Ask Carol: No Matter What, in Project Management, Size Matters

QSM will be hosting a new free advice column for software professionals who seek help to solve project management, communication and general software project issues. The first few scenarios are based on questions we receive all the time. Carol Dekkers is a QSM consultant and IT measurement and project management expert who speaks internationally on topics related to software development. Send your questions to Ask Carol!

Dear Carol: 

I’m a systems analyst working for a telecom company and I have several projects on the go at the same time.  Our PMO (Project Management Office) told us that now we have to start tracking the size of our projects both at the beginning and at the end.  I can’t believe this – it’s just more metrics and (redundant) data.  I already track project size because I do time reporting (by project) and all they need to do is add up my hours at the end and voila, you’ve got the project size: the more hours it took - the bigger the project.  They don’t seem to get it and I’ve asked for an exemption from this overhead task. Their response was to enroll me in a two day sizing course!  What can I do to prove to them that they already have the size because I keep track of my hours? 

- Frustrated in Seattle

Dear Frustrated:

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Sizing Ask Carol

Velocity: What Is It?

It’s easy to get confused or overly concerned about measuring velocity. Actually, the concept is almost embarrassingly simple. Velocity in Agile is simply the number of units of work completed in a certain interval. Like in many fields, Agile proponents appropriated existing terminology.

Here is one typical definition, from

In Scrum, Velocity is how much product backlog effort a team can handle in one Sprint. Velocity is usually measured in story points or ideal days per Sprint… This way, if the team delivered software for 30 story points in the last Sprint their Velocity is 30.

Velocity as a capacity planning tool used in Agile software development is calculated from the results of several completed sprints. This velocity is then used in planning future sprints.

The concept of velocity comes from physics. In physics, velocity is speed and direction, in other words, the rate of change of position of an object. Speed can be measured in many different ways.

In software, speed is frequently measured as size per unit of time (sometimes this has been called delivery rate). The measure of size could be any of the common size measures: lines of code, function points, requirements, changes, use cases, story points. The measure of time could be calendar time (month, week, day) or it could be specific to a project (sprint, release). As to direction, in software hopefully the direction is positive, but sometimes projects go backwards (for example, backing functionality out of a system).

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Sizing Agile

Project Metrics Are the Best Defense in the Battle Against Scope Creep

Scope creep is a frequent topic of discussion among project management professionals.  A recent Project Management Institute (PMI)® i Community Post, Fighting the Dreaded Scope Creep, reported some responses PMI members offered as their weapon of choice.  The various suggestions can be summarized by two general practices:

  • Avoid making on-the-spot decisions (uninformed or politically motivated)
  • Communicate the impact of the change to stakeholders and let them decide (analyze the cost, schedule, and risk impact)

Regardless of the specific practice, all of the recommended defenses included some process for change control.

I like words.  When I need to understand a topic, I pull the dictionary off the shelf (or access the online version), and look at the basic definition.  To determine why scope creep is such a formidable enemy, I looked up the word “creep”:  2. to approach slowly, imperceptibly, or stealthily; 4. to sneak up behind someone or without someone's knowledge.  A vast majority of results from a general internet search defined scope creep as “uncontrolled change.” 

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Sizing Metrics

Practical Software Sizing Methods

Sizing is arguably the most challenging part of any software estimate. Without a notion of functional size, managers may find it difficult to negotiate realistic schedules based on their demonstrated ability to deliver software. They are unable to show empirically why the twelve person team that worked so well on a 150,000 ESLOC project over six months not only fails to deliver a 75,000 ESLOC project in half the time, but produces an error-ridden product that infuriates the customer. Unlike manufacturing shoes, software development is full of non-linear relationships between size, time, effort, and defects. What data driven estimation does successfully is arm managers with the ability to sanity check their current plans against past performance and negotiate achievable outcomes based on a realistic assessment of how much functionality can be built with a set time frame and resource profile.

So how do project managers get a better handle on size? The best place to start is with establishing a practical method for size estimation.

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