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I have a person that wants me to build for him a web application and also design the database required. However, his idea quite complex and I got to the point where I no longer work without something well defined. I've learned in school about Project Management and I would be okay with trying to implement the whole thing using good practices.

I would like to know what would be the best method of setting up the necessary documents required for the planning stage. Should I go for something simple as using Documents for the whole planning process or should I look for PM tools?

EDIT: forgot to say that most communication with the person is done via Skype or phone calls!

  • 1
    Welcome to PMSE. You are seeking software recommendations. These kinds of questions are off-topic here, because they tend to become obsolete quickly. You can try to ask your question at softwarerecs.stackexchange.com instead. – Sergey Kudryavtsev Aug 4 '15 at 20:31
  • @SergeyKudryavtsev Actually, I am not really asking for software recommendations. I've read again my questions and I will rephrase it because your are right and it sounds like that! However Joel's answer is very close to exactly what I wanted to ask. – Cristian Aug 4 '15 at 20:47
  • Your question sounds ok after editing. I retracted my vote to close. – Sergey Kudryavtsev Aug 5 '15 at 18:43
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Don't use any software right now. It will only constrain you.

What you need is:

  1. A large wall
  2. Several packs of 5x7 Post It Notes (Staples or Office
    Depot)
  3. Several packs of regular Post It Notes
  4. A roll of blue painters tape
  5. A butt load of Sharpies and colored markers

**Planning Process- Agile Product Planning Outline I've shared a detailed white paper I wrote on this process on DropBox here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/lqdax8ad3flozv6/Agile_Product_Planning_Outline_Proposal_TheGorillaCoach.pdf?dl=0

Step 1 Define the product: You need to agree on what is being built. Just because you all agree you are building a car doesn't mean your customer isn't thinking Porche while you're thinking Pickup truck.

Step 2 Horizontal/ Vertical Story Mapping: You first map out your users. Then you do a horizontal timeline of a user's flow. Then each horizontal item gets a vertical timeline of that item.

Step 3 Create User Stories: You then work to make user stories from that vertical break down.

Step 4 Decompose the Stories: From the user stories you kick over to design. Here you break down the user stories into the technical work to be done. This is often called "Tasks" in agile planning.

Step 5 Value your User Stories: The secret sauce. If all work is done by how much time it takes, we'll end up with a product full of easy things with no value.

Step 6 Estimate Effort: This is your classic engineering estimate of effort to build a certain thing. I recommend Team Estimation Game personally, though there are dozens of ways.

Step 7 Order the Requirements: With Value and Cost, you can order your requirements based on a trade off of time vs. value

Step 8 Build it and they will come: Now you just execute on building. You can use any method you want (I of course recommend agile).

  • What if I don't see the other party involved in person but only talk to them via Skype/phone calls? – Cristian Aug 4 '15 at 19:59
  • Can you also provide a link or a resource to study Agile a bit into more detail? Thank you! – Cristian Aug 4 '15 at 20:06
  • Cristian- It can be done remote, though much harder. A tool like Trello is a simple way to share a screen and do work flow work. As for studying agile, there is a lot of stuff out there. I'd recommend YouTube searches for Scrum in 10 minutes and Google searches for "Agile Primer" – Joel Bancroft-Connors Aug 4 '15 at 20:12
  • I've played with trello before and it looks to me like a tool I would use more in the execution stage. What I am more interested as of right now is something to help with the planning process (the wall, sticky notes and markers). Do you say that I should use Trello's lists and cards as the horizontal / vertical story mapping? – Cristian Aug 4 '15 at 20:50
  • You can. There are several other white board like collaboration tools out there you can also use. Trello is a hack for this, however it has a low barrier to entry if the other tools are too difficult to setup or use. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Aug 5 '15 at 13:51
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I don't think you need PM tools for this. It sounds more like you are just losing overview of the scope of the project.

To prevent scope from getting out of control, you should be fine by writing a "requirements specification" for the software. You can find lots of guides for writing such online. It's really just a description of the desired functionality, as detailed as you can make it.

Naturally, the customer should be very involved in the process, but you don't have to be physically in the same room. Skype talks and screensharing will be fine.

Try to keep the spec as non-technical as possible. The client, as a non-technical person, should be able to understand it and ultimately approve it. Tech details like database model shouldn't go into the spec. You can keep this in a separate "technical specification" / "developers documentation" if you wish.

UI mockups ("wireframes") of all the pages / screens in the app, is a great thing to have in your specification. For simple wireframing, you can use Balsamiq (https://balsamiq.com/)

With a good spec, you'll both get a much better understanding of the project scope. If you are giving a fixed price offer for the project, it's also an important document to use for negotiation when the client inevitable will want various changes / new additions. And if it's a small one or two man project, it's fine to manage the project entirely around this document.

Just be sure to keep it updated and version controlled.

  • How would you organize a doc spec? Everything in one file or use multiple files and folders? Wouldn't be easier to put all the doc specs in trello which will help in the development process? – Cristian Aug 5 '15 at 10:48
  • Just one file, or a single google doc etc. Trello isn't a good tool for holding specification of functionality (at least if the specification is as detailed as it should be). It's a fine tool for managing progress though, so you can certainly use it for that purpose. – Morten Kirsbo Aug 5 '15 at 18:48

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