Estimation

Estimation

Estimating Program Increment Capacity in Scaled Agile (SAFe)

Scaled Agile (SAFe) is a methodology that applies Agile concepts to large complex environments.  QSM recently worked with an organization that had implemented SAFe to develop an estimation methodology specifically tailored to it.  This article discusses how it was implemented.

Software estimation typically addresses three concerns:  staffing, cost/effort, and schedule.  In the SAFe environment, however, development is done in program increments (PI) that in this case were three months in duration with two-week sprints throughout.  Staffing was set at a predetermined level and varied very little during the PI.  Thus, the three variable elements that are normally estimated (staff, cost/effort, and schedule) had already been determined in advance.  So, our job was done, right?  Wrong!  What remained to be determined was capacity:  the amount to be accomplished in a single PI.  And that was a very sore “pain point” for the organization. 

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Agile Estimation Capacity Planning

Using Business Analytics to Set Realistic Customer Expectations

I was recently reading an article by Moira Alexander titled “Why Planning Is the Most Critical Step in Project Management” and I was stuck by her observation that one of the primary reasons that projects fail is because they commit to unrealistic expectations.  In my 35 years of experience, I believe this is the number one reason projects fail.  Yet it is competence that few organizations or product owners ever get good at.

 Today there are good simulation tools that make it simple to establish realistic project boundaries.  The results can be used effectively to communicate and negotiate expectations with clients.  

For example, imagine that you are a product owner planning out your next release.  Your team of 10 people has been working on a 5-month release cadence.   A backlog refinement has shown that there are approximately 100 story points to be completed in this release.  The project plan is shown in the figure below.

Agile Uncertainty

However, there are some uncertainties and we need to deal with them in a realistic way.  Since the schedule and the team size are fixed, the only area that can give is the functionality.   Simulations are a great way to quantify uncertainty.  In our case, we are confident in our team’s productivity and labor cost, but we are somewhat more uncertain about the new capabilities in this release.   It is easy to adjust the uncertainty settings and run a business simulation.  The uncertainty slider bars are in the image below. 

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Estimation Risk Management

Estimation Is Good. Tracking and Oversight Are Even Better!

Now that the baseline estimate has been created, and stakeholders feel their inputs and concerns have been addressed, we as purveyors of the estimate have done our job.  In the world of IT project measurement, many organizations will deservedly feel accomplished that they have armed their development staff with an empirically based roadmap from which to navigate the next x number of months toward delivering a product.  Now let the construction and testing begin!  But wait, there’s more!

It’s always wise to have a sound estimate, but for added assurance of hitting the budget, schedule, staffing and risk targets, organizations have the option of tracking the project mid-flight. Just as estimating is conflated with planning, tracking can be equally confused with other one-dimensional monitoring of projects underway.  So many things can change from the time an estimate is created to the time the first iterations are built.  It’s likely that our estimate assumptions will change after some time has passed into the construction process, unless we have reacted to inevitable unforeseen forces.  For example, requirement changes, staff turnover, management demanding the project x weeks/months earlier, but still expecting all the original functionality.  These are all very real events that are thrown at the PM after the project is underway.  We at QSM have provided a solution for this since the mid-80’s in SLIM-Control, a module in our SLIM Suite.

Software Project Tracking

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SLIM-Control Estimation

10 Tips for Better Software Estimation

This year, QSM will be celebrating our 40th anniversary! Over the years, we have helped many project managers figure out what their software projects should cost, how long they should take, and how to mitigate project and portfolio risk.  Here are 10 tips that every organization should remember for effective software estimation.
  1. Capture some historical data on your projects and keep it simple. The more data, the better, but you can get a good start to your estimation program with just a few projects and a small amount of data from each of those projects. Focus on the core metrics: size, duration, reliability, productivity, and effort. 
  2. Estimate at the release level before detailed planning takes place. This will enable you to tailor your detailed plan to goals that are reasonable. Many analysts spend hours laying out detailed plans for projects that end up over budget and late because they don’t figure out the big picture first. 
  3. Use an empirically-based model that enables you to manage uncertainty. When making big decisions, it’s important to see the 90% chance compared to the 50%. 
  4. Sanity-check your estimates with industry analytics. It’s always good to see typical cost and duration trends from projects that are similar to yours. 
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Estimation

Pentagon Acquisition Needs Consistent Data-Driven Approach for Accountability

DoD acquisition

This post was originally published on Linkedin. Join the QSM Linkedin Group and Company Page to stay up-to-date with more content like this.

When the Honorable Ellen M. Lord, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment (USD/A&S) told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 7 that she intends to demand a higher level of accountability from program managers, you could feel mixed emotions from DoD acquisition professionals. Many are applauding the vocal prioritization on accountability. However, I’m sure struggling acquisition program managers and support contractors, are likely feeling they have a more focused target on their back. There will certainly be other major changes from the former Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) office reorganization to two new USD-level offices of USD/A&S and Research & Engineering (USD/R&E). Each will surely be eager to show respective value to the Pentagon in their responsibilities to improve the DoD acquisition process. Particularly, as the DoD continues a focus on DoD business transformation priorities and ensuring that they are acquiring effective defense business systems with capabilities to support those priorities, I’d like to offer some firsthand observations that suggests there still remains a lack of consistency in how we manage that process.

