3 Ways to Nip Software Project Problems in the Bud

Have you ever had a concern about a software project that made you think, “Man, I hope that doesn’t happen…”? Or, in the worse case, “How could I have avoided that?” Have you ever just had a weight in your stomach from worry? Inevitably, no matter how proficient you are in running a software project, the unfortunate can happen, causing a spike in your stress. Sometimes, you can work through this on your own. You can manage to bring it to at least a reasonable solution, if not a successful one. However, sometimes aspects are out of your control, whether it be software, clients, or just time, that cause software project concerns to spiral out. When this happens, it can hurt not only the client’s confidence but also your own.

So… when this happens, how do we address it? Better yet, are there ways for us to nip it in the bud? Here, I’ll outline my three stages of escalating software project concerns and strategies for dealing with them.

1. Be proactive.

The best way to alleviate some software project concerns is proactive communication. This will certainly not solve every problem, but in many cases, communicating early and often allows the team to remedy the problem early. This communication is crucial, not only with the client but also with project management.

So, I have claimed proactive communication is key, but how do I know when to start? This is definitely a skill that can be honed, but there are a few easy ways to know. Consider proactive communication if:

  • You are leaving work with anxiety, especially if it happens regularly.
  • A client mentions significant or repeated changes that impact expectations and timeline, even off-handedly.
  • You are receiving mixed messages about goals and how the team is achieving them.

So what are the benefits of proactive communication?

  • It opens a channel with your client showing engagement with the project and consulting opportunities.
  • Proactive communication creates a paper trail for later reference and confirmation, even if the client decides to decline your suggestions.
  • It gives project management awareness of concerns and provides context on the project’s state.
  • It keeps a channel open to receive advice and suggestions from both clients and management.

That all sounds great, but what do I say? There are a number of ways to do this, but I err on the side of short and concise.

Hey So-And-So,
Just wanted to touch base on PROJECT.
Recently I have been feeling a bit stressed because of X, and Y, and Z (this is where you can elaborate a bit).
I am not sure if this is going to be an issue yet, but I just wanted to let you know/keep you in the loop.

2. Don’t be afraid to pull in backup.

Inevitably, some software project concerns will not be resolved by proactive communication. Whether it’s infrastructure faltering at scale, raised tensions around delivery, or just old-fashioned personalities clashing, some concerns get beyond your own capabilities. In cases like this, it’s worth bringing in backup.

Calling in backup can be a massive help in a number of cases.

In a technical context, calling in backup can provide additional experience or a new perspective. Or, it can just confirm that the problem is hard but you’re on the right track. This backup can alleviate the stress and provide confidence in the next steps to addressing the problem. It’s in moments like these where organizations like Atomic Object, with their depth/variety of experience, can make all the difference.

In a managerial context, calling in backup means bringing in either a Delivery Lead or Managing Partner to help. When bringing in project management, you are not only getting backup, but you are potentially bringing in a heavy hitter to support you and your team. In both the context of Delivery Leads and Managing Partners, you are bringing in people with both exceptional skills and experience across a variety of projects. These traits make them unparalleled in helping with advice and coming to a resolution.

Well… Something went wrong, what do I do?

  1. Brief your team for context. Whether it’s a Slack message or a quick meeting, provide context on the situation.
  2. If appropriate, bring the client into discussions about our initial solution and set up a “next steps” meeting.
  3. At the “next steps” meeting, work with your team backup to address any remaining software project concerns with the client.
  4. After this meeting, work with your team to determine if there is anything more you can do. Additionally, discuss if this is better handled by your project management team.

3. Recognize when it’s out of your hands.

If after all is said and done and the problem is still not fully resolved, what do you do? If there is nothing you can do, it may be time to hand this off. There is a class of problems and concerns that are out of your control to fully resolve. In these cases, you need to defer to your team’s leadership for resolution.

However, handing it off does not mean your work here is done! There are a few important things you can do at this point.

  • Learn from the experience. Even if the problem was completely out of your hands, this is a perfect opportunity to reflect on other resolutions or ways to notice the problem sooner.
  • Talk about it. Use this opportunity to make others aware of the problem and how you handled it. Too often people only want to talk about successes, causing everyone to lose out on the valuable lesson you learn from problems and failures.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Regardless of the outcome, problems arise on every project. It is crucial to give yourself some grace and space to grow.

Resolve software project concerns with early and honest communication.

In this post, I outlined my three stages of escalating project concern. This may not work perfectly for everyone person or organization, but hopefully this provided a jumping off point in your toolbox for resolving project concerns. If nothing else, I hope the importance of early and honest communication benefits you in future work.