The mysterious black art of software development
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It appears that software development carries an unlimited supply of risk (and money). In one such case EVM reported 'all on-track.' Upon closer inspection, the project was re-baselining every month just before the board meeting; the original 9 month schedule had been running 21 months; the project was 200% overspent; the requirements were not yet complete; design was changing monthly (and the application build with it); nothing tangible had been delivered and no end was in sight (80% of the development team being external contractors and increasing in size monthly).
Exposing the reality is painful - but essential to make progress. The company sensibly determined that further funding would only be available if a defined level of progress could be demonstrated within an initial 3 month recovery period.
Demystification
Persuading the customer to sign-off a definite requirement in order to avoid permanent scope creep. Providing each developer in the team with jointly-defined weekly targets (and assess how many of them were suitably productive and necessary for the project to succeed).
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Once the draft requirement was agreed, parallel and iterative design determined which requirements would take too long to deliver and whether they were essential to phase one and the benefits case. The design was therefore virtually complete by the time the amended requirement was signed-off and within three months the core application was underway, though the team was now:
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  • considerably reduced in number (<50%)
  • subject to formal work authorisation and cost collection that reflected delivery only and not time-at-work
  • a detailed and granular plan with maximum 5-man-day deliverables and intermediate checks
  • payment on 0/100 milestones (internally & externally)
Equally the customer committed to working alongside the team (no surprise deliverables) and immediate sign-off to accelerate the project. Thereafter phase one of the project had a clear SMART objective, defined scope and delivered within six months and for around 10% of the total prior spend to date. A second phase began and was restricted to a successful 9 month end-to-end delivery in similar vein.

The reality is that software development is neither mysterious nor a black art…