Practical Software Measurement

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Assessing Project Portfolio Risk in IT Budgeting

No one said IT budgeting was easy. It seems like you just finished last year’s budget and now it is time to start all over again. Not only is this task difficult, it is made worse by the fact that most organizations do it in an overly simplistic way. This often results in up to 40% of the projects grossly missing the mark, which wreaks havoc on the enterprise resource plans and results in disappointed business stakeholders.

A large part of successful IT budget planning is identifying grossly unrealistic projects – the ones that are likely to fail and the ones that are ultra conservative and wasteful. Our solution is to perform a basic feasibility assessment on each project as it enters the budgeting process. Ultimately, we will want to make adjustments to these projects, making them more reasonable and improving the overall project performance.

So how is this feasibility assessment done? Start by creating a set of historical trend lines for schedule, effort, and staffing versus size of functionality produced. The trend lines provide a basis for the average capability that could be expected. It also gives us a measure of the typical variability that can be expected. Next, position the initial budget requests against the trend lines. The intention is to identify whether or not the projects are outside of the norm and typical variation; i.e., projects that are high risk or poor value. Figures 1 through 3 highlight some of the techniques used to identify those types of projects.

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Estimation IT Budgeting

New Article: How a Center of Excellence Can Help Teams Develop Excellent Software

The ways that enterprises handle software development have changed immensely over the past couple of years. But as many organizations are upending traditional business cultures as they strive for greater collaboration, some core principles remain the same. Business stakeholder requirements need to be delivered within a reasonable timeframe and budget, with a good user experience and solid return on investment. By implementing an Estimation Center of Excellence, organizations can ensure that their projects remain on track, even (or perhaps especially) in highly agile environments. In this article originally published in SD Times, Doug Putnam outlines best practices for establishing an Estimation Center of Excellence.

Read the full article!

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Articles Estimation

Can We Take the Tracking of Agile Projects to the Next Level?

Before an agile project starts, many product owners will run an early release estimate. Once the activities get started, managers or scrum masters begin to track the progress. When they track, they usually include the person hours of effort and the number of user stories within each sprint.  There are a number of agile tracking tools and methods in the marketplace for these tasks. 

But wouldn’t it be great if the tracking and estimation process could be combined, using the actual tracked effort and user stories to run new and improved ongoing estimates at the release level? At QSM, we have applied this process to hundreds of software projects. This type of adaptive forecasting can help save time and effort by showing when a software release is headed down the wrong path. It can also help organizations avoid signing up to inflated resource planning numbers that cause many companies to waste millions of dollars at the release and enterprise levels.

In the SLIM-Control charts below, we see the blue plans versus the red actuals and the new forecasts in white. We are capturing the total effort spent and the actual work delivered each week, then using that information to generate mathematical models that produce new empirically based forecasts at the release level.

Agile Project Tracking

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Agile SLIM-Control

New Agile Article: Sizing Matters

Cone of Uncertainty

Agile is about adapting to change, not completely abandoning documentation or dismissing helpful planning and estimating inputs. In this article for Projects at Work, QSM's Jay Daniel explains how the benefits of an agile approach can shine brighter when used in conjunction with a fundamental development practice such as sizing.

Jay Daniel is a Professional Services Manager with QSM's Consulting Services team. He is an IT professional that has served in a variety of consulting roles, ranging from Program and Project Management to providing Independent Verification & Validation (IV&V) support to clients. For the past five years, Jay has focused his attention on agile methodologies in the implementation of software development efforts. He is a certified project manager (PMP), scrum master (CSM), and product owner (CSPO).

Read the full article!

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Agile Articles Sizing

Our IT Project Overspent by $1 Million? No problem!

IT Project OverspendingRecently the correlation between seeking the best gasoline prices and software project overspending collided for me.  On one hand, IT projects will easily outspend their budgets, and on the other hand, in our private lives, we are doing all we can to save pennies in our personal budgets.

From time to time I have found myself pondering whether to drive the extra 5 miles out of my way in order to beat the system and enjoy the best gasoline price in my area.  I don’t believe I am alone in this quest as evidenced by the websites that publish the lowest gas prices within a certain radius.  Typically the competing stations have very small differences between their prices.  If I play my cards right, I may be able to save a total of $.50 - $.75 for a fill up.  In almost all other walks of life $.75 is not even worth a second thought.

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Estimation

The New QSM Website

New QSM Website Homepage

Our team has been working hard to make sure we’re making your job as a project manager, estimator or company executive as easy as possible. QSM is more than an estimation company, providing predictive analytics to support fact-based decisions and realistic resource demand predictions for enterprise level capacity planning. This means that no matter where you are with your project or portfolio, you can find the information you need quickly and easily.    

