Category Archives: Designing software

10 Steps to Better Metrics… for Everyone


The more things change, the more they stay the same – especially when it comes to initiatives that involve cultural change. Measurement is a perfect example – and I’m not talking purely about “software metrics,” rather measurement in any industry.

When you take a business that has traditionally “flown by the seat of its pants” (in other words, it is a monopoly of sorts or it has made money in spite of itself) and start to keep track of what’s going on, people have issues.  The first step often is to simply measure anything that moves – data that are easy to capture – and then try to figure out some sort of conclusions or action plans.   In IT (Information Technology) the landscape is littered with discarded data from failed measurement initiatives.  Data in and of themselves are not bad, IF the data are used appropriately and in the right context.

I recently wrote the following article for Projects at Work based on concepts I first observed nearly 20 years ago, and they are as valid today as ever before.

As a consultant, I LOVE to work with companies who want to succeed with measurement. If you are tasked with starting metrics for your company, give me a call – maybe I can give you some ideas to save you time and money – and succeed with metrics!

Send me an email or leave a comment – measurement is too important to leave to chance.  (Let me know if you’d like a full copy of this article!)

Cheers,
Carol

ProjectsAtWork - 10 Steps to Better Metrics July 2015

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QSM (Quantitative Software Management) 2014 Research Almanac Published this week!


Over the years I’ve been privileged to have articles included in compendiums with industry thought leaders whose work I’ve admired.  This week, I had another proud moment as my article was featured in the QSM Software Almanac: 2014 Research Edition along with a veritable who’s who of QSM.

This is the first almanac produced by QSM, Inc. since 2006, and it features 200+ pages of relevant research-based articles garnered from the SLIM(R) database of over 10,000 completed and validated software projects.

Download your FREE copy of the 2014 Almanac by clicking this link or the image below.

almanac

Combining Soft Skills and Hard Tools for Better Software


One of the more interesting topics in software development (at least from my perspective) is the culture of the industry.  Seldom does one find an industry burgeoning with linguistics majors, philosophers, artists, engineers (all types – classically trained to self-named), scientists, politicians, and sales people – all working on the same team in the same IT department.

This creates an incredible diversity and richness – and leads to sometimes astounding leaps and bounds in innovation and technological advancement, but it can also create challenges in basic workplace behavior.  This post takes a look at the often overlooked soft skills (empathy, leadership, respect, communication, and other non-technical skills) together with technical competencies as an “opportunity” (aka challenge or obstacle to overcome.)

It was published first on the Project Management Institute (PMI) Knowledge Shelf – recently open to the general non-PMI public.

soft skills

Added bonus here:  I referenced the You Tube 2013 University of Western Australia commencement address by Australian comedian/actor Tim Minchin at the University of Western Australia in 2013 in my post (he shares his 9 recommendations to graduates, my favorite -and the one I quoted – is #7 Define yourself by something you love!)  I believe it’s worth the watch/listen if you need to take a break and just sit back and think about soft skills during your technical day. (Warning to the meek of heart – it’s irreverent, offensive, and IMHO, bang on in his core sentiments.  If you’re offended, I apologize in advance!)

If you’d like a pdf copy of the post above, please leave me a comment with your email address!  (And even if you don’t, I’d love your opinion!)

Have a great week!

Carol

Latest installment of Ask Carol: No matter What… in Project Management, Size Matters


Just wanted to share with you my latest installment on the QSM website blog – My Dear Carol advice column.  Enjoy!

Ask Carol - size matters

Here is the link to the rest of the article:  http://www.qsm.com/blog/2013/ask-carol-no-matter-what-project-management-size-matters

Measurement and IT – Friends or Frenemies ?


I confess, I am a software metrics ‘geek’… but I am not a zealot!  I agree that we desperately need measures to make sense of the what we are doing in software development and to find pockets of excellence (and opportunities for improvement), but it has to be done properly!

