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How to deal with software development schedule pressure

Matthew Heusser | April 10, 2013
The work is due next month, but you know it won't be done for three months. Now what? A group of programmers and consultants met at a recent software development conference to swap war stories and discuss management and firefighting challenges.

Keller: How did you reply?

Hajratwala: I said, "It doesn't really work like that. We know the throughput, and that changes very slowly and gradually. You can't just throw a bunch of people on it to make the project go faster. The only thing you can do is cut scope. That's it." Management said, "But we need everything." I said, "Do you really need everything?" There we lots of discussions about that. They cut about 50 percent of the scope. Now December is starting to look realistic, but it's changing. We update every week with a more accurate prediction.

That's the big change in thinking. We can figure out now that we won't make the date and change plans instead of waiting until November to realize we won't make December.

Kaufman: Where did the original schedule come from? Why did anyone think they would be done in May 2013?

Hajratwala: That was before my time. Basically, someone picked a date.

Software Development Schedule Pressure Arises Because 'Time is Arbitrary'

Kaufman: We're still constrained by the iron triangle. Usually somebody up the chain has a certain amount of money, or a high-level scope, and that's the most malleable of the three. Time is totally arbitrary, really. It's often just picked out of thin air.

CIO.com: Do you think time comes from math? If you have $10 million and 20 contractors at $100 per hour, you can divide the money by the cost per week of the team and figure out when you "have" to be done? (Note: It's 125 weeks.)

Hajratwala: That's exactly how it often goes. It's as good a way as any other to predict that far out from nothing. We really have no idea.

Kaufman: But then at least call it what it is: Burn rate. We may ramp down, we may ramp up, but we have a burn rate, not a schedule.

Hajratwala: Our team interfaces with another team doing waterfall, and we got [it] involved in our standups. They asked, "How do you figure out your three-year plan?" The team was quiet, so I&said, "We recognize that our three-year plan is totally fake, so we don't make it."

Keller: Sometimes that's hard in a world where people at the top level believe in their three-year plan and have confidence in it, even when they've seen that it never matches reality.

Hajratwala: These people&have been sold so much snake oil that they have no faith in anything coming to them. So they say, "You know what, here's what I need and here's when I need it." The only way to break through that is to actually deliver something.

 

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