Friday, January 16, 2009

Why Fail?


Why Fail?

Published 16 January 09 12:48 PM | TechLeaders

Does your project and leadership fail due these process mistakes? How do combat these? What do you feel the #1 reason for failed projects is?

(Which might come back to you, the manager, since you were leading the charge)

Overly optimistic schedules. The challenges faced by someone building a three-month application are quite different than the challenges faced by someone building a one-year application. Setting an overly optimistic schedule sets a project up for failure by underscoping the project, undermining effective planning, and abbreviating critical upstream development activities such as requirements analysis and design. It also puts excessive pressure on developers, which hurts developer morale and productivity. This was a major source of problems in Case Study 3-1.

Insufficient risk management. Some mistakes have been made often enough to be considered classics. Others are unique to specific projects. As with the classic mistakes, if you don't actively manage risks, only one thing has to go wrong to change your project from a rapid-development project to a slow-development one. Failure to manage risks is one of the most common classic mistakes.

Contractor failure. Companies sometimes contract out pieces of a project when they are too rushed to do the work in-house. But contractors frequently deliver work that's late, that's of unacceptably low quality, or that fails to meet specifications (Boehm 1989). Risks such as unstable requirements or ill-defined interfaces can be magnified when you bring a contractor into the picture. If the contractor relationship isn't managed carefully, the use of contractors can slow a project down rather than speed it up.

Insufficient planning. If you don't plan to achieve rapid development, you can't expect to achieve it.

Abandonment of planning under pressure. Projects make plans and then routinely abandon them when they run into schedule trouble (Humphrey 1989). The problem isn't so much in abandoning the plan as in failing to create a substitute and then falling into code-and-fix mode instead. In Case Study 3-1, the team abandoned its plan after it missed its first delivery, and that's typical. The result was that work after that point was uncoordinated and awkward--to the point that Jill even started working on a project for her old group part of the time and no one even knew it.

Wasted time during the fuzzy front end. The "fuzzy front end" is the time before the project starts, the time normally spent in the approval and budgeting process. It's not uncommon for a project to spend months or years in the fuzzy front end and then to come out of the gates with an aggressive schedule. It's much easier and cheaper and less risky to save a few weeks or months in the fuzzy front end than it is to compress a development schedule by the same amount.

Shortchanged upstream activities. Projects that are in a hurry try to cut out nonessential activities, and since requirements analysis, architecture, and design don't directly produce code, they are easy targets. On one disaster project that I took over, I asked to see the design. The team lead told me, "We didn't have time to do a design."

Also known as "jumping into coding," the results of this mistake are all too predictable. In the case study, a design hack in the bar-chart report was substituted for quality design work. Before the product could be released, the hack work had to be thrown out and the higher quality work had to be done anyway. Projects that skimp on upstream activities typically have to do the same work downstream at anywhere from 10 to 100 times the cost of doing it properly in the first place (Fagan 1976; Boehm and Papaccio 1988). If you can't find the 5 extra hours to do the job right the first time, where are you going to find the 50 extra hours to do it right later?

Inadequate design. A special case of shortchanging upstream activities is inadequate design. Rush projects undermine design by not allocating enough time for it and by creating a pressure-cooker environment that makes thoughtful consideration of design alternatives difficult. The design emphasis is on expediency rather than quality, so you tend to need several ultimately time-consuming design cycles before you finally complete the system.

Shortchanged quality assurance. Projects that are in a hurry often cut corners by eliminating design and code reviews, eliminating test planning, and performing only perfunctory testing. In the case study, design reviews and code reviews were given short shrift in order to achieve a perceived schedule advantage. As it turned out, when the project reached its feature-complete milestone it was still too buggy to release for five more months. This result is typical. Short-cutting a day of QA activity early in the project is likely to cost you 3 to 10 days of activity downstream (Jones 1994). This inefficiency undermines development speed.

Insufficient management controls. In the case study, there were few management controls in place to provide timely warnings of impending schedule slips, and the few controls there were in place at the beginning were abandoned once the project ran into trouble. Before you can keep a project on track, you have to be able to tell whether it's on track.

Premature or too frequent convergence. Shortly before a product is scheduled to be released there is a push to prepare the product for release--improve the product's performance, print final documentation, incorporate final help-system hooks, polish the installation program, stub out functionality that's not going to be ready on time, and so on. On rush projects, there is a tendency to force convergence early. Since it's not possible to force the product to converge when desired, some rapid development projects try to force convergence a half dozen times or more before they finally succeed. The extra convergence attempts don't benefit the product. They just waste time and prolong the schedule.

Omitting necessary tasks from estimates. If people don't keep careful records of previous projects, they forget about the less visible tasks, but those tasks add up. Omitted effort often adds about 20 to 30 percent to a development schedule (van Genuchten 1991).

Planning to catch up later. If you're working on a six-month project, and it takes you three months to meet your two-month milestone, what do you do? Many projects simply plan to catch up later, but they never do. You learn more about the product as you build it, including more about what it will take to build it. That learning needs to be reflected in the schedule.

Another kind of reestimation mistake arises from product changes. If the product you're building changes, the amount of time you need to build it changes too. In Case Study 3-1, major requirements changed between the original proposal and the project start without any corresponding reestimation of schedule or resources. Piling on new features without adjusting the schedule guarantees that you will miss your deadline.

Code-like-hell programming. Some organizations think that fast, loose, all-as-you-go coding is a route to rapid development. If the developers are sufficiently motivated, they reason, they can overcome any obstacles. For reasons that will become clear throughout this book, this is far from the truth. The entrepreneurial model is often a cover for the old code-and-fix paradigm combined with an ambitious schedule, and that combination almost never works. It's an example of two wrongs not making a right.

TechLeaders : Why Fail?

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