Most (process) improvement models, whether they pertain to software and systems or manufacturing or children or people attest to the power of measurement including the CMMI(R) Capability Maturity Model Integration and the SPICE (Software Process Improvement Capability dEtermination) models.

But, we often approach what seems to be a simple concept – “Measure the Work Output and divide it by the Inputs” back asswards (pardon my French!)

Anyone who has been involved with software metrics or function points or CMMI/SPICE gone bad can point to the residual damage of overzealous management (and the supporting consultants) leaving a path of destruction in their wake.  I think that Measurement and IT are sometimes the perfect illustration of the term “Virtual Frenemies” I’ll lay claim to it!) when it comes to poorly designed software metrics programs.  (The concepts can be compatible – but you need proper planning and open-minded participants! Read on…)

Wikipedia (yes, I know it is not the best source!) defines “Frenemy (alternately spelled “frienemy“):

is a portmanteau of “friend” and “enemy” that can refer to either an enemy disguised as a friend or someone who’s both a friend and a rival.[1] The term is used to describe personal, geopolitical, and commercial relationships both among individuals and groups or institutions. The word has appeared in print as early as 1953.

Measurement as a concept can be good. Measure what you want to improve (and measure it objectively, consistently, and then ensure causality can be shown) and improve it.

IT as a concept can be good. Software runs our world and makes life easier. IT’s all good.

The problem comes in when someone (or some team) looks at these two “good” concepts and says, let’s put them together, makes the introduction, and then walks away.  “Be sure to show us good results and where we can do even better!” is the edict.

Left alone to their own devices, measurement can wreak havoc and run roughshod over IT – the wrong things are measured (“just measure it all with source lines of code or FP and see what comes out”), effort is spent measuring those wrong things (“just get the numbers together and we’ll figure out the rest later”), the data doesn’t correlate properly (“now how can we make sense of what we collected”), and misinformation abounds (“just plot what we have, it’s gotta tell us something we can use”).

In the process, the people working diligently (most of the time!) in IT get slammed by data they didn’t participate in collecting, and which often illustrates their “performance” in a detrimental way.  Involvement in the metrics program design, on the part of the teams who will be measured, is often sparse (or an afterthought), yet the teams are expected to embrace measurement and commit to changing whatever practices the resultant metrics analysis says they need to improve.

This happens often when a single measure or metric is used across the board to measure disparate types of work (using function points to measure work that has nothing to do with software development is like using construction square feet to measure landscaping projects!)

Is it any wonder that the software and systems industries are loathe to embrace and take part in the latest “enterprise wide” measurement initiative? Fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me.

What is the solution to resolving this “Frenemies” situation between Measurement and IT?  Planning, communication, multiple metrics and a solid approach (don’t bring in the metrics consultants yet!) are the way.

Just because something is not simple to measure does not make it not worth measuring – and measuring properly.

For example, I know of a major initiative where a customer wants to measure the productivity of SAP-related projects to gain an understanding of how the cost per FP tracks on their projects compared to other (dissimilar) software projects and across the industry.

Their suppliers cite that Function Points (a measure of software functionality) does not work well for configurations (this is true), integration work (this is true), and that it can take a lot of effort to collect FP for large SAP implementations (can be true).  However, that does not mean that the productivity cannot be measured at all!  (If all you have is a hammer, everything might look like a nail.)

It will require planning and design effort to arrive at an appropriate measurement approach to equitably and consistently track productivity across these “unique” types of projects. While this is non-trivial, the insight and benefits to the business will far exceed the effort.  Resistance on the part of suppliers to be measured (especially in anticipation of an unfair assessment based on a single metric!) is justified, but a good measurement approach (that will fairly measure the types of effort into different buckets using different measures) is definitely attainable (and desired by the business.)

The results of knowing where and how the money is “invested” in these projects will lead to higher levels of understanding on both sides, and open up discussions about how to better deliver!  The business might even realize where they can improve to make such projects more productive!

