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Navigating your bank’s next software project

Book Review: Plain language guide to making tech happen

The Complete Software Project Manager: Mastering Technology From Planning To Launch And Beyond. By Anna P. Murray. Wiley. 230 pp. The Complete Software Project Manager: Mastering Technology From Planning To Launch And Beyond. By Anna P. Murray. Wiley. 230 pp.

“The history of software development teaches us that between 30 and 40 percent of all software projects fail. A good majority of those are canceled completely and never see the light of day. It seems everyone has a different prescription for how to avoid this fate. There are shelves of books on how to improve the software development process—books on Agile methodology, Scrum, the Waterfall method, rapid application development, extreme programming, top-down versus bottom-up, and even something called the chaos model. When a business is faced with a software development project, people don’t have time to become experts in software management and development theory.” —from Anna Murray’s introduction

How often have you been told that there is no replacement for experience? Well, there is. You can find it in The Complete Software Project Manager.

If you are a new CIO, CTO, or just been given a huge software application project you really didn’t want, Anna Murray provides a roadmap to success. She’s organized the process into a textbook that almost reads like a novel. No, really! This book could be very dry, but it is anything but. Murray even brings a sense of humor to the subject in places.

What’s she’s done can be very helpful. In another life I was a technology executive at a large regional bank. Our approach in staff development and project management was to send our key managers to project management school.

Our objective was to provide them with a basic understanding of the project components, resource discipline, and planning. The training was good, but at a high level only. The curriculum did little to equip the trainees with the skills necessary to manage software projects.

And, as excerpt from the book, above, underscores, failed projects are legion.

Off the shelf? Or custom software?

More often than not, banks make the decision to purchase off-the-shelf software out of fear of the unknown.

As convenient and safe as that strategy may seem, in the long run, the decision may cost you more that you think.

Murray does a great job of outlining and explaining the multiple approaches to software project management. This is in addition to explaining the steps in a manner that makes sense.

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Don’t get me wrong, this is not a “do-it-yourself” type of book, as much as it is a “things you should know, should use, and in some cases avoid” type of book.

Where to start?

If you have never been in charge of a software development project, this book makes a great place to start. There are reasons why we tech types do the things we do, but most newcomers to the process don’t know why. Murray clearly explains things in a systematic way.

At the beginning of any project, it is important to have a clear picture of how you want to organize the project. Identifying the major milestones or steps along the way is a key task. These steps can not only be used to measure progress, but can also be a method of focusing your resources and keeping your team members on task.

Been there—done that!

Academicians can inspire and instruct when it comes to understanding the structure and discipline of project management, but the author clearly conveys creditability by virtue having been there and done that.

The book is loaded with insight derived from her experience in management software development projects. She provides real world direction that, if followed, can save you from yourself and your team when the “distraction cloud” and “scope creep” begin to consume valuable resources.

A flavor of the real-world perspective in the book can be seen in section headings like: “Some Tech-Types to Avoid: Dot Communists and Shamans”: “How to Stop a Technology Religious War”; and “The Murk” and “Getting Out of the Murk.” Plus “The Weeds Are Where the Flowers Grow” and “How You Know You’re On the Wrong Track.” And “Risk Chickens Come Home to Roost.”

Road map to success

A successful project depends on objectives and deliverables that are clearly defined and understood by everyone on the project, not just you. And the roots for those are found in the project management approach selected.

Every major software vendor has their own project management approach. SAP, Oracle, IBM and even Microsoft, just to mention a few, each have their own ways of running a show. Once you execute a contract or purchase order, the vendor immediately imputes their project management methodology.

In my experience, what at first may be concluded as convenient, has the potential to doom your project.

The important point here is that not every project management methodologies are standard. In addition, you may think you know project management only to find out halfway through the project that your company and the vendor are speaking different languages.

The warning signs can be easily missed. Vendors use their own glossary of terms from start to finish. Take even simple items like “UAT”—also known as User Acceptance Testing. This is an industry-recognized acronym that has many definitions. At the front end you may think you know the language, but when you enter into the testing phase you quickly realize that your expectation of the deliverable is not the same as what the vendor was planning to deliver.

There’s a solution between the covers of this book. Complete Software Project Manager provides you with a toolbox of specific items that you can use to tailor the project management process to your organization. The vendor then must comply with your expectations and deliver what is defined by you.

This is critical to containing costs, managing available resources, and keeping the project on schedule.

Misfires in understanding can dramatically alter outcomes and produce huge disappointments and missed expectations. Applying the resources from Complete Software Project Manager can be the equivalent to creating a roadmap to a successful project.

Looking ahead to looking back

A famous baseball player and manager named Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else!”

His simple quip is nothing short of profound. All of us who have been involved in managing large projects look forward to the end of the project with the hope that when we look back, we are pleased with what the team has accomplished.

As a project sponsor, executive, leader, or manager, if you do not have a clear vision of where you want to end up, you will never get there. It is as simple as that.

This book helps you to remember everything we forget when we are consumed by distractions, personalities and a myriad of moving parts. Using the book as a project outline will save you from having to ask the question: Are we there yet?

This book should be required reading for any executive or project team leader that is considering the development of a software application or software purchase of a significant size.

What’s “significant size”?

My own rule of thumb is any project that will require a thousand man-hours or more, start to finish, to roll out, or $50,000 to purchase. If the project qualifies, first step… read this book!

Finally, if you read the book and apply the thoughtful experience contained therein, it will be a great investment in your future.

Dan Fisher

Dan Fisher is president and CEO of The Copper River Group, a consulting firm headquartered in Fargo, N. D., that focuses on technology and payment systems research and consulting for community financial institutions. For nearly 30 years, Fisher has worked in the financial industry using technology to improve the bottom line. He was CIO of Community First Bankshares (now part of Bank of the West), has served as a director of the Federal Reserve Board of Minneapolis, the chairman of the American Bankers Association Payment Systems Committee, and was a member of the Independent Community Bankers of America Payments Committee. Fisher has written numerous articles on banking technology and the payments system. He has authored or co-authored six books and recently published a book titled, "Capturing Your Customer! The New Technology of Remote Deposit." You can contact Fisher at dan@copperrivergroup.com or at 701-293-6222.
P.S. To understand Dan's nickname, check out "About the Wombat" on his website.       

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