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The Accidental Project Manager

by Patricia Ensworth

Accidental Resources



For project management training, the Project Management Institute offers general instruction in the principles, methods, and standards recognized by many industries.

Novice project managers may also benefit from the materials provided by the American Management Association. A visit to this site will help you start thinking like a manager—which can be a subtle, complex, and evolutionary transition to make.

Carnegie-Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute developed the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) and has been very influential in establishing industry standards. If you haven't already learned enough about CMM to describe your organization's overall maturity level, you should make it a priority to familiarize yourself with this model.

Software Quality Engineering is an excellent source of information on how to do things right and overcome typical obstacles. The organization offers many training courses, hosts conferences and on-line discussions, and publishes books and magazines.

If your quality assurance manager seems to be making unreasonable demands, or if you're concerned that your organization doesn't adequately emphasize the quality of its products, visit The American Society for Quality. This organization is a resource for QA professionals in many industries, and it will help novice project managers understand how various aspects of product quality can be described, measured and promoted.

The Quality Assurance Institute focuses specifically on software quality assurance and testing. Unless you were a tester before you became a project manager, you'll need to learn about this aspect of software engineering in order to manage it well.

The International Standards Organization establishes standards for many industries, including software engineering. Novice project managers usually aren't assigned to create software products that meet these specifications—but if you're planning a career in software project management it's useful to know the rules by which the major-league teams play.

The usability of your software product can be a major factor in determining your project's success or failure. Developers often believe that whatever they build is eminently user-friendly—but sometimes they're wrong. The Usability Professionals' Association can assist all the members of your project team by raising their awareness of usability issues throughout design, coding and testing of the product.

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The Project Management Institute hosts ProjectWorld several times a year at several locations in the United States, South America, and Europe. The presentations and seminars deal with project management as a generic activity applicable to many different industries, but software engineering professionals can learn a great deal from their colleagues at other types of organizations.

The annual Software Management conference, run by Software Quality Engineering in San Jose, provides educational and networking opportunities more specifically directed toward software project managers. This is a relatively new event, and not as widely known as others, but reports about it have been favorable.

At SRI's QualityWeek in San Francisco, the theme of the event is primarily software quality assurance. However, project managers will benefit from the exposure to various tools and techniques—and from the war stories.

STAR (Software Testing, Analysis and Review) conferences are also organized by SQE. They have many in-depth presentations on testing strategies, methodologies, and tools. If your project will rely heavily upon automated testing, you will avoid many false starts and bad decisions by talking to the participants at these events. STAREast is in Orlando in the spring; STARWest is in San Jose in the fall; EuroSTAR, LatinSTAR and AsiaSTAR occur annually in different locations.

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While I do not endorse or recommend any specific products, there are a number of popular industrial-strength tools a novice project manager might investigate to see how organizations with deep pockets and mission-critical systems accomplish their software development tasks.

For project planning, scheduling, budgeting and tracking several outstanding choices are Primavera TeamPlayer, Artemis Business Project Architecture and Niku Portfolio Manager. You could probably use any of these to build a space station or run the mass transit infrastructure of a major city...but if you have to build your own tool they might give you some good ideas.

Several vendors offer integrated suits of tools for the software development process: requirements gathering, use case development, change management, defect tracking, test design, automated testing, and documentation storage. Usually you can buy licenses for one function or for the entire suite. In no particular order of preference, the vendors include Segue, Rational, and Mercury Interactive.

Version control and configuration management on an organization-wide scale are often implemented using products such as Microsoft's Visual Source Safe and Merant's PVCS.

Once upon a time not very long ago, technical writers who wanted to turn their word processing documents into on-line Help files spent countless hours manually inserting codes into the text. The creation of electronic user documentation for a variety of media has become much faster and more efficient thanks to products such as RoboHelp Office, Adobe Acrobat, JASC PaintShop Pro, and Macromedia Dreamweaver.

Most of the tools described above require a substantial investment of money and effort to install, customize, train users, and maintain. Yet many less comprehensive, less expensive alternatives exist that could suit your project's needs perfectly well. Every conference includes an expo where vendors will gladly demo their tools. It pays to shop around, and to talk with colleagues who have been long-term users of a tool you're considering.

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You probably already subscribe to several technical magazines—either intentionally or because they get passed around your office. Now that you're a manager, you should expand your horizons and regularly peruse:


ISBN 0-471-41011-X
288 Pages
July 2001

Wiley Technology Publishing
Timely. Practical. Reliable.

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