Tips & Tricks

Tips & Tricks

Extending SLIM Tools with Extension Menu Items

Extension menu items are one of the best new features in SLIM-Suite 8.2.  You don’t have to be a programmer (or even pretend to be one online) to create customizable menu items that perform tasks like these right from the menu of any SLIM-Suite application:

  • Call external applications like Excel, Word, or PowerPoint
  • Run SLIM-Suite utilities or APIs
  • Open external references or process guides
  • Launch the Windows Snipping Tool to capture screen settings or data and email them to your team.

Once you get the hang of it, creating your own custom menu items is easy: if you can unzip files and use Notepad, trust me – you can do this!

The Extension Menu Item feature is documented in its own chapter in each SLIM-Suite user guide, but if you’re like me you could probably use a few real life examples and some sample configuration settings to jump start the process.  In a fairly short period of time, I was easily able to create the following menu items in SLIM-DataManager:

  • IMPORT PROJECT FROM SPREADSHEET
  • EXPORT DATABASE TO SPREADSHEET
  • RUN DATAMANAGER API
  • Bring up the API documentation
  • Bring up an internal data validation guide
  • Launch Excel, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote
  • Launch the Windows Snipping tool.

The menu items I created fell into several categories: launching an external application, launching a SLIM-Suite utility/API, pointing to an external process guide, launching a Windows utility. I’ll cover each one, providing sample configuration text for each.

CREATING THE .INI FILE

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SLIM Suite Tips & Tricks

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.  

SLIM-SmartSheets

SLIM Suite 8.2: The New Look

The new look and feel of the default workbooks in SLIM Suite are based around infographic and dashboard design principles.  Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few served as an excellent resource for updating the views and color schemes in SLIM Suite 8.2.  Our goal in updating the look and feel of SLIM-Suite 8.2 was to highlight the pertinent inputs and outputs in bright, bold colors and to allow other view elements like gridlines or historic data to fade into the background by using more muted colors, allowing you to focus on the important metrics when making key management decisions. 

New views in SLIM-Estimate

New views in SLIM-Estimate

As you step through the default workbook in SLIM-Estimate, you'll notice that the default folders and view names have changed.  Views have been reorganized into folders with descriptive, functional names to make it easier to find the right views, charts, and reports and give users a more effective dashboard for evaluating solutions, adjusting them and reviewing logged solutions.

SLIM Suite 8.2 comes with four themes to choose from, plus two placeholders for your own custom themes.

White Background (Default)

White background

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SLIM Suite Tips & Tricks

How to Customize SLIM Charts to Make Them Presentation-Ready

Think of a time when you gave a presentation that did not go well.  Was the actual content of your presentation subpar, or was it that something lacked in the delivery?  More likely than not, your answer was the latter (after all, why would you present something if it wasn’t worthwhile?). 

When putting together a presentation, I’ve found that the overall aesthetics can drastically impact how your message is received.  Seemingly small things, such as displaying a graph that uses clashing colors or an undesirable font can sometimes overshadow the content you are trying to deliver.

In her recent blog post titled Customizing SLIM-Suite Workbooks, Katie Costantini discussed how the default workbooks in SLIM-Estimate, SLIM-Metrics, SLIM-MasterPlan, and SLIM-Control can be customized.

I applied the techniques outlined in her post to one of the Sample Files to give my presentation slides a more modern look and feel.  Below is a ‘Before and After’ view of a sample SLIM-Metrics Workbook View. 

Before:
Before

After:
After

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Tips & Tricks

Ask Carol: If IT's Important, Get a Second Opinion

QSM is 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 am a seasoned software project manager who continually gets blamed when my projects come in late and over-budget.  I’ve worked the last 8 weekends with my team to deliver software for my customer and no matter what we do, we can’t seem to catch up or curtail the spending. Now my team is even turning on me saying I should have known that management would get angry, when they were the ones who imposed unrealistic deadlines and keep changing their minds about what functions they want delivered first.  We’re all ready to throw in the towel, but we love our jobs and are doing the best we can.  Help!

– Overworked and Frustrated in IT land

Dear Overworked:

The first thing I can tell you is that you are not alone!  I know that this might not make you feel better, but even the best and highest paid project managers face the same issues on a day-to-day basis.  The best piece of advice I can give you is “if it’s important (as IT projects are!) – always get a second opinion.”  This is what we do in life – if you go to a doctor and he tells you that you need knee surgery, you always get a second opinion.  We need to apply the same life lessons to our work life!  

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Tips & Tricks Ask Carol

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

All About Bar Charts and Histograms

Having data is great, but if you don't understand how to display it, you can't get your point across.  The focus of this blog series is to explain the various chart types available to you in SLIM-Metrics so that you can efficiently analyze your data, as well as to provide helpful tips and tricks. 

Bar charts break a data set into bins or categories and provide the number/percent of projects or the average metric value for each category.

Unlike scatter plot charts, bar charts can display both numeric and text metrics. There are two metrics tabs on a bar chart property sheet — one for the independent and one for the dependent metric. To create a bar chart, highlight the independent and dependent metric you want to display and select Choose, or simply double-click the desired metric. Once chosen, the selected metric name appears in the field to the right of the Choose button. 

Histograms

Histogram

Histograms display continuous numeric data (each bar spans the interval between dependent axis ticks) grouped into evenly spaced bins on the independent axis, for the first data set. Additional data sets are overlaid over the bars in a line style with symbols. The Bin Size or Number of Bins can be customized, or you can select Auto to accept the default bin settings.

Histograms show both values and distributions, which is an important way of evaluating single summary statistics, such as averages.  For example, if a PI histogram follows a normal distribution, then you can probably use the average PI for estimation.  If a PI histogram does not follow a normal distribution, then it is a good idea to choose a different method to pick PI.

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SLIM-Metrics Tips & Tricks

SLIM Note Panel Simplifies Reports, Documentation, and Guidelines

SLIM Suite default workbooks contain pre-defined views you can customize to fit your reporting needs.  The Navigation Panel on the left side of the user interface displays the list of views, organized into sections or folders.  Each SLIM tool contains multiple views to facilitate presentation and analysis of the unique metrics it employs.

Navigation Panel
Figure 1: Navigation Panel

One of the most valuable and flexible objects to include in a view is the Note Panel.  Just as it sounds, it is simply a note pad where you can include descriptive text about estimation assumptions, findings, questions, instructions to SLIM users.... the possibilities are numerous.  QSM uses the Note Panel to provide instructions, tips, and easily customizable project and executive summary reports.  The view below shows the Section Purpose & Operating Procedures view, which describes other views in the folder, along with suggestions for tailoring subsequent charts and reports. 

Note Panel View
Figure 2: Note Panel View

You can use notes to document the estimation procedure you want others in your organization to follow.  Use notes to document the special background information that explains why the recommended solution meets the most important project goals and constraints.

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SLIM Suite Tips & Tricks

Does Your Estimate Accurately Reflect the Five Dimensions of Software Trade-offs?

A recent series of posts by Karl Wiegers eloquently discusses the "reality of tradeoffs" software professionals deal with every day, going beyond the typical success drivers (time, cost, and quality) to include product features and staff. He shares inspiring practical information by making distinctions between constraints, drivers, and degrees of freedom, each representing the amount of flexibility the project manager has to adjust a key factor.

SLIM-Estimate has modeled the non-linear interdependencies of these metrics for over thirty years. It accounts for Wiegers’s five project success factors explicitly, showing the tradeoffs between them in real time. I have mapped Wiegers’s Five Dimensions to SLIM-Estimate’s parameters to show how you can use SLIM-Estimate quantify the trade-offs Wiegers describes.

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Estimation Tips & Tricks

Improve Your Project Comparisons

Here is a helpful tip for comparing project performance for projects of different sizes.

Software size has a big impact on metrics like effort, duration, defects, or productivity. We have known for many years that the relationship between project size and most software metrics is exponential. That is why our trends appear straight on a log – log scale.  SLIM Suite tools take project size into account by regressing core software metrics like effort, duration, or productivity against size to sanity-check estimates and benchmark completed projects:

SLIM standard deviation trend lines

The charts above show both the average trend and +/- 1, 2, and 3 standard deviation trend lines.  As a rule of thumb, a normal distribution (or one that has been normalized by transformation such as our log scale) will typically contain 68% of the data between +/- 1 standard deviation of the mean, 95% within +/- 2 standard deviations, and 99.7% within +/- 3 standard deviations.

Information about the standard deviation can be useful when analyzing software metrics, and it is quite easy to produce in SLIM-Metrics. Starting with a database of SLIM-DataManager projects, you can get a table of the standard deviations using SLIM-Metrics’ five star reports.

Here is a five star report for a set of Command & Control (C&C) software projects.

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SLIM-Metrics Tips & Tricks