Six Cornerstones For Successful Software Development Project Planning

Developing effective software requires a fair amount of planning before and during its implementation so that software development can be completed on time to meet expectations. Contrary to popular belief, what we often label as the “overnight success” of large projects is the result of months (or even years) of laborious effort and strategic execution.

The six key concepts for effective software development project planning are – Goal definition, identifying resource requirements, cost estimations, timeline development, team building and testing strategy.

Let’s look at each one of them in detail.

1. Defining the Project Goal(s)

Software development project planning should *always* start with a definition of the problem you want the software to solve. This could be enhancing an existing business capability or implementing a new capability. Defining the problem helps you focus on what needs to be accomplished and why it’s important.

The goals you set for the project must be specific, measurable, time-bound, and above all achievable. You don’t want to set the goal of setting up an ice cream factory on Mars. At the same time, you don’t want to set goals are too easy or don’t provide meaningful business benefits.

Setting reasonable goals for the project that are not too easy but also not overboard helps drive successful outcomes and a higher sense of satisfaction.

Once you have the overarching goals for your project, you can break them down into logical milestones. Milestones essentially help create a roadmap for the project and allows you to focus on incrementally delivering smaller parts that make up the entire project. Breaking down goals into small chunks also makes it easier to allocate resources efficiently, track progress easily and identify any issues quickly.

2. Identifying Resource Requirements

Once the project goals and milestones are identified, the next step is to identify the resource requirements of the project. What type of resources will be needed to complete the project? The resources we are talking about here are people, software, hardware, infrastructure, etc. A well-thought-through resource strategy is essential in making sure that the right resources are available when they’re needed.

You also need to consider the duration that each resource will be required for and the cost of that resource. We will cover this aspect in the planning costs section below but having a good understanding of your budget limitations will help you focus on the most important goals of the project and make smart trade-offs.

Typically, resource requirements for software development projects focus mainly on people resources since the primary cost associated with a software development project is labor. You will need at least one software architect and a team leader. Additionally, depending on the nature of the project, you may need a combination of front-end, middleware and backend developers. If you are using modern DevOps practices, you’ll also need to factor in DevOps engineers to design and implement the DevOps pipeline(s) for the solution. If you plan on leveraging agile methodology, factor in a scrum master.

Pay attention to the use of specialty software technologies, tools, languages, frameworks, etc. that are required for this project since you’ll need to identify and plan for resources with those skills.

Identifying resource requirements is a critical step in the successful planning of a software development project. It helps you allocate resources efficiently. Cost overruns are rampant in software projects but you can eliminate them by identifying all the resource requirements upfront, making tradeoffs where necessary, and getting all stakeholders on the same page before the project execution starts.

3. Cost Estimations

Cost estimations are a critical part of any software development project.

There are applications that you can build for under $50,000 and then there are complex multi-year enterprise efforts that cost tens of millions of dollars. The cost estimation of a software project is driven by the following main factors – The complexity of the requirements, the complexity of the environment, the amount of resources that need to be allocated and the estimated duration of the project.

The key to successful cost estimation is to identify assumptions and then use historical data, trends and project experience to factor in any known risks and opportunities. Based on this, you can build a detailed budget including labor costs, software license fees etc., with contingency plans for potential unknowns that may come up during the course.

Accurately predicting costs for a complex software development project is difficult; however, using the techniques above will help you build a realistic budget and make sure that the project stays within budget.

It is important to start a software development project with a realistic budget since budget overruns and surprises can halt the project’s progression altogether.

4. Developing Timelines

Some projects may have the luxury of setting their own go-live date while others may have a strict timeline that is outside the project team’s control. In either case, timelines need to be incorporated into the overall software development plan. Once we have the start and end dates for the project, the key team members such as architects and team leaders must collaborate to plot the milestones between these dates.

Agile methodology offers flexibility to the team since it is designed to make nuanced changes to the requirements as well as milestones along the way. The team should be ready to adjust the software development plan based on the changing requirements.

The timeline should also include time for testing and debugging. Testing practices such as user acceptance testing (UAT) are essential for successful delivery of quality software as any issues found in UAT can be easily addressed by the development team before reaching the end users.

During the project execution phase, it is important to keep track of progress and make sure that any changes or delays in the timeline are communicated promptly to all stakeholders. This will help ensure that deadlines are met, potential risks are mitigated and there’s an opportunity for trade-offs and course correction if required.

A variety of tools and methodologies can be leveraged to create timelines, keep track of project’s progress and surface any delays or concerns. Agile methodologies such as SCRUM and Kanban help the team stay on track and allow the project to move forward at a steady pace. Tools such as JIRA, Asana, ClickUp, help the team collaborate effectively and implement the relevant software development methodology.

5. Team Building

Building a successful software development team is essential for the successful completion of any project. A strong, cross-functional team, staffed with the right skills and experience levels can make all the difference in completing a project on time and within budget.

Factoring in team building early in the planning process has the following advantages –

  1. Fosters good team dynamics – Having the a cross-functional team with different types of expertise, skills, strengths, etc. staffed right out of the date allows the project to move forward quickly and effectively
  2. Improved communication
  3. Shared accountability – The team shares the responsibility for project successes and failures, encouraging team members to give their best
  4. Avoid delays due to resource unavailability – Many technical skills are in high demand and if your project relies on them, it can be difficult to find the right talent at short notice. This can cause delays in starting the project as well as unexpected costs
  5. Foster innovation – A well staffed team tends to bring fresh perspectives and creativity right from the early days of the project, helping steer it in the right direction

6. Testing Strategy & Quality Assurance

Testing can be broadly classified as manual or automated.

Manual testing involves a tester going through the application or API and performing actions to verify that it behaves as expected. Manual testing is not only time consuming but also costly as it involves manual interaction with the application everytime it needs to be tested. Additionally, like everything human driven, manual testing is prone to human error.

Manual testing can be made effective by employing the following strategies –

  1. Leverage test case management & defect tracking tools (e.g. Zephyr, Xray, TestRail, etc.)
  2. Plan for and maintain good test documentation
  3. Test data management – Complex applications that integrate with upstream and downstream systems require careful curation of test data that is both, valid as well as representative of real world scenarios

Automated testing, on the other hand, is a faster and typically a more reliable way of testing applications. It involves writing scripts or test programs to test the application in an automated fashion. Automated testing requires the team to have the technical expertise required to step the test automation scripts and can be initially a time consuming process to develop the scripts. However, once developed, automated tests can run reliably without manual intervention and with minimal human errors. Additionally, automated testing also allows for faster feedback which helps in identifying any issues quickly and efficiently.

Testing strategy involves planning the the right mix of manual and automated testing for your software project depending on the complexity of the project, the budget and timelines. Building the right testing strategy for your project is an important factor in ensuring timely delivery of high quality software solutions.


Software development is typically a complex process that requires careful planning and execution. The right team, methodologies, tools and tracking of goals and expected results can ensure successful outcomes.

Quality assurance is an integral part of the software development process and having a good testing strategy in place ensures timely delivery of high quality software products.

Planning for these factors early on in the planning process will ensure that your project is successful and achieves its business goals.

Further Reading