QSM's New Online User Forum

QSM recently launched a new online user forum program specifically for our clients. Hosted monthly, these user forums allow current users of our SLIM-Suite to ask questions and share tips on how they are currently using the tools. The theme of our most recent forum was "More than One Way to Skin an Estimate," which reviewed SLIM-Estimate solution methods and different ways to approach estimating challenges that users might have in their particular project environment. Moderated by Lead Support Representative and Trainer Laura Zuber, Laura started the meeting by revisiting the software production equation, which shows the relationship between size, effort, time, and productivity. By rearranging the equation different ways, the user can solve for what they don't know. This is the basis of our new redesigned solution wizards: Balanced Risk, ROM Estimate, Fixed Resources, Bid Evaluation/Playback, Time-Boxed, and Re-Estimate an In-Flight Project. After Laura gave a live demonstration of these wizards, we received great feedback from users that they found them more intuitive and helpful resources to get the answers they need. 

After the demo, clients were able to ask questions and share helpful tips and tricks that they have discovered in the tools. One user particularly liked analyzing scope creep using the Size Growth Analysis feature, while another recommended using the trend mix feature when estimating a complex project. Laura also took feedback and product feature requests. This is the kind of close feedback we want from our customers to get them the best value possible from our tools.

This user forum was a great success and we look forward to hosting these sessions regularly in the future. If you are SLIM-Suite user and would like to participate, please contact us.

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QSM News SLIM Suite SLIM-Estimate

How Can I Tell When My Software will be Reliable Enough to Deliver?

Usually when I am online making a payment or using social media, I am not thinking about software quality. But lately I feel like I have been encountering more bugs than usual.  From activities like clicking on a link where I should be able to input my payment information, to doing a search and receiving an error message, or being redirected to a completely different page which had nothing to do with the mission I had set out to accomplish.  These bugs are sometimes frustrating and I started to wonder what could have been done to prevent these from being released into production.

Since I spend a lot of time speaking with people that manage software projects, I have noticed that quality is often one of the most overlooked aspects of a software system. People I’ve spoken with have mentioned that quality is often not even discussed during the early planning stages of development projects, but it is usually a deciding factor when the software is ready to be released and should be considered from the beginning of the project.

Using a tool like SLIM early in the planning stages of a project can help us with these issues. Not only can it provide reliable cost and schedule estimates, but it can also help estimate how many defects one can expect to find between system test and actual delivery. It can also estimate the Mean Time to Defect (MTTD), which is the amount of time between errors discovered.

Software Defect Tracking

Resource Demand Management - Are the Right People Working on the Right Thing?

I am excited about the resource demand management capabilities in our newest SLIM-Estimate release (8.2). Software project estimates can now provide a breakout of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staffing requirements by role by month. The staffing profile below shows how different roles, or skills, are required at different points in the schedule, based upon a particular development methodology. You can see that 6 FTE Programmers are needed by the month of May. Producing a high-level, scope-based estimate early in the software development lifecycle with detailed resource demand data helps the PMO and portfolio managers determine the best timing for project resource allocation, and setting project start dates that maximize productivity and reduce bottlenecks.

Software Resource Demand Management

Once the estimate and resulting project skills allocation plan has been approved, resource demand management has not ended. Tracking actual staffing at the skill and task level for in-flight projects not only ensures the right people are working on the right things, meaning that product development is on track, it also allows timely resource plan adjustments to address unforeseen staffing needs.

Data-Less Decision Making

I rather enjoyed the Google Analytics April Fools prank earlier this month, Welcome to Data-Less Decision Making on Analytics Academy.  Though satirical, this video brings to light an important reason why individuals have such trouble making decisions in a business environment: they don’t have data.

I’ll agree that without data it’s really appealing to turn to the coin flip method and be done with it.  After all, 50/50 odds really aren’t terrible, right?  But project management software such as SLIM-Estimate make empirically-based business decisions possible, even when company data isn’t immediately available.

Leveraging our database that contains over 10,000 projects, QSM has developed and regularly updates 17 distinct industry trends.  When creating an estimate or benchmarking a past performance, simply select the QSM industry trend that most closely reflects the type of system being built.  This will serve as a reference point.

If historical data is available but you’re unsure of which metrics to collect, SLIM-SmartSheets is a new downloadable feature in SLIM version 8.2 that mimics the look and feel of SLIM-DataManager and allows users to collect project data, even when they’re not on a network computer.  Each project can then be pulled into one SLIM-DataManager file using the API.  


Ask Carol: How Many Projects Create a "History?"

Dear Carol:

As a project manager who is new to formal project estimating, I’ve been hearing about the importance of having project histories available for accurate estimating.  We just purchased SLIM-Estimate but we don’t have any project history.  Can we still use SLIM, and how many projects do we need before we can get accurate estimates?

– PM in Atlanta

Dear PM:

You may have heard that “history repeats itself” and the adage is true in software development.  Completed projects where the actual software size, effort hours, duration and cost are often the best predictors of future performance on projects – and your own project history gives accurate indicators of how your corporation performs.  However, the majority of QSM clients who purchase SLIM-Estimate start out with little or none of their own project history.  The good news is that the SLIM tool comes preloaded with productivity, duration, staffing, and effort hours trend lines based on thousands of completed real life projects, and delineated by industry and type of project.  When you do an estimate using SLIM, the Monte Carlo simulation models are run, and the results are compared against trend line graphs so that you can see how your estimate of effort, duration, staffing and cost compare to the chosen industry.  This gives you the confidence to know where your estimate falls against comparable completed projects (of a given size.) If your estimates fall outside the bounds of a single standard deviation above or below the industry trend lines, you know that you may want to reassess the assumptions of your estimate.

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SLIM-Estimate Database Ask Carol

How to Use Big Data to Improve Your Software Projects

In the recent Washington Post article How the Obama Campaign Won the Race for Voter Data, Joel Kowsky writes about how the 2012 Obama campaign used analytics to improve their campaign strategy, and to ultimately secure the presidential victory.  

Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, it’s hard to argue that Barack Obama’s campaign strategy was anything short of impressive.  As soon as Obama took office in 2009, his team began preparing for his 2012 campaign.  From the start there was a strong emphasis on measuring the campaign’s progress.  Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, stated 

“There’s always been two campaigns since the Internet was invented, the campaign online and the campaign on the doors.  What I wanted was, I didn’t care where you organized, what time you organized, how you organized, as long as I could track it, I can measure it, and I can encourage you to do more of it.”

The team began by conducting a postmortem study on their 2008 campaign where they analyzed the number of homes visited, phone calls placed, and voters registered by each field organizer and volunteer.  The result was a 500 page report which highlighted areas of improvement for the 2012 campaign.  

The suggestions led the Obama campaign to invest in building customized software that would integrate all the data the campaign had collected on voters, donors, and volunteers and link to individual voter profile.  This software analyzed previously collected data to calculate the likelihood of candidate support, the likelihood of election day turnout, and the degree of persuasion for each voter.  

Customizing SLIM Suite Workbooks

Although each workbook is set up with default themes, the look and feel of SLIM-Estimate, SLIM-Control, SLIM-Metrics, and SLIM-MasterPlan workbooks are readily customizable.  

Default workbook settings

Screen Background

The easiest way to change the feel of your workbooks is to change the background color and style.  To change the background color, go to Tools|Customize Display|Screen/Printer Fonts, Colors, and Symbols…, then go to the Colors & Symbols tab on the right.

Screen/Printer Fonts, Colors, and Symbols

Color Start and Color End are important if you want to create a gradient background, like the background in the first image.  A gradient background begins with your specified Color Start color then transforms into your Color Stop color either vertically, horizontally, or diagonally (pictured above).  If you choose the Solid color style, simply select your Color Start.

Graph Background

Like the Screen Background, you can have a solid background or a gradient.  Simply follow the steps above for selecting your colors and styles.

Solutions and Reference Data

How Does Uncertainty Expressed in SLIM-Estimate Relate to Control Bounds in SLIM-Control? Part III

In the previous articles in this series I presented SLIM-Estimate’s use of uncertainty ranges for size and productivity to quantify project risk, and how to build an estimate that includes contingency amounts that cover your risk exposure.  In this post I will identify the project work plan reports and charts that help you manage the contingency reserve.  You will see how to use SLIM-Control bounds and default metrics to keep your project on track. 

Understand the project work plan documents.

In our example so far, you have estimated a project to deliver a software product in 11.7 Months, with a budget of $988,223.  This estimate includes an 80% contingency reserve, or risk buffer, on both effort and duration.  Your work plan is based upon SLIM-Estimate’s 50% solution; 11 Months and $755,400.  Thus, the uncertainty about size and productivity are accounted for; it is built into your plan.  The probability that you will meet the project goals is driven by many factors ‒ too many to measure.  You can only manage what is within your control, and escalate issues so they can be resolved in a timely manner.

Managing the project well begins with a solid understanding of the detailed project plan.  SLIM-Estimate provides several default and customizable charts and reports that document the plan.  Here are a few key reports1 to study in order to identify the core metrics you will want to monitor closely.

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SLIM-Control SLIM-Estimate

How does uncertainty expressed in SLIM-Estimate relate to Control Bounds in SLIM-Control? Part II

Several months ago, I presented SLIM-Estimate’s use of uncertainty ranges for size and productivity to quantify project risk.  Estimating these two parameters using low, most likely, and high values predicts the most probable effort and time required to complete the project.  This post shows you how to use SLIM-Estimate’s probability curves to select the estimate solution and associated work plan that includes contingency amounts appropriate to your risk.

Begin with an unconstrained solution

The default solution method used for new estimates, whether you are using the Detailed Method or another solution option, is what we call an unconstrained solution.  Just as it sounds, no limits have been placed on the effort, schedule, or staffing SLIM-Estimate can predict.  It will calculate the resources required to build your product (size) with the capabilities of your team (PI).  Assuming you have configured SLIM-Estimate to model your life cycle and based your inputs on historical data, you have produced a reasonable, defensible estimate.  

Solution Panel

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SLIM-Control SLIM-Estimate

Ditch the Madness: SLIM Your Brackets

Monday morning I received an email that read:

Hi All,
You can set your clocks to it: the birds flying north for spring, daylight savings time, and this email being sent on the Sunday before the tournament begins.  That's right, March Madness is upon us my friends, and we’ve officially made it through winter. 

The message continued with details about how to participate, but as you can see, it’s time for QSM’s annual March Madness tournament.  So how do I justify spending company time filling out brackets?  By blogging about how this is actually related to project management.  As I went through the exercise of predicting the course of this tournament, I realized that many of the thoughts I had also go through the minds of project managers.

Before I reveal my picks I want to give some background information.  I’m new to this whole March Madness tournament thing.  I’m not familiar with the teams.  I don’t know the players’ strengths and weaknesses.  I didn’t watch their games earlier in the season, so I don’t know their stats.  All I know is that my significant other went to Ohio State so I want them to win.

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SLIM-Estimate Project Management