Feeds

Overlooking tradeoffs could kill your project

Tradeoffs are good

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

One of our readers, Bill Nicholls, has just written in with a comment on my "Housebuilding as a metaphor for software development" blog.

He says: "Deadline, quality, functions - pick any two." In short, every project is a tradeoff. The above assumes that cost is fixed, but if that is a variable, the above line becomes: "Cost, deadline, quality, functions - pick any three."

"Every project has those characteristics, from small to very large. Project management is the process that (tries to) optimise the result by the priority of the tradeoff items. The specific [algorithms] are left as an exercise for the student. :-}

"I think that in most projects the above selections and priorities are not made a priori, but only get discussed when some part of the project looks like it might fail. To me, this delay in selecting the order of tradeoffs is the critical failure of most projects, rather than the planning."

Well, I see what he means – although the reason for any delay in managing tradeoffs may be that the "pointy haired manager" won't accept that there are any tradeoffs: "Well, of course I want it tomorrow. I didn't get where I am...What do you mean that means that there will still be defects in it? Aren't you aware of my 'zero defect' initiative? If you aren't I'm sure I can hire people who are...What now? Deliver less function? In two words im-possible. I promised that functionality to the CEO."

In other words, in immature organisations rational arguments over tradeoffs often aren't possible. Sometimes managers want to adopt politically expedient deadlines without compromising their other objectives: 100 per cent security, zero defects, and the lowest possible cost. Oh, and zero risk of coming in late.

And this sort of exchange probably means that the pointy-haired manager has a resource he isn't exploiting (or appreciating) - the experience of his or her developers.

Bill Nicholls again: "Having a plan is important, but knowing in advance how to tradeoff the priorities and when to implement those changes are the missing pieces in a lot of projects I have seen and been involved in. And this stems from another pool of experience I have been immersed in - understanding complexity and specification drift.

"The more complex a project is, the more probable that the project will run into the need for tradeoffs. This is a result of finding hidden interactions the hard way, and is almost unavoidable in large projects. Specification drift comes simply from the nature of human beings. Ask anyone to specify a screen layout, and go back a month later with the same question. Need changes? Wotta surprise, Not.

"In summary, projects need their tradeoff parameters set at the beginning, not when trouble appears. The more complex the project, and the more people involved, the bigger the chance that you will have to use that information to deliver the best results."

I can only agree. But something similar applies to a lot more than just project management. It is always best to think through your contingency plans with a clear head – before something actually fails and everyone is in headless chicken mode. This applies equally to business continuity planning and disaster recover and to the "compensating transactions" needed when something goes horribly wrong in a loosely-coupled asynchronous e-commerce environment. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
The Return of BSOD: Does ANYONE trust Microsoft patches?
Sysadmins, you're either fighting fires or seen as incompetents now
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
Intel's Raspberry Pi rival Galileo can now run Windows
Behold the Internet of Things. Wintel Things
Linux Foundation says many Linux admins and engineers are certifiable
Floats exam program to help IT employers lock up talent
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
Eat up Martha! Microsoft slings handwriting recog into OneNote on Android
Freehand input on non-Windows kit for the first time
Linux kernel devs made to finger their dongles before contributing code
Two-factor auth enabled for Kernel.org repositories
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.