Delivering projects On Time How To Become An Axe Sharpener

Delivering projects On Time
Delivering projects On Time

Delivering Projects On Time

This article, about delivering projects on time, is the first in a series of articles, which we will publish every week, by Gerry McLaughlin. The series is about improving the software development process, delivering projects on time and motivating the people involved in them to greater productivity.

Rusty Axes

Abraham Lincoln once said that if they gave him four days to chop down a large tree, he would spend the first three days sharpening the axe.

Sadly, for the great majority of organisations there are few axe sharpening activities taking place when it comes to developing software.

It is usually the case that managers say “There’s a deadline or schedule which we must meet. Quick! Get the rusty old axe out of the garden shed and let’s get chopping straight away”.

Not Coding – Not Working

Most managers think that if you’re not coding, you‘re not working, and nothing is happening.

All those ‘fancy dan’ activities, like doing a proper Analysis and Design, Estimating, Planning, internal and external Project Coordination, Testing Plans, Quality Procedures, and especially the keeping of Metrics use precious resources which you could best employee in code cutting.

These managers are, of course, Woodchoppers. Their projects will always be over budget and probably over time too. You can tell projects which are going to go wrong.

The Project Managers think of their developers as code-cutting machines and do not allow them to use their time in any other way. Every minute is precious. Every minute you spend on coordination or axe-sharpening activities is a minute you are wasting.

Financial Pressure

The reason why they think this way is understandable. Most of the pressure put on Managing Directors is financial pressure as regards software projects. How much will it cost? Is it cost justifiable? Where is the project against budget?

This translates at Project Management level to time pressure which they feel and which they apply to members of the project.

There is no mechanism for applying Quality pressure. It is a strange conundrum that organisations that concentrate on money or time get projects which are not finished within budget or time.

Those that concentrate more on quality measures, i.e. those that spend time on axe sharpening activities, are more likely to deliver a project on time and to budget.

Keeping Your People

The organisations which concentrate more on axe sharpening activities are also more likely to keep their best people.

There is nothing worse for morale, for people, than to be working on a project which they know is going to be late and over budget, and which because of time and money pressures, the product they are creating is becoming of poorer and poorer quality. Imagine going into work every day to work on a project that is, or will be soon, considered by the organisation to be a failure.

How easy would it be to work overtime on it? Would it not be better for your career for you to go elsewhere?

Doomsday Coming

It is a familiar scenario. Because of fewer axe sharpening activities, like a detailed Analysis and Design and Project Coordination, the project comes under more and more time pressure.

People have to do overtime. They cut more of the axe-sharpening activities. The project is in even greater crisis. People have to do more and more overtime.

Suddenly, the number of days lost to sickness starts to rise. People start to send out their CVs. The not-so-good people start to moan and groan about their lot, but they stay at the company.

Leaving the Company

Some of the better people start to leave. They do not like to work on a project which ‘is a shambles’, and they are more confident about being able to succeed elsewhere. The project is now in deep crisis.

The management decide that, to save time, you should cut out some of the code testing steps. The day of reckoning is at hand. The project explodes.

Management Finds Out

You now cannot hide it from the senior management that the project, instead of being “a week or two late, but we expect to be able to catch up”, is going to be months late and 50% over budget (this will increase).

It is now out of control. Most of people’s intellectual effort is now going on ‘why it’s not my fault’. They will cancel some projects now. Others may be considered to have gone too far and have spent too much to stop.

Either way, at the very least, it will ruin reputations for ever.. At worst, heads will roll at every level. Managers at all levels will try to save themselves by blaming those who work for them, or their suppliers.

Delivering Projects on Time – Deja Vu

No lesson, however, are learnt. They change the people and not the processes. They hire a new woodchopper and retain the rusty old axe. The cycle will begin anew.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

What should be done? Re-engineer completely both the development and the people processes used in software development. Give good people good processes, and then watch them deliver the results.

Concentrate on Quality rather than Timeliness and you will get projects that run on time and to budget.

Delivering projects On Time is not that hard to do.

For more great advice on running projects click on Project Management.

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