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Estimation a real problem in software projects

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Calculating the cost and timelines of software development projects is a
real challenge.

The Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and QuantiMetrics will be
holding a Master Class in August on the challenges of estimation in the
software development life-cycle.
Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of the JCSE, says the difficulties
around estimation are some of the most widely talked about in the industry
and it therefore made sense to tackle it in one of the Master Classes held
by the JCSE on a regular basis.
According to the Chaos Report issued by the Standish Group in 2006, two out
of ten software development projects globally never see the light of day. A
further four projects out of every ten are likely to come in late and/or
over budget, while the remaining four projects will come in on time, to
budget and meet the required specifications.
Dwolatzky says while software provides obvious benefits for any business,
failure to meet cost and delivery deadlines could have dire consequences.
"The cost of over-run projects could place huge strain on the business,
while the delayed introduction of the software or a poor ROI could undermine
the business' ability to remain competitive or even deliver its products and
services," he says.
Bram Meyerson, CEO of QuantiMetrics, says the first decision on a new
software development project is often whether to do it in-house or outsource
it and both come with their challenges.
If the software is developed internally, then there are issues like whether
there are enough resources and whether they are able to dedicate time to the
project while managing their other responsibilities, Meyerson says.
And if the project is outsourced, then there are the challenges around
finding the right development company and managing an external project.
"Generally in-house software development projects are less likely to come in
on time and to budget. Reasons for this include a lack of skills, poor
planning, unreasonable demands made for rapid delivery of a project and the
fact that in-house teams often don't know how to say no to these
unreasonable deadline demands.
"Outsourced projects often perform better because the projects are often
specified better and the supplier is used to trying to meet the demands that
are placed on them by their clients," he says.
Dwolatzky says whether developed internally or externally, most software
development projects are hindered by the ability to provide estimations that
they can then deliver on.
"The problem is one of process – in both the estimation process and the
delivery. Un-realistic targets are often set and projects often prove to be
more complicated than initially thought," he says. "Poor process is the main
reason why only forty percent of projects globally come in on time and to
budget."
Meyerson says the most problematic process is that of requirements
management and specification. Adequate requirements are often not specified
upfront, nor are they managed through the project.
One of the key methodologies to define the requirements that determine how
long the project will take and how much it will cost is Function Point
Analysis (FPA), which was originally developed by IBM.
"FPA enables companies to objectively quantify the scope of existing systems
and the requirements for new and enhanced systems," he says.
It is recognised globally as an effective means of sizing applications and
projects from a business perspective, in a manner independent of development
technology, providing accurate scheduling and cost estimation, he adds.
"It allows companies to size a project during analysis, track the project
during production (i.e. estimates versus actual), assess project delivery
upon completion and support benchmarking initiatives which require a measure
of delivered size."
Dwolatzky says the Master Class will be held on 27 August at the Montecasino
Conference Centre in Fourways.
"Maturing processes is one of the key goals at the JCSE for the industry
because development companies with more mature processes lower the risk of
failing to come in on time, to budget and specification," he says.
For more information on the JCSE or the planned Master Class, visit
www.jcse.org.za.