Practical Software Estimation Measurement

Can We Increase Project Success by Tracking the Big Picture?

Many of the project managers that I speak with track their software and systems projects at a very detailed level. They use detailed spreadsheets or other tools to track hours and tasks on a daily basis. This is fine, but it's important to manage the big picture so we can avoid assigning detailed tasks to duration and budget goals that are unrealistic.

By "big picture" I mean tracking at the project release level and focusing on a few key actuals: size, duration, effort, reliability, and efficiency. It's important to track these actuals to a reliable plan. These are the measures that can give us the biggest and quickest insight into a project’s potential success or failure. You can see this analysis in the SLIM-Control graphs below, showing the blue plans versus the red actuals.

Software Project Tracking

Once the project is underway and we start tracking the actuals, we can generate new project forecasts based on the actual work delivered, time elapsed, and effort spent. These new forecasts are empirically-based. This will enable us to adapt to change requests, see when the project will finish and how much it will cost. The SLIM-Control graphs below show the blue plans versus the red actuals plus the new forecasts shown in white. SLIM-Control is curve-fitting to the actuals and running empirically-based mathematical models to generate the new forecasts.

Software Project Forecast

Also in the view above, the chart in the bottom right hand corner shows an initial plan column next to a new forecast column. SLIM-Control is taking the actual effort, actual duration, and actual work delivered and using this information to forecast what is likely to happen. This particular team is not going to achieve their delivery or budget goals. Included in this analysis is the Productivity Index (PI). The Productivity Index is an empirically-derived measure of efficiency calculated using a project’s size, duration, and effort. The SLIM-Control chart shows that the team is late and over budget because they are not achieving the level of efficiency that they had planned. Seeing this analysis early in the project lifecycle will allow them to renegotiate their project goals.

This client can also benchmark their Productivity Index and other key measures with trends from the QSM Industry Database, one of the largest industry databases of completed projects in the world. You can see in the SLIM-Control charts below how this client’s PI compares to the trends in the same industry.

Software Project Productivity

It's easy to get lost in the details of a project if we don’t also focus on the big picture. Project managers need to see if their projects are in trouble and need the ability to change direction and create new release level forecasts. Managing the big picture can help increase project success because it ensures that detailed tracking is headed in the right direction.

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Project Management SLIM-Control