Accountability Requires Consistency

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Government Estimation Benchmarking

How Can You Leverage Big Data to Reduce Your IT Costs?

Today more than ever we have access to large amounts of information. You've probably heard the term "big data," which in essence is having access to large amounts of data and examining the trends in that data. But many executives want to know how they can leverage this information to solve business problems, like lowering IT costs. One way is to use the data to do a better job of estimating IT projects.

Better estimating helps avoid signing up to schedules and budgets that are unrealistic; it helps avoid overstaffing a project or a portfolio of projects; and it helps calculate how much work can be completed within project constraints. In addition, it improves communication internally across the enterprise and externally between the vendor and the client. You can apply estimation to in-house projects and you can use it to generate better proposals or to do a better job of evaluating proposals.  It can also help you negotiate more effectively.

To do a better job of estimating, you need to make good decisions regarding which metrics to leverage. You might have thousands of data points, but it's important to streamline the focus to the core release level metrics: cost, duration, effort, reliability, and productivity.  Next, you need to find a centralized place to organize and store the data so you can analyze it. There are tools out there that can help you. In the view below, you can see a portfolio of projects stored in a centralized place with the ability to manage the access and security.

Big Data to Reduce IT Costs

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Data IT Budgeting Estimation

Do We All Define "Estimate" the Same Way? Maybe Not, but We Should.

Definition of Software Estimate

In any development methodology, we throw around the word “estimate” freely not really understanding how it’s interpreted by many.  In many cases, an estimate, regardless of its content and process by which it was created, is received implicitly as a pin point number with the accuracy of multiple decimal points.  This presents a problem for all parties involved.

I recently had a discussion with a gentleman who told me that prior to using our SLIM tool, the estimates in his organization were arrived at by casual hallway conversations, often started with, “how much do you think this will cost, and how long will it take?”  A typical response is, “hmmm, I’d say about 6 months and $500K.”  That innocent musing then becomes the information upon which business decisions are based, leadership bonuses may be won or lost, and the credibility of the dev team is on the line.

I’d strongly recommend adhering to some definitions when talking estimates.  These definitions will help mitigate potential misunderstandings around the agreement of what makes an estimate:

Definition of Software Estimate

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Estimation

New Article - Why Software Estimation Is More Important Now Than Ever

In a world trending away from traditional waterfall and toward agile development methodologies, it would be understandable to assume that there is no longer a need for software project estimation. Many agile practitioners feel there’s no value in estimation, since they are already working with smaller increments and sprints and grooming their backlogs.

However, that assumption would be wrong.

In a recent interview, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the founders of Scrum, were asked about the #NoEstimate movement. Schwaber believes a more appropriate term may be #NoMeaningfulCommitments. He feels that people often confuse estimation with commitments and that, in fact, estimates should be used in making commitments. Sutherland mentioned a recent Rally (now CA) survey that asked members of 70,000 scrum teams about the estimation techniques they used and then correlated those techniques with speed of delivery. They found that those that eschewed estimates altogether yielded some of the slowest delivery times, while those that employed scope-based estimation delivered the fastest results.

Larry Putnam, Jr.'s latest article for InfoQ explains why estimation is still a very valuable practice, even in organizations that are dependent upon agile development methodologies. He outlines several best practices that stakeholders can use to get their software estimation processes back on track toward adding value to their organizations. Software estimation does not have to be difficult, onerous, or ineffective. Done right, it can be a highly effective tool that can help project managers provide value to their organizations.

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Estimation Agile Articles

Making the Case for Software Estimation

The challenges surrounding software estimation are both well known and well documented.  Most discussions on this topic center around the technical challenges estimators face: tight schedules, unclear scope, evolving requirements, and accounting for dependencies and risk.  But there's a more fundamental challenge we don't hear so much about – educating stakeholders and making the business case for structured, yet practical estimation, and why it is a critical success factor. 

Let's face it: process improvement is rarely cost-free.  Businesses expect a visible return on investments made in estimation tools and training.  The benefits of quality software estimation can be compelling, but moving decision makers from "open to the idea of estimation" to "willing to commit money and resources" can be difficult for busy analysts and managers juggling multiple roles and tasks.

In her latest video, QSM's Laura Zuber explains what makes a good software estimate and how empirically-based estimation helps projects:

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Estimation Training

Successful Estimation Begins with Collaboration

Software Estimation Collaboration

This post was originally published on Linkedin. Join the QSM Linkedin Group and Company Page to stay up-to-date with more content like this.

Software estimation is no longer a solitary activity - as more organizations continue to move away from silo-driven development methodologies, the role of collaboration becomes increasingly essential. Organizations may have estimation experts within their companies, but there’s now a huge push towards bringing all stakeholders together throughout the estimation process. This movement is largely due to an increasingly-apparent correlation between collaboration and successful estimation.

When estimation experts create an environment of continuous collaboration between all stakeholders - from the technical to business level - estimation accuracy improves and expectations overall are better aligned across every stage of the software development lifecycle. That being said, it is critical that organizations establish an effective system for collaboration that appeals to all stakeholders.

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Estimation Agile Project Management