Watch my next few posts for further details about how to set up a fair and balanced software measurement program.

What do you think?  Are measurement and IT doomed to be frenemies forever? What is your experience?

Have a good week!
Carol

Walking on Eggshells – a Normal part of Business?


We have all been there – walking on eggshells to avoid outbursts from  a boss, co-worker, or client.  So we skirt the issue, pretend the bad behavior doesn’t exist, ignore the problem, and spend extra time planning how to present an issue so that the person in question doesn’t explode.

While I know that this type of behavior is rampant in business (I’ve experienced it more than once!) – it has serious (and expensive) consequences in the IT industry.  The repercussions stemming from having to “walk on eggshells” to avoid the potential wrath ranges from minor  “oversights” to full scale project failure.

The Challenger disaster is one such failure where group-think and avoidance of conflict ended up costing lives and millions of dollars.  A video chronicling the group think behavior depicts the group-think behavior and steps are taken in companies to address such behaviors. This is all good.

The Walking on Eggshells “syndrome”

Aside from the pressures of group think that encourages teams to conform and cooperate with a single mindset, the “walking on eggshells” syndrome is seldom documented or even discussed.

We all know at least one offender in our workplace!  The offending person may be a narcissist, a control freak, a bully or just plain immature. No matter the clinical diagnosis, our boardrooms and our production labs suffer greatly from their presence.

How much time and money could be saved by confronting these people and addressing the cost of their ‘verbal diarrhea’? Here’s the type of situations I mean:

  • Not raising issues:  “How can we possibly bring up the design flaw for this software now?  The project sponsor will yell and rant if the project is late. Remember how he “freaked out” at the status meeting last month?  Keep going and we’ll address this as an enhancement.”  Cost: could be significant.
  • Cutting corners: “There is no way we can finish the project within the approved budget.  We had no idea that xxx would be so complex, but the steering committee will fire us if we ask for more money. Let’s just cut testing so we can finish the project.”  Cost: could be critical if public safety is at stake.
  • Perpetuating the myth that project plans are right:  “The project plan was based on incomplete data that seemed right six months ago. Now we know more, but with a fixed budget and schedule, we’re stuck. The client will explode if we bring up that the plans were flawed. Let’s just do what we can.” Cost: Corporate learning will never happen (Einstein: insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.)
  • Skirting accountability: “We messed up on the schedule because we had to program that module 3 times.  I couldn’t understand what they wanted until this time, but we can’t tell Bob because you know how he gets.  I hate it when he yells in a staff meeting.” Cost: could be significant to minor.
  • Wasting time and money: “This project is doomed – the users told us they won’t use the system even if we finish it. The rationale and vision for the project are no longer correct (it’s a dog!) but if we tell the boss about it, you know how she will blame us. I don’t think it is even worth trying to explain it.  Just keep going.”  Cost:  priceless – time and money could be better spent on REAL work!

What a colossal waste of time, money, energy, and morale “walking on eggshells” is to a business!  It is not an easy situation to fix or address – especially when we are talking about people in power who behave badly.

Walking on eggshells should never be part of the way of doing business!  What is the solution?

If YOU were the king of your IT kingdom, what would YOU do?  I’ll publish a summary of responses – add your comments below – or send them privately to me by email to dekkers (at) qualityplustech (dot) com.

Have a productive week!

Carol

Technology at the Speed of Sound… Catch up at Light Speed at LSSC11!


I have to admit that I have not programmed a computer for many years and I have no idea how to write Visual Basic or Java or dot net.  (Yes, I have done raw html and could still manage in SAS if I had to!)

And I can also admit that the proliferation of models and methods from Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Six Sigma, Xtreme Programming, CMMI(R) (Capability Maturity Model), to manifesto driven systems development,  has me daunted.

Which ones are interchangeable, which are compatible, which are contradictory, and (OMG) where should one start to learn how to avoid the pitfalls?

It’s all a matter of diving in to each and learning the ins-and-outs and best practices — except I know that there are as many opinions about best practices as there are models.

Okay, I can already hear you saying:  “Carol, as a software measurement/Function Point Analysis and PMP (Project Management Professional), you probably don’t need to know much about any of these” — except that I do!

My clients will ask me about these and other emerging topics – and expect that I know the best course of action they should take with Lean/ Kanban/ Agile methods for their company.  And I simply do not have spare time to read all the books, experiment, fail, try again, and then decipher what is hype and what is real in this space!

So what is a sane, intelligent, forward thinking IT professional like me to do when faced with an overwhelming mountain of information like this so I can properly advise my clients?

The answer is: ATTEND the Lean Software & Systems Conference 2011 (#LSSC11)!

There is no other conference in the same timeframe that offers more than this growing conference!

Being held 3-6 May, 2011 at the Hyatt Long Beach in Southern California, this annual conference boasts over 90 speakers over a 3 day period on topics ranging from:

See the full program at http://lssc11.leanssc.org

All given by practitioners and experts for practitioners!  And the majority of presenters have real world, hands-on experience in the trenches with Kanban, Lean, Agile and Scrum and lived to tell about it!

Why not catch up to technology racing at the speed of sound by accelerating your learning Light Speed with LSSC?

There is no similar conference offering the breadth or depth of topics, experience sharing, or real case study results in the Kanban and Lean software development space.

And the May 5, 2011 Brickell Key awards for excellence in the advancement of Lean in software development will recognize some outstanding nominees working in the area – some of which are professionals just like you!

I know that I will catch up on these major topics and more – in record time – by attending LSSC11.  If you are an IT professional, don’t you owe it to yourself to check it out?

Read about the Program and the Speakers at LSSC11 and register today!

Wishing you an eventful and productive week and I hope to see you in Long Beach on May 3, 2011!

Regards,
Carol

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There’s no time for “One of these days is none of these days” in IT


Let’s face it

– an investment in software development can be one of the most expensive and medieval timesrisk-laden endeavors a corporation can make, especially when requirements volatility and uncertainty are part of the mix.  In medieval times (of software development this would be pre-2000), customers and developers often jostled over requirements and clashed on issues of flexibility during strict waterfall development.  Then after months of protracted requirements discovery, the construction process would be frequently disrupted by “unanticipated change”.

Fortunately, for everyone involved, innovative techniques flexible to change and offering shorter, more iterative delivery cycles emerged.  Today, a myriad of choices exist that embrace flexibility and deliver high-quality software more effectively and efficiently than ever thanks to agile, XP, scrum, CMMI, project management and other concepts.  Additionally, methods that worked well in other industries have been adapted and tailored for use in IT (six sigma, kaizen, TQM, theory of constraints, just-in-time, Kanban, etc.).

A few of the most fundamental

yet simple concepts of Lean/Kanban/Just-in-Time development (and other methods) include minimizing waste (non-value added activities), removing roadblocks/delays and limiting work-in-progress (WIP).

If we consider software development as a “pipeline” of constant flowing work packets, any unresolved blockages can end up clogging the entire system.  As such, when life intervenes (as it always does) to interrupt or delay the flow of a work packet, approaches such as Kanban  highlight potential blockages before they clog the entire flow.  Teams can then identify remedial actions so that the right work is done at the right time, freeing up resources to concentrate on work where they can be highly productive.  Moreover, while waterfall development commonly fills the pipeline beyond capacity (without realizing it), Kanban limits the input stream to match the available capacity.  Once work is actively in the pipe, a critical delay (“one of these days…”) signals trouble and work can be removed (“none of these days”) until such time as it can be productively worked again or triaged to prevent ongoing delays.  If we are serious about reducing waste (non-value added activity) or delays, IT should never tolerate proverbial “one of these days is none of these days” delays in process.

