SLIM-Control

SLIM-Control

There's No Risk in Software Project Planning

I like listening to audiobooks when I go for a morning run. This month it is a David Baldacci thriller about two CIA professional killers pitted against each other who end up working together to save us all from global catastrophe.  Apparently, there is a ton of planning involved in stealthily hunting a target, making the kill, and then getting away unseen.  That’s because there is a lot of risk.  Timing is critical, down to the split second, and the slightest mistake can end your life.  Discussing the highly complex plan to foil an assassination attempt with his partner, one agent says to the other, “There’s no risk in planning. The risk is in the execution.”

That got me thinking about software development and QSM’s SLIM-Suite estimating, tracking, and forecasting tools.  Do I agree with that statement?  Yes and no.  Let’s look at it both activities – project planning and execution.  

Planning

The activity of planning is not risky as far as your personal safety is concerned. You probably aren’t in danger of getting attacked or making a mistake that will cause bodily injury (you may experience emotional trauma or at least endure a minor headache).  It is most definitely risky for software development programs and initiatives, however, because aggressive plans based on poor estimates handicap the delivery team.  Without understanding the dynamics of software development projects or the ability to rapidly compute a range of potential outcomes to identify risky scenarios, planners may inadvertently commit to unrealistic schedule, budget, and staffing goals.  In fact, most plans are “goal based” ― task lists and staffing plans derived to give management or the customer what they want, because there is no solid framework or supporting data to defend against it. 

QSM Releases SLIM-Suite 10.3

We are pleased to anounce the release of SLIM-Suite 10.3, the latest version of our flagship software management tool suite. The pandemic has put enormous pressure on business leaders to utilize resources wisely while juggling development teams in remote locations. With that in mind, our goal with the newest release was to provide several small, yet powerful improvements designed to save time and increase consistency at every step of the project and portfolio planning process.

Improvements to SLIM-Estimate's Skills Breakout configuration make it easier to fine-tune skill categories and labor rates to support better resource demand planning at both the project and portfolio levels.  Additionally, the tool's API now exposes the Sizing and PI (Productivity Index, QSM's proprietary productivity measure) calculators for users who wish to leverage these features directly from a spreadsheet or other external applications.

SLIM-DataManager, QSM's database repository tool, has new functionality designed to make it easier to validate, understand, and analyze your portfolio of projects. Power editing and enhanced keyword management allow quick changes to multiple projects right from the master project list. Power editing makes it easy to add/update descriptive “tags” used to group projects into relevant categories for benchmarking and estimate calibration.

In addition to the new configuration capabilities, SLIM-Suite 10.3 features new agile enhancements, such as an updated SLIM-Estimate agile template. SLIM-Estimate and SLIM-Control now allow users to instantly toggle the display of agile increment lines between sprints, program increments, or both levels of detail.

Webinar Replay: Using Metrics to Manage Runaway IT Projects

Using Metrics to Manage Runaway IT Projects

If you were unable to attend our recent webinar on Using Metrics to Manage Runaway IT Projects, a replay is now available.

Technology organizations spend thousands of hours a month planning and delivering their software engineering, cloud, and IT transformation projects. Unfortunately many of these projects start off with unrealistic expectations around cost, duration and scope; or they start fine, but then customer requirements change. Being able to generate metrics analysis and adaptive forecasting when projects are in trouble is essential to saving money and time. All of this combined with the need to negotiate and reset expectations can make this process a challenging one. In this webinar, Keith Ciocco will show how estimation and control tools can be leveraged early and while projects are in-flight.

Watch the Replay!

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SLIM-Control Tracking Estimation Webinars

Upcoming Webinar: Using Metrics to Manage Runaway IT Projects

Using Metrics to Manage Runaway IT Projects

Technology organizations spend thousands of hours a month planning and delivering their software engineering, cloud, and IT transformation projects. Unfortunately many of these projects start off with unrealistic expectations around cost, duration and scope; or they start fine, but then customer requirements change. Being able to generate metrics analysis and adaptive forecasting when projects are in trouble is essential to saving money and time. All of this combined with the need to negotiate and reset expectations can make this process a challenging one. In this webinar, presented on Thursday, January 21 at 1:00 PM ESTKeith Ciocco will show how estimation and control tools can be leveraged early and while projects are in-flight.

Register here!

Blog Post Categories 
SLIM-Control Tracking Estimation Webinars

Monitoring Software Project Progress by Money Spent Can Be Misleading

Sound financial practices are a core value of any successful enterprise; and should be.  It may come as a surprise that monitoring money spent against planned expenditures is not the best way to evaluate the progress of software projects.  The reason is simple:  by the time financial measures indicate that a project is off track, it is often too late to take effective corrective actions or identify alternative courses of action.

Here is an example that illustrates this.  Let’s take a hypothetical project plan with these characteristics:

  • Planned project duration of 1 year
  • Full time staff of 6 for the length of the project
  • Billing rate of $100/hour
  • 335 business requirements to complete
  • Project begins at the start of June and is scheduled to complete May 31 of the following year

According to this plan, the project should have a labor cost $1.245 million.  Now, using a software project monitoring tool, SLIM-Control, let’s see what the project looks like at the end of September. 

Software Project Cost

If we only look at money spent, the project is on track since planned and actual expenditures are exactly the same.  However, when we look at the progress of the actual work completed, a different story emerges.  The project got off to a slow start and the gap between what was planned and what has been delivered has increased every month.  Unless this is rectified, the project will last longer and cost more than originally planned.  Here is a forecast of what will happen if the current trend continues.  The project will complete over two months late and cost an additional $215,000.

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Effort SLIM-Control Tracking

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

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

Can We Take the Tracking of Agile Projects to the Next Level?

Before an agile project starts, many product owners will run an early release estimate. Once the activities get started, managers or scrum masters begin to track the progress. When they track, they usually include the person hours of effort and the number of user stories within each sprint.  There are a number of agile tracking tools and methods in the marketplace for these tasks. 

But wouldn’t it be great if the tracking and estimation process could be combined, using the actual tracked effort and user stories to run new and improved ongoing estimates at the release level? At QSM, we have applied this process to hundreds of software projects. This type of adaptive forecasting can help save time and effort by showing when a software release is headed down the wrong path. It can also help organizations avoid signing up to inflated resource planning numbers that cause many companies to waste millions of dollars at the release and enterprise levels.

In the SLIM-Control charts below, we see the blue plans versus the red actuals and the new forecasts in white. We are capturing the total effort spent and the actual work delivered each week, then using that information to generate mathematical models that produce new empirically based forecasts at the release level.

Agile Project Tracking

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Agile SLIM-Control

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

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Project Management SLIM-Control

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.