The 5th century BC Chinese politician, teacher and social philosopher, Confucius said:
Study the past if you would divine the future.
It holds so true for Software Project Management also. When you talk about project management as a discipline in an SDLC, you cannot avoid drawing attention to the Roman Empire’s proficient skills in Project Management. They are considered to be the masters of architecture, design and technology in construction science. Romans are known to have been very advanced in creating colossal architectures with superior technical skills, such as concrete technology, that they had mastered. All that couldn’t have been achieved without equally superb project management skills.
Many of today’s project management skills have roots in the ancient Roman Architecture history. Some of the great examples of Roman Empire’s constructions that exemplify their superior project management skills are the famous Roman Forum, the Bridge over Rhine River laid in 55 BC and the Colosseum constructed in 200 BC.
The stories behind construction of these Roman architectures reek of many project management tips that can be used in executing present day project management:
1. Share the Vision
When Julius Caesar was leading 8 legions (40,000 men) north through Gaul (France), he was faced with the daunting task of crossing the Rhine River to Germania (Germany). No Roman commander had been able to do this earlier. He had the option of crossing by boat but that was very risky due to fast current and the fact that he had to bring the entire cavalry along with equipment. Caesar had to be prepared to face the hostile Germanic tribes on the other side, ready to battle the Romans.
The second option was to build a bridge that would bear the weight of 40,000 men, horses and equipment across the 1000 feet wide and 30 feet deep river. The technical challenge was to build a very stable bridge with the limited available resource of timber only. The bridge was completed in just 10 days.
What this feat shows is unless the entire team was focussed on the end goal and had worked in an organized manner, the project could not have been delivered in a short span of 10 days.
2. Channelize the Skills
The ‘Bridge over Rhine’ had to be completed quickly. An enormous volume of timber was required for the pilings, connecting beams and the walkway. Each task required specific skills such as ramming piles at the bottom of the river using pile-drivers, cutting timber and wrapping them up tightly. This is where channelizing of skills came through, organizing the entire army to build the bridge in a very short time span.
Software development projects are no different. Often due to business uncertainties, such situations arise where you need to make the best use of available resources, bringing different sets of available skills together to achieve goals.
3. Look for Well defined Scope and Requirements
When the Romans built the Colosseum, it was delivered by four contractors. History says that their contracts had detailed specifications of work.
Another useful tip for efficient project management that is exhibited here is to have clearly defined scope and requirements. While this sounds like an anomaly, especially in software development scenario, it is very important to have clear scope in order to deliver quality software. In order to beat the market uncertainties, it might well be a better idea to opt for Agile methodologies and deliver project in smaller iterations.
4. Collaborate and Share Knowledge
Apart from the raw labour in construction of the Colosseum, there were teams of professional Roman builders, engineers, artists, painters and decorators who undertook the skilled tasks necessary for building the Colosseum. Such a colossal project could not have been achieved had there been no collaboration and knowledge sharing at the right levels and at the right intervals.
5. Maintain a grasp on reality
No matter what SLDC processes and/or tools you choose, you have to always maintain a grasp on the ground reality, pertaining to the on-going business conditions of your customer, your employee issues such as sudden absence, budgetary constraints etc. Once you are grounded in reality you can align your resources and energy accordingly.
6. Believe in Yourself
There is no better skill than believing in yourself and your team. The project team for ‘Bridge on Rhine River’ knew that they will have to face opposition from the tribes on the other side of the river. But building the bridge created a psychological impact on the on-looking tribe. Every progress demonstrated the determination and valour of the Romans. And once the cavalry crossed, Caeser roamed freely on the other side, without any opposition. The tribe had fled.
So, if you believe in the cause of a project – that the project will increase your business, say, four times, then you must not pay any heed to the nay sayers. As a project manager you must believe in your managerial and leadership skills to lead the team and achieve the end result.