Unexpected events and delays are a natural part of life (and software development).  The difference with Kanban and JIT is that there is a conscious response to bottlenecks and work stoppage rather than panic or blame reactions (OMG!  What do we do now?) typical of waterfall development.

Can Kanban co-exist with Agile development?

I believe so (and perhaps this is the attitude of a naive believer in both).  Can Kanban co-exist with Waterfall development? Again, I believe the answer is yes.  What do you think?

Don’t forget to register (and tell your management to register!) for the upcoming FREE knowledge webinar on January 18, 2011 featuring

LSSC11 Chairperson, Kanban expert and Author:
David Anderson

on Lean Decision Making, January 18, 2011 from noon – 1 pm Pacific Standard Time (3-4pm Eastern Standard Time). Here’s what this FREE webinar is all about:

Lean thinking assumes it is economically better to build a culture of trust in an organization of empowered individuals to accelerate decision-making and shorten lead times than to mitigate risk with bureaucracy and delayed delivery. Understand the economic model controlling the forces of risk, uncertainty, business value, quality, cost and schedule that affect decision-making and process policy setting. This webinar will show how lean thinking can translate into process and policy decisions more closely aligned with business goals.

Register today to reserve your webinar place!

Why not make 2011 the year that you make a difference in the world of software development by getting up to speed on Lean approaches?  Plan to join us 3-6 May 2011 in Long Beach, CA, USA for the Lean Software and Systems conference (acronym LSSC11) – register today!

Carol
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What’s the (function) point of Measurement?


It’s been more than 30 years since “function point analysis”  emerged in IT and yet most of the industry either: a) has never heard of it; b) has a misguided idea of what function points are; or c) was the victim of a botched software measurement program based on function points.

Today I’d simply like to clear up some common misconceptions about what function points are and what they are NOT. Future postings will get into the nuts and bolts of function points and how to use them, this is simply a first starting point.

What’s a function point?

A “function point” (FP) is a unit of measure that can be used to gauge the functional size of a piece of software.  (I published a primer on function points titled: Managing (the Size of) Your Projects – A Project Management Look at Function Points in the Feb 1999 issue of CrossTalk – the Journal of Defense Software Engineering from which I have excerpted here):

“FPs measure the size of a software project’s work output or work product rather than measure technology-laden features such as lines of code (LOC). FPs evaluate the functional user requirements that are supported or delivered by the software. In simplest terms, FPs measure what the software must do from an external, user perspective, irrespective of how the software is constructed. Similar to the way that a building’s square measurement reflects the floor plan size, FPs reflect the size of the  software’s functional user requirements…

However, to know only the square foot size of a building is insufficient to manage a construction project. Obviously, the construction of a 20,000 square-foot airplane hangar will be different from a 20,000 square-foot office building. In the same manner, to know only the FP size of a system is insufficient to manage a system development project: A 2,000 FP client-server financial project will be quite different from a 2,000 FP aircraft avionics project.”

In short function points are an ISO standardized measure that provides an objective number that reflects the size of what the software will do from an external “user” perspective (user is defined as any person, thing, other application software, hardware, department etc – anything that sends of receives data or uses data from the software).  Function points offer a common denominator for comparing different types of software construction whereby cost per FP and effort hours per FP can be determined.  This is similar to cost per square foot or effort per square foot in construction.  However, it is critical to know that function points are only part of what is needed to do proper performance measurement or project estimating.

To read the full article, click on the title Managing (the Size of) Your Projects – A Project Management Look at Function Points.

To your successful projects!

Carol

Carol Dekkers
email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com/

Carol Dekkers provides realistic, honest, and transparent approaches to software measurement, software estimating, process improvement and scope management.  Call her office (727 393 6048) or email her (dekkers@qualityplustech.com) for a free initial consultation on how to get started to solve your IT project management and development issues.

For more information on northernSCOPE(TM) visit www.fisma.fi (in English pages) and for upcoming training in Tampa, Florida  — April 26-30, 2010, visit www.qualityplustech.com.

Contact Carol to keynote your upcoming event – her style translates technical matters into digestible soundbites, with straightforward and honest advice that works in the real world!
=======Copyright 2010, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======

The “Dog Chasing its Tail” Syndrome in Project Estimating


Software estimating is plagued by dysfunction, not the least of which is estimation based on under-reported historical hours from previously completed projects.  See posting IT Performance Measurement… Time Bandits for a discussion about this problem.

BUT, other problems are prevalent when launching a project estimating initiative which I call the “Dog Chasing Its Tail” syndrome.  It symptomizes dysfunctional project behavior that is established and continues to be reinforced to the detriment of the organization. As a result the pattern repeats and process improvement is seldom realized.

What is the Dog Chasing its Tail Syndrome? It’s a noble goal to increase the predictability and reliability of project estimates – when estimating is based on sound principles.  However, estimating is often a misnomer for what should be called “guesstimating” because the data on which estimates are based is sketchy at best.

Here’s the process epitomized in the “Dog Chasing its Tail”:

1. Incomplete (or preliminary) requirements and sketchy quality/performance requirements. While preliminary (no formal requirements or  use cases are known), it is customary for management (customer or supplier or both) to demand a project estimate for budget or planning purposes. Labelled initially as a “ball park estimate” (a rough order of magnitude (ROM) guess of whether the effort is going to be bigger than a breadbox or smaller than a football field), the sketchy requirements are used as the basis to get the ROM.

2. The (Guess)timate becomes the project budget and plan. While management initially understands that an estimate is impossible without knowledge of what is to be done, estimators contribute to the reliance on the guesses by providing them with a feigned level of accuracy (e.g., if requirements span a total of two sentences, the resultant estimate may include hours or dollar figures with the ones digit filled in.  As a result, too often the (guess)timate becomes the approved upper limit budget or effort allowance.  Of course these figures will be proven wrong once the solid requirements are documented and known, but we are now stuck with this project estimate.

3. Changes challenge the status quo budget and schedule. When a change or clarification to requirements emerges (as they always do when human beings are involved), there is often a period of blame where suppliers allege that the item in question is a change (addition) to the original requirements on which the estimate was based, while the customer alleges that it is simply clarifies existing requirements.  Of course, neither one can be proven correct because the requirements on which the estimate was based were sketchy, incomplete and poorly documented. Once the dust settles and it becomes clear that the item will impact the project budget and schedule, the change/clarification is deferred to the next phase (“thrown over the fence” as an enhancement to be done in the next release) where it will be poorly documented but we will estimate it anyways, and so the cycle continues.

Dog chasing its tailIf you’ve ever had a dog – you know that this is similar to a dog-chasing-its-tail whereby the behavior goes on until either the dog gets tired or gets distracted by other things going on (such as food being served).  As smart software engineers we ought to be smarter than dogs!  And, given a scope management approach, we can be!  Break the cycle off dysfunctional estimation and investigate scope management – you and your customers will be glad to move forward rather than facing the insanity of repeating the same process over and over and expecting different results (along the lines of the Einstein quote!)  See http://www.qualityplustech.com for information on scope management training and resources available to break the “Dog Chasing its Tail” syndrome on your projects

Watch for the upcoming post on the hidden dangers in project hours…

To your successful projects!

Carol

Carol Dekkers
email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com/

Carol Dekkers provides realistic, honest, and transparent approaches to software measurement, software estimating, process improvement and scope management.  Call her office (727 393 6048) or email her (dekkers@qualityplustech.com) for a free initial consultation on how to get started to solve your IT project management and development issues.

For more information on northernSCOPE(TM) visit www.fisma.fi (in English pages) and for upcoming training in Tampa, Florida  — April 26-30, 2010, visit www.qualityplustech.com.

Contact Carol to keynote your upcoming event – her style translates technical matters into digestible soundbites, with straightforward and honest solutions that work in the real world!
=======Copyright 2010, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======