Keith Ciocco's blog

Keith Ciocco's blog

New Video: How to Use Project History for Early Software Decisions

Early project decisions, when not much is known, are easily the hardest. They're also often the most critical. Maybe you've found yourself in a position where you need to communicate to stakeholders what your work is going to cost and how long it will take to deliver. Feeling the pressure to deliver, you might have to make decisions based on gut feel instead of past performance. This can lead to setting unrealistic targets and often results in projects going late or over budget. 

At QSM, this is when we recommend turning to historical data. Whether it's your own data or trendlines from the 13,000 validated projects in the QSM industry database, leveraging actual completed projects can make your estimates more reliable. 

Believe it or not, collecting your own project history isn't as difficult as it sounds. We recommend capturing just a few basic metrics: Functionality Delivered, Total Effort, and Total Duration. Once you have this information, you can calculate a Productivity Index, which is the measure of productivity for the overall project or release. Then all of these metrics can be leveraged by any of the other project lifecycle tools in the SLIM-Suite for estimating, tracking, and benchmarking.

In the video above, you can see how easy it is to gather your own completed projects to use early in the planning process and determine if your estimates are reasonable or not. This helps you understand the big picture before you make any important project or portfolio decisions. 

Software Development Decisions: How Can We Start The Conversation?

The short answer is with an estimate! Early decisions are a big deal when it comes to software development and delivery. Whether its agile or waterfall, we need to figure out what the work is going to cost and how long it’s going to take, oftentimes without detailed requirements confirmed. Estimates give managers a good way to start the conversation with internal stakeholders and with clients. Should we take this project on? Is this going to cost 5 million dollars or 10? Do we have the resource capacity to fulfill the demand? Should this take 6 months or 12? Management needs to know the answers, ideally before spending major resources and before detailed planning takes place. 

By looking at thousands of completed projects, QSM has found that big money can be saved by taking a quantitative approach to finding those answers. Early data-driven estimates give us the ability to set realistic targets and manage the uncertainty that goes along with early decision making. I am referring to “Big Picture” data-driven estimates, before sprint level planning takes place.

With the SLIM-Collaborate analysis below, we can see a staffing profile that shows a gold estimate along with a more conservative green one; a two column chart showing a comparison summary; a scatterplot showing a risky effort target compared to a more reliable alternative and an industry trendline; and we see a risky gold cost estimate compared to a green high assurance one. The data shown here is saving this company from making a bad decision, a decision that could cost them a lot of money, time, and quality.

Software Development Estimation

Blog Post Categories 
Estimation SLIM-Collaborate

Using Big Picture Analytics to Power Software Estimation

Imagine a software development process where “Big Picture” estimates can be generated before detailed planning takes place, where the estimates can be accessed on the web, and where only three or four inputs are needed to generate reliable information. This process would include intelligent models that take into account historical data and there would be a back office team that specializes in software customization available to do the heavy lifting. Finally, there would be business analytics and industry data (plenty of both) to help with project target negotiations and risk trade-off analysis.

Thankfully, there are science-based estimation solutions available that include the capabilities mentioned above. These packages can make estimation easier, more transparent, and help manage the uncertainty that can come with early planning. There are technology organizations that are using these types of tools to improve their time to market and the accuracy of their software development estimates.

But there are many organizations that still struggle with estimation. They spend millions of dollars each year developing and delivering software. The planning usually starts with senior management asking tough questions about cost and schedule targets. The project leads then try to come up with effort estimates for each person on the project based on experience and gut feel. These effort numbers are tallied up in spreadsheets to come up with an overall estimate, the numbers are usually negotiated and then a final estimate is born. The problem with this process is that it takes a long time to carry out and the estimates are usually inaccurate. This is because the methods don’t take into account the non-linear relationships, integration, and overhead that we often see in software development.  When the estimates are off, millions of dollars are spent trying to change course. The rest is history. 

Blog Post Categories 
Estimation SLIM-Collaborate

Can Estimation & Analytics Improve Vendor Client Relations?

It happens time and time again. Clients look to their vendors to provide software development or configuration services and both sides are often left with big questions. Is the price fair? Can we really get the project done within our duration and resource goals? How can we negotiate for a successful outcome?

There are estimation solutions available that can help. The good ones will leverage empirically-based models, historical data, and industry analytics to uncover which proposals are feasible and which ones are risky.

In the first view below, there are two columns: the “Desired Outcome,” which is one vendor’s proposal and the second column, which is the data-driven “Recommended Estimate.”  The vendor is promising to complete the work in 3 months with a $750,000 price tag. You can see that this proposal is “Risky” and that the vendor will probably finish late and will either have to ask for more money or lose money in the long run.  The charts in the view provide a graphical representation.

