Project Management Best Practices
There's a lot that's been written about project management. And there will undoubtedly be more. But after being both a software developer and project manager for 10 years, it has become obvious that there are some things that are just common sense that one should keep in mind.
I'll go out on a limb here and say that the following project management best practices apply to all software projects at all companies using any modern methodology.
Assume nothing, question everything
Whenever dealing with a new business unit, it makes sense to ask a lot of questions to make sure you and your client are talking about the same thing. But this advice makes sense for just about every project even if you've worked with the people before. Most recently, I had a half finished project handed to me where the request was to put a particular edition of a magazine online. The requestor hoped that it would “look like a magazine.” The receiver took that to mean that the pages should flip like a printed magazine. Seems like a reasonable assumption except the requestor really want it to look like a typical website with hyperlinks and such. A simple question, a mock-up, or even a link to sample online magazines would've resolved this issue right from the start saving everyone a lot of time.
Control the process, don't let it control you
The existence of a step in the methodology that you're using isn't reason enough to use that step. The step has to add value or it's just a waste of time. So try to understand the motivations behind the step and assess whether it is necessary for the project at hand. Be careful though, the newer you are to project management the more likely you are to identify something as unnecessary so keep an open mind.
Put the people before the process
A mature and proven project management process isn't going to get you anywhere unless you remember that the people on the team are important too. I'd argue that they're more important as even the best process for software development won't do you any good without anyone following it. This one should be obvious, but I've seen numerous situations where this idea was forgotten.
Update the project sponsor all the time
It's better to send out too many updates that it is to send out too few. This isn't to say that you should include the project sponsor on every e-mail. But rather, send out a summary of what's happened during the previous week. Send out a summary even if nothing has happened. After a few such updates, check in with the project sponsor to see if the updates are frequent enough and detailed enough. No one likes to be out of the loop for too long, especially the person paying the bills.
Read more about specific project management methodologies.