How to define a project … without killing yourself.

In this article I will present some hints to consider when starting a project, so that we will be able to avoid “unpleasant surprise” once the work will be started. We can consider some of this points in our contract or simply keep them as project risks, but surely we shouldn’t ignore them.

This sequence is naturally applied when products of project are IT applications or are IT related, but in my opinion, many of the observation are good even in case of not-IT projects.

Sponsors and Stakeholder Expectations

Along the whole project duration we need to manage the expectations of our clients. However, the most critical moment in this task happens at the beginning of the project, when we are defining the roles, the project expectation, the deliverables and the project economics

  • Identify as soon as possible the key sponsor, the target user and other stakeholders group. We need to have clearly closed the following list early in the project:
    • who pays for the project
    • who is representing the user groups
    • “internal” users – who, inside the organzation will use the product
    • “external” users – clients of the organization that interacts with the product
    • “indirect” users – these users do not interact with the product but use what the application produces
    • support groups that later will have to maintain the product
  • Understand and document the goals and expectations from the sponsors and other key stakeholders
  • Understand and document concerns from the sponsors and other key stakeholders, and ensure that the project has a plan to address them.
  • Understand the role of each stakeholder and the influence he/she has on the project’s success.

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Preparing Project Financial Plans

Please consider this article as a draft that will be enhanced during the time with additional experience and with any comment.

The aim is to define a series of steps and attention points to follow when preparing a project financial plan, for later using it in the control phase

  • Identify People Costs

Usually specific financial management tools shoud be used to aggregate the effort by resource type (or individual). After this it is possible to obtain the total person costs by multiplying the estimated number of person-days for each type of resource by a daily rate for that resource type. This rate may be an assumed average, specific rates for known individuals on the project team, or a combination of the two.

Please remember that the detailed estimates documented in the estimating package were developed at the activity/task level to understand the scope of effort, but, the costs in the financial plan must reflect the staffing profile over time (i.e., the number of people multiplied by the time they are charged to the project). For example, during the analysis phase the project will have to absorb the costs of programmers, unless you will find other tasks for them (e.g. documentation, tools, environment preparation), since they will not be productive. Also, part-time resource allocation is not realistic, unless you can make specific arrangements to share a resource with another project.
If necessary, adjust utilization percentage or total days to better reflect time to be spent on the project. Include an “absence pool” to reduce total assigned time for such factors as unidentified vacation, sick time, or training time.
Record the cost rates to be used and document all assumptions with respect to the cost rates along with the other assumptions on which the estimate is based.
On large projects, make sure that the costing model includes a rate and salary adjustment factor for future years.

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it’s a war

I was recently reading the IEEE document Avoiding the Top 10 Software Security Design Flaws and it came to my attention that the suggestions made in order to avoid designing an unsafe system could also be read as the suggestions for good strategy definition in a military school.

More, I was thinking about the guerrilla tactics, about the communications in a real war about the defense …

It could be nice to take some of the classic books (just to mention the most famous Von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu) and to read their books in a modern way.

In my opinion everything can be read in a double way. This fact gave me some ideas for new articles and at the same time many insights about how to view a situation that in this moment can really be considered as a true war.

Does Europe want Google to leave?

First the right to be forgotten, then the German press, then the Spanish press and at the end the possible fine from the dutch watchdog (BBC News – Dutch data watchdog threatens Google with £12m fine).

I wonder if we want Google to leave Europe or to strongly reduce its power and its services to the paid ones.

I understand that there is a real war on these subjects between Europe and American companies, but I don’t fell this is the best way to win the fight (see what happened in Spain were Google stopped its news services).

We, as European, are becoming ridiculous in front of USA.

Better to think in advance what we want (and in my opinion I would like more Google, bringing work and paying taxes) and then act.

Start smoothly and profitably a new job

In this article i gathered together a number of point of attention that I built when I was passing from one client to another. The final scope is giving a track of how to be fast in adapting to the new reality and to build a good reputation for the continuing of the work.

Coming to the steps.

1) Gather data on the company and prepare yourself

The first step starts even before entering into the company and it consists in self preparation and in gathering as much data and impression as possible about the company. It is important to understand early the key points and what the best way to satisfy them is:

  • what are the company strategies
  • what are the objectives perceived from outside?
  • what are the problems the company is going trough?
  • what are the priorities of the company, with regard to our future role?

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Maturity of an IT development group

These are my point of attention to understand what is the “status of art” of a team/IT organization:

  • Project control and Planning
    • How do you do plan, do you follow any methodology?
    • What tools do you use when planning?
    • How do you perform project control?Are you using EVM (Earned Value Methodology)?
    • Are there common plans among team?
    • Does a time tracking system is on site?
    • Are there any formal milestones during the software lifecycle, where a phase is closed and a subsequent is opened?

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Incremental Model

One of the most important models coming from the Waterfall model and developed to solve its problems, is the Incremental model.

With this model the we overcome the two biggest problems of the waterfall that are the possibility to see the product working without waiting the end of the project and the possibility to act on the design and the functions even after the development started.

In this model the product is designed, developed, integrated and tested in a succession of “increments”  (usually called “releases”). This model is probably the most popular in case of complex development when large groups are involved.

Within this method, we start from a complete initial design of the to-be system and then we define:

  • the independent parts
  • the primary functions, in relation to other functions that need the “primary” ones to work (e.g. before calculating the interest on one account you should have already working the function of movement archival)
  • the release plan
  • the integration plan

Incremental Model

It’s clear from the description that first the basic functionalities will be released and then, at well defined intervals of time, all the others which at the end will give the finished product.

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PM areas … a refresh

In order to create a common vocabulary, in my first article i will recap the nine Project Management areas.

According to the Project Management Institute (www.pmi.org), the defining resource on all things related to project management, project management is centered on nine knowledge areas. Events in each knowledge area affect what happens in the other eight knowledge areas.

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Earned Value in brief

Earned Value Analysis in the last years proved itself as one of the best system for project control. It’s importance comes from thefact that we get an integrated vision checking both costs and schedule.

In this article, I will try to introduce the EV concepts. This introduction should help you to apply straight the EV to your project.

Before start with the definition, pleast consider that EV in its correct form would require all the quantities being expressed in term of money. Quite often this is not possible (expecially in large organizations) because such values are not shared with team leaders or because it is difficult to get them. In order to apply the EV concept we just need to substitute the “money” with “person day”. Even if in this way we loose a bit of information related to project indirect costs, the results in term of control are still relevant.

The most important variables in EV analysis are:

  • BCWS (budgeted cost of work scheduled) or PV (planned value)

it represents the initial estimation for one activity. It’s the cost of the activity if it is done as planned. If there are no planned cost, then we used planned days.

  • BCWP  (budgeted cost of work performed) or EV (Earned value)

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How to organize a new IT team

In this article I’m going to list a number of practical action to consider when we take leadership of a new team or join as manager a new project. I assume planning is one of the most important thing, so I didn’t stress a lot about it. Here I preferred to  emphasize on the “soft” aspects that usually we acquire only with experience.

For the sake of shortness, I wrote the article as a check-list. If needed i will expand the single themes in other articles.

I wrote this list thinking about a team involved in IT work. Nevertheless, I hope that it will be possible to grasp some positive ideas also if the team will be involved in other areas.

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