending on the nature of the project, Intent project managers are either scrum masters or product owners of the developed products. When our Partner wants to play a more active role in the project and wants to help the team save time (and budget), we offer all necessary tools, training, and access to facilitate our Partner’s active involvement during the development process.

Conclusion

When creating great products you need to be able to strike a balance between a scope that fulfills the main mission of the product, make sure that the quality allows for good end-user experience, and assure that the project budget is kept in check. Too much emphasis, no matter how well intended, on one or two out of these three elements results in unbalanced product development. That, in turn, creates products that flounder, are over-budget, or delayed. Here at Intent, we provide our Partners with the know-how, transparency, and tools to assure that the end product becomes a success.

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Written by
Maciek Gdula
Senior Project Manager

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