Although you would not know it based on how many businesses tackle launching new products, project management is a highly structured discipline. Sure, based on the scope of an initiative, your team might wisely elect to omit a PM step here and there, but sticking to the tried-and-true path of phased project management is among the best ways to ensure that your code ships on time and in good shape.
Our partners at Method123 have developed a Project Management Guidebook that illustrates each phase of the project management process, breaking it down to each activity designed to keep projects under control. The 18-page PDF is available for free to IT Business Edge members here in the IT Downloads library.
The overall PM process, which you can see mapped out in the diagram below, can be described in four classic phases: Initiation, Planning, Execution and Closure. (Some PMs consider Monitoring a fifth phase all to itself, but the Method123 guide includes monitoring in the execution phase.)
For each phase, the guide spells out steps that constitute a comprehensive program management philosophy. Some of the steps, such as Appoint Project Team, are fairly self-evident and will happen in even the most casual of PM environments. Others often are overlooked, although they can be the make-or-break element in the success of your project. Some examples:
Initiation > Perform Feasibility Study: You'd like to assume that this sort of diligence is built into the Business Case step, but project sponsors have been known to get a little aggressive with their assumptions or overlook some contingency that's not part of their team's everyday life. At any point of the planning phase, you may need to step back to ensure that goals and outcomes are realistic.
Planning > Develop Financial Plan: Most businesses don't employ a true charge-back system of internal accountancy, and so it is sometimes easy to forget that labor and time cost money. Modeling out the actual expense of labor and resources for the project is an often overlooked step in letting all stakeholders know what is actually at stake if the project fails to perform. It is also a great way to help your PMs drive home the point that overruns and delays cost the company real cash.
Closure > Review Project Completion: Just shipping code is not enough. Did the project meet goals laid out in the business plan? Did it operate in scope? Did it meet the Quality Plan guidelines? All these questions should be answered, and if the answers are "no" - and some will be - obstacles need to be identified and mitigated for the next project.