When you start to think about a software project one of the things you absolutely need to know is "Where are we now?" (along with "Where do we want to go?" and "How are we going to get there?"). This question is usually not thought about that hard, and if the team have been working together for some time they generally "just know" anyway. However for an ousider it's an important question to think about. I generally look for the following:
  • What version control tools are in use and how is the information set up and used
  • Is there any documentation of process and
  • Does anyone follow the process documentation
  • How do the customers feel about the work the team does - how do they think the team should change (that can be a hard question to get honest answers for)
  • How are requests and issues documented (e.g. emails, post-it notes, bug tracking tool ...) and how is the information used
  • What is the technology used (e.g. frameworks, languages, build tools, IDEs, deployment ...)
  • What are the current 'pain' points (e.g. too much rework, too hard to understand code base, can't refactor etc.)
  • How much budget and autonomy does the team have
This will help you build an informal map to assist in in planning any work and identifying issues that may need addressing outside of the current project work. The information should be maintained in some easy to understand form e.g. a Mindmap or WiKi and updated every month or two.