So, as you may have noticed when you came to our site today, things are looking a little bit different, as we’ve rolled out our new and improved website! Our hope is that you’ll find it incredibly easy to navigate. If you aren’t exactly sure where to start, right on the home page you can now select a starting point by clicking on any of the following buttons:

At a quick glance of the homepage, you can also now get a brief overview of QSM and the industries we serve, and access our blog, news, and client list

One of our primary goals for the new site is to help each and every visitor understand the problems we solve, so they can better serve the companies, organizations and government agencies they work for.  This new drop down menu includes the following:

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QSM News

Why Should I Care about the Actual Data? The Project Is Complete.

"The game ain't over 'til it's over." - Yogi Berra

Baseball season is here and with apologies to the late Mr. Yogi Berra, “it’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Why would a project team or program management office (PMO) take the time and spend the resources to collect information about a project that was just completed? Isn’t this the time when victory is declared and everyone runs for the hills? In many cases, delving into what happened and what actual costs and durations were incurred can seem like an exercise in self-flagellation.

Historical data is arguably the most valuable input available in the software estimation process. While other inputs such as size and available duration or staffing can be seen as constraints, properly collected historical data moves the activity from the realm of estimating closer to “factimating.”

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Data SLIM Suite

How Can We Make Annual IT Budgeting Easier?

One of the things I hear from many c-level managers is how difficult it is and how long it takes to generate reliable resource plans at the enterprise level. Many organizations take months to generate their annual budgets and often times the negotiated budgets end up being unrealistic. To fix this problem we need to combine good capacity planning with good demand management. There are a number of project portfolio management tools to help with the capacity planning. The problem is the numbers will be off if we don’t get the demand management part right.

There are world class demand management tools available that can be used by business decision makers. These tools allow us to come up with empirically based, reliable project and enterprise level resource plans. In the SLIM-Estimate view below you can see the forecasted effort by role by month.

IT Budget Planning

The view below shows the plan being sanity checked with industry data so we can better negotiate our budgets with confidence.

IT Budget Planning

The even bigger news is that we can automatically feed our empirically based demand numbers into our PPM tools, making the job of capacity planning much easier and more reliable. In the view below you can see two separate plans, represented in side by side columns. The original PPM plan was updated automatically from an empirically based and sanity checked plan from SLIM-Estimate.

New Article - 5 Core Metrics to Reduce Outsourced Software Project Failure

Software Estimation Best Practices

Outsourcing was supposed to make government IT executives’ lives easier. Yet in too many cases, it’s had the opposite effect, leading to cost overruns, inefficiencies, and solutions that do not work. Remember the initial rollout of Healthcare.gov? Exactly.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Believe it or not, there’s a proven solution that has stood the test of time.  In 1977, Lawrence Putnam Sr. discovered the “physics” of how engineers build software by successfully modeling the nonlinear relationship between the five core metrics of software: product size, process productivity, schedule duration, effort and reliability. 

In this article for GCN, QSM's Joe Madden explains how the five core metrics of software estimation make a powerful tool that can be used at each phase of the software acquisition life cycle to help government IT program managers make more objective, quantitative decisions.

Read the full article!

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Articles Metrics Project Management

Roots Run Deep: The Journey to Software Application Estimation and Risk Management

The story of QSM and software application estimation begins during my time in the Army. I was assigned to Sandia Base, NM to research methods for protecting soldiers from the effects of nuclear explosions.  I had to do several calculations to determine the impact of an explosion (blast calculations) on soldiers using a slide rule, which was very tedious.  Sandia National Laboratory was next door to my office, and they had just gotten the biggest and best engineering computer available at the time.  They offered computer time for anyone needing it and even offered to teach me programming, so I decided to take a course in FORTRAN programming over my lunch hour so I could do my blast calculations quicker. These lessons aided me in completing my work at Sandia and followed me to my future assignment at the Pentagon. 

For my tour at the Pentagon in the 1970s, there was not a lot of need for my nuclear experience so I was assigned to the Army’s computer program. We had to defend our program budget to the Department of Defense (DoD) budget review authority (OSD). One system, SIDPERS, the Army enterprise personnel system, had been in development for five years and after having a peak staff of 110, we were projecting 93 people for the next five years. The analyst looking at the budget asked what should have been a simple question, “What are these people going to do?” I did not have a good answer, and later, going back to the project team, neither did they. Because of this we lost $10M in our budget.

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Estimation Risk Management