Vendor Bid

In the second view for the same project, you see a second vendor’s proposal compared to the “Recommended Estimate.” The vendor’s bid is for 8 months with a $1,000,000 price tag and there is a “Moderately Conservative” rating. In other words, this vendor has a much better chance of achieving what they are promising. 

Vendor Bid

Blog Post Categories 
Vendor Management Estimation

Is Software Estimation Needed When the Cost and Schedule Are Fixed?

In many agile environments, the budget, team size, and schedule are fixed based on an organization’s predetermined targets for sprints or iterations. This leads many project managers to question if software estimation is even necessary. The problem is, without a reliable size estimate, the amount of functionality promised within the time and money constraints could be difficult to achieve and could cause the product delivery to be short on features, or late and over budget.

This is where scope-level estimation tools come into play. They can help evaluate whether targets are reasonable and, even if the schedule and budget are both set in stone, they can help figure out how much work can be delivered. This type of analysis helps set customer expectations and provides data driven leverage for negotiations.

The best estimation tools leverage empirically-based models, industry analytics, and historical data. They can even be used before iteration level planning takes place. They ensure that the overall goals are reasonable before detailed plans are developed. 

In the three views below, we see an estimate generated from a “Time Boxed” method. This is where the product manager was able to input the predetermined time, a productivity measure (PI), and a team size, to see how many story points could be completed within the set constraints. The analysis also includes a “sanity check” of the estimate, comparing it to an agile industry trend from the QSM Industry Database and their own agile historical data.

Time Box

Time Box

Blog Post Categories 
Agile Estimation

10 Tips for Better Software Project Tracking & Oversight

Software Project Tracking

 

During QSM’s 40 years in business we have often been asked to help with software projects that are out of control and riddled with unrealistic goals and soaring costs. Project managers often ask, "where is the light at the end of the tunnel?" In honor of Larry Putnam, Sr., who started QSM back in 1978, here are 10 tips for better project tracking and oversight.

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SLIM-Control SLIM-Collaborate Tracking

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. 
Blog Post Categories 
Estimation

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

Blog Post Categories 
Data IT Budgeting Estimation

Can Someone Get Me A Big Picture Estimate?

It’s a story we hear a lot in the software business these days, especially with agile development. New functionality is needed within a certain amount of time and within a certain budget. 

Some might say, "no problem! We can figure it out as we go along." They might feel comfortable because each sprint has already been set in stone.  But there are business-related questions that need to be answered before sprint-level planning takes place and before we commit to goals that might not be achievable at the release and portfolio levels. Should we agree to do this project? Can we really get all of the work done within our constraints? Will the software be reliable at delivery? How does this project impact our annual and multi-year forecasts? 

This is where having reliable big picture numbers can be helpful. Wouldn’t it be great if senior management and the technical team were on the same page early? There are empirically-based estimation tools that can help. The naysayers might say that the technical requirements aren’t firm enough to come up with early estimates before the sprint planning takes place. But the fact is that some of these models (the good ones) allow for managing uncertainty and they do it based on historical data. The slide below shows a summary example of a release-level estimate for cost, duration, and reliability.

Software Estimate

Blog Post Categories 
Estimation Agile

IT Cost Optimization and Cloud Solutions at Gartner Symposium/ITXpo

QSM at Gartner Symposium/ITXpo

The QSM team had a productive trip to the Gartner Symposium in Orlando. It's always helpful for us to discuss IT current trends and challenges with the people in our industry. Many of these themes came to light as we provided SLIM-Suite product demonstrations along with question and answer sessions at the QSM exhibit.

One of the big areas of interest at the conference was IT cost optimization, which is also one of QSM’s main areas of expertise. I hosted a presentation called “Cost Optimization Best Practices for IT Portfolio Budgeting.” The main focus of the presentation was to show how we can leverage empirically-based models and predictive analytics to balance enterprise demand with capacity and at the same time save big money in the IT budgeting process. The presentation was well-attended and a meet and greet session followed where our QSM team, consisting of Ethan Avery, Richard Pelaez, Greta Moen, and I, provided solution demonstrations and answered questions.

Another big focus of the conference was related to cloud solutions and how they will affect the internet of things and artificial intelligence. Our team featured our cloud solution, SLIM-Collaborate, which provides portfolio analytics and the ability to estimate the cost and risk of creating new software technologies. We provided examples of how we support all types of software & systems projects and explained the benefits of having a secure process for leveraging this information across the enterprise.

Blog Post Categories 
IT Budgeting QSM News