## Archive for the ‘Project Management’ Category

### Big Data Wisdom Courtesy of Monty Python

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Big Data Wisdom Courtesy of Monty Python by Rik Tamm-Daniels.

From the post:

One of our favorite parts of the hilarious 1975 King Arthur parody, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is the “Bridge of Death” scene: If a knight answered the bridge keeper’s three questions, he could safely cross the bridge; if not, he would be catapulted into… the Gorge of Eternal Peril!

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to most of King Arthur’s knights, who were either stumped by a surprise trivia question like, “What is the capital of Assyria?” – or responded too indecisively when asked, “What is your favorite color?”

Fortunately when King Arthur was asked, “What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” he wisely sought further details: “What do you mean – an African or European swallow?” The stunned bridge keeper said, “I don’t know… AAAGH!” Breaking his own rule, the bridge keeper was thrown over the edge, freeing King Arthur to continue his quest for the Holy Grail.

Many organizations are on “Big Data Holy Grail” quests of their own, looking to deliver game-changing business analytics, only to find themselves in a “boil-the-ocean” Big Data project that “after 24 months of building… has no real value.” Unfortunately, many CIOs and BI Directors have rushed into hasty Hadoop implementations, fueled by a need to ‘respond’ to Big Data and ‘not fall behind.’

That’s just one of the troublesome findings from a recent InformationWeek article by Doug Henschen, Vague Goals Seed Big Data Failures. Henschen’s article cited a recