Category Archives: ISO/IEC standards

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 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/stage/

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 =======

Crosstalk article on Scope Management

CrossTalk - The Journal of Defense Software Engineering

CrossTalk Jan/Feb 2010 Scope Management: 12 Steps for ICT Program Recovery

by Carol Dekkers, Quality Plus Technologies, Inc.
Pekka Forselius, 4SUM Partners, Inc.

ABSTRACT:
The information and communications technology (ICT) world is “addicted” to dysfunctional behavior and the problem is spreading globally. The sad truth is that the parties in the ICT relationship (the customer and the supplier) are largely co-dependent on a pattern of dysfunction characterized by ineffective communication, fixed price contracts with changing requirements, and eroding trust. This article focuses specifically on the northernSCOPE TM 12-step process for ICT program recovery.

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.

To your successful projects!

Carol

Carol Dekkers
email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com/stage/
Contact Carol to keynote your upcoming event – her style translates technical matters into digestible soundbites, with straightforward and honest expertise that works in the real world!
=======Copyright 2010, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======

Measuring IT Performance

Quote for those tasked with implementing a sustainable measurement program with positive ROI:

“When we seek generalities we fail.
When we seek specifics it is easier.
When we measure performance, performance increases (Hawthorn effect).
When we measure and record performance, performance accelerates.”

Source: Anonymous.

Where Should one Start when Tackling a Software Measurement Program?

Overheard at a recent IT software conference:

  • “Okay, so I guess the 1st step is to measure function points” (Dekkers’ comment: Sorry, wrong approach. The 1st step is to figure out the Goals that you want to achieve with measurement.  Think of this like going shopping – what do you need to buy – you only make a grocery list of what you need once you know what you want to cook. The same thing goes with software measurement! Deciding your goal (s) is the first step)
  • “It sounds like I need a measurement consultant but how do I choose one and what will it cost?” (Dekkers’ comment: There are more than enough eager software measurement consultants who will tell you their way is the best and only way.  One group touts themselves as the elders of software measurement and holds up their volunteer committee service as their mantra, while many of their consultants are hired guns – that is they are subcontractors who work freelance for the highest bidder.  Make sure to ask for (and check) references and ask those references what their ROI on the consulting group was BEFORE you take the salesman’s word for it!  Buyer beware – there’s some unscrupulous fat cats in the water who will take your money, implement useless difficult measures, and be gone leaving you holding a dashboard that doesn’t match what you wanted to achieve.)
  • “Software metrics sounds easy but the presenters make it sound hard” (Dekkers’ comment:  Software metrics is NOT rocket science or even difficult. Follow Goal-Question-Metrics (GQM) approach, engage a bit of targeted training, and take it one step at a time and you’ll see that you too can be savvy with software metrics and gain performance improvement.  Take a look at the FREE materials on Practical Software and Systems Measurement (PSM) from www.psmsc.com and from CrossTalk (www.hill.af.mil/crosstalk – search for software measurement and from the DACS (www.dacs.com) which are all US taxpayer funded initiatives for a starting point).

Make sure you take advantage of the many free article downloads at www.qualityplustech.com or send me a note at dekkers@qualityplustech.com before you hire a consultant to design a function point or software measurement program you’ll later regret.

To your successful projects!

Carol

For more information on northernSCOPE(TM) visit www.fisma.fi (in English pages) and for upcoming training in Florida, visit www.qualityplustech.com
Carol Dekkers
email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com/stage/
Contact Carol to keynote your upcoming event – her style translates technical matters into digestible soundbites, with straightforward and honest expertise that works in the real world!
=======Copyright 2010, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======

Overcome CHAOS with scope management...

“Don’t waste even one heartbeat on things that don’t matter.”  Anonymous

 This quotation should be the mantra of software development – if only we could figure out what “in the customer’s eyes” doesn’t matter!

The Standish Group’s 2009 CHAOS report certainly didn’t bring any celebratory words:  After steady increases from a dismal 17% project success rate in 1996 to the 34% (a doubling!) rate in 2006, this year’s study reported a decrease to a mere 32% of projects being declared a success.

 What’s going on? With 60-99% of defects attributable to poor requirements, and 45% of development effort spent on rework, it is clear that somehow the customer side of the house and the development side are out of whack.  Worldwide, we could declare software development as a problem of epidemic proportions – especially as software pervades every aspect of our daily lives.  If we can casually launch a team of scientists to fix an ailing space station on a moment’s notice, and announce medical breakthroughs, surely the brains in software development should make strides in this area.  Take rework for example, currently hovering at an astounding 40% of software development effort – this means that while we do great work Monday to Wednesday every week, the remaining two working days are spent fixing and redoing the very work we just completed. The old adage – “if you don’t have the time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?” —  doesn’t seem to hold much water does it when almost half of every week is spent doing costly rework?

Here’s the crux of the situation – it’s not a matter of incompetence!  It’s a matter of the customers not being able to fully articulate what they actually need – and a matter of the suppliers not being able to deliver to requirements that are as sketchy as clouds.  BUT, there’s a solution that’s been successful in Finland and Australia called Scope Management – and I’ve mentioned this many times in the past… stay tuned for more information in the coming posts. And Scope Management training is coming to Tampa, FL in just a few weeks.  More to come!

For more information on northernSCOPE(TM) visit www.fisma.fi (in English pages) and for upcoming training in Florida, visit www.qualityplustech.com.

To your successful projects!

Carol

Carol Dekkers
email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com/stage/
Contact Carol to keynote your upcoming event – her style translates technical matters into digestible soundbites, with straightforward and honest expertise that works in the real world!
=======Copyright 2010, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======

Scope Management is the new Green...

Recycling, planning for the future, saving the environment for future generations is all part of the new “green” movement – and it is common sense for our planet and the future.  In a similar manner, scope management is common sense for software development in that it saves time, puts planning and solid communication up front in the lifecycle, and saves time on costly rework down the road.  By following solid scope management principles, both the customer side and the development side agree at the beginning of the software and systems requirements phase exactly what is the unit pricing for each part of the program/project they work on.  As the project progresses, baseline sizing, progress reporting, change management (using documented and agreed upon procedures), and good communication are part of the approach, and once the project is complete, the award fee (in $$$) is paid to the contracted developers based on functionality and quality delivered.  Lessons learned are captured and quantified according to solid project management principles so that future projects can be run even better. 

None of this is rocket science, however, unit pricing, subdivision of programs into projects and subprojects,  unit pricing by type of work, baselining size, tracking and control based on functionality delivered, and change management based on unit pricing,and final delivery payment based on agreed upon requirements are seldom all brought together in a single project – unless scope management has been applied.

For more information on northernSCOPE(TM) visit www.fisma.fi (in English pages) and for upcoming training in Florida, visit www.qualityplustech.com.

To your successful projects!

Carol

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

Contact Carol to keynote your upcoming event – her style translates technical matters into digestible soundbites, humorously and forthright. View also Carol Dekkers’ general blog at http://caroldekkers.wordpress.com/ The Dekkers Report
=======Copyright 2009, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======

ISO/IEC JTC1 SC7 = ISO Software Engineering Standards

Hello from Hyderabad, India, where I’ve attended the ISO/IEC JTC1 SC7 meetings this week – sponsored by NASSCOM of India.

It is refreshing in this year of global economic downturn to see that countries are continuing to think long-term with regard to ISO standards and their evolution.  Here in Hyderabad, NASSCOM officials and TATA consulting executives ensured that our stay was incredibly safe, comfortable, and highly supportive of the intensive work done by SC7 working groups writing the world’s emerging software engineering standards.

In addition to the professional support offered by the attending 60+ Indian professionals attending the meetings on behalf of the Indian national standards organization, the arrangements provided for luxury western-style accommodations and meals, and lavish outpouring of India hospitality. Despite this being my third trip to India (the first two featured Delhi and Bangalore locales), it has definitely been my best and most memorable.

On the standards topic, there are many emerging new work items concerning pressing concerns in the global software and systems industry including IT service management (ITIL), corporate governance, documentation standards (worldwide), benchmarking, software and systems processes, etc.  If you’d like to know more about the standards that may affect YOUR company, contact me at the email address below and I’d be happy to answer them.

Sometimes ISO standards (and ISO/IEC standards) get a bad rap in the industry press as being out-of-date, clumsy, difficult to implement, and theoretical in nature.  As a 15 year representative on behalf of the USA to ISO, I can only say that things are on the mend.  More and more liaisons, fast tracks, and adherence to timelines are imposed – making our writing job a bit more rigorous and fixed, but at the same time, delivering standards to the market in a more streamlined manner.

For further information on the ISO/IEC standards processes or standards themselves, please send me an email.

Have a great week!

Carol

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

Contact Carol to keynote your upcoming event – her style translates technical matters into digestible soundbites, humorously and forthright. View also Carol Dekkers’ general blog at http://caroldekkers.wordpress.com/ The Dekkers Report
=======Copyright 2009, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======

Function Points are NOT an Estimating Model

It continually amazes me that there is such confusion in the marketplace and in industry about function points (FPA) and their role in estimating the cost or effort associated with a software development project. First and foremost, Function Points are NOT an estimation model.

(Note: for a basic primer on IFPUG Function Points, send me an email and I’d be happy to send you a copy of my article “Requirements are the Size of the Problem”.)

Function points (unadjusted and the “functional size”) strictly represent the size of a piece of software based on its functional requirements. The allocation of “points” to the functions performed by the software is based on assigning a standard ordinal number to a “function” that the software must perform (a unit of work). Currently, the most popular methods of function point sizing based on the International Software Benchmarking Standards Group (ISBSG) productivity database are the International Function Point Users Group (IFPUG) method, and the Finnish Software Measurement Association (FiSMA) function point method.

The function point (or functional) size is similar to the square foot size of a building’s floor plan (or square m) – it is one measure of size – and it works well as part of determining many things.
BUT size is not the same thing as estimation OR AN ESTIMATING TECHNIQUE!

Function point size can be used (along with MANY other factors) to determine work effort to develop (build) the software. Productivity factors or delivery rates (FP/hour) are derived by taking the FP size of a piece of software, together with the work effort hours it took for a team to build it (based specifically on the TYPE of software, the requirements for QUALITY (reliability, accuracy, functionality, usability, etc), the skills, and WHAT TASKS WERE INCLUDED!

Here’s the crux: FUNCTION POINTS DO NOT EQUAL WORK EFFORT HOURS OR COST. While size is a major driver (in the same way that a larger house takes more time to build), the relationship between FP and effort or cost is NON-LINEAR! There are many more factors that just raw size involved in determining the cost and effort to build software.

It may be helpful to consider an analogy (again one based on construction – which is not a perfect analogy but one that serves to illustrate). If I need a 1000 square foot building – can you tell me how long it will take to build? And what can I anticipate will be the cost of that building? The answer is that it depends on MANY factors (such as location, pre-existing structures, type of building: anufactured, or custom or prefabricated or whatever), and many other things. Builders might provide me with an average delivery rate based on STANDARD characteristics (like a standard home with 2 bedrooms and a living room, kitchen and bathroom in the US midwest), and an average effort based on what similar buildings have taken to build IN THE PAST HISTORY. However, there is not ONE rate for all structures – it varies based on location, type of construction, building codes, labor costs, etc.)

The same is true when we consider function point size and the effort and cost it will take to build a piece of software. Consider the aforementioned example applied to software development: How much cost and how much effort will it take to build software that is 1000 FP? The appropriate answer is that it depends on the characteristics of the software, labor costs, methods of construction, AND its functional size. The software measurement and development industry has developed rates of FP / hour and cost per FP for projects with “standard” and similar characteristics (recall the “average” price per square foot or average rate to build?) Note that any “average” rate is BASED ON PAST PROJECTS (that took “x” amount of hours to build a particular size, type, and similarly constrained by quality, system – but there is not a one size fits all rate!

New Book available to explain these and other concepts about Function Point sizing: I am proud of the new book I co-authored with Manfred Bundschuh (formerly the measurement coordinator for AXA Insurance in Germany). It was published in Sept 2008: The IT Measurement Compendium – Estimating and Benchmarking Success with Functional Size Measurement (the Amazon link is featured together with reviews by Capers Jones, and also by Peter Hill (Executive Officer for ISBSG at http://www.qualityplustech.com/stage/books.html).

The book outlines and explains in clear English these concepts and presents all five of the ISO/IEC conformant Functional Size Measurement Methods including the aforementioned two: IFPUG and FiSMA, as well as NESMA from the Netherlands, Mark II from Britain, and COSMIC by the COSMIC consortium.

Have a great week, and please let me know what you think of this and other postings here.

p.s., To all of you who attended my webinar on December 3, 2008 “The Certified Scope Manager (CSM) – A New IT Job Role) sponsored by CAI – thank you! If you missed it, send me an email and I’ll put you in touch with the site that has options to listen to the recording.

Best regards,
Carol

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

Contact Carol for your keynote and speaking needs – she translates technical subjects into easily digestible soundbites – in a humorous and forthright manner. See http://www.caroldekkers.com/ for details of topics and opportunities.

View also Carol Dekkers’ general blog at http://caroldekkers.wordpress.com/

============Copyright 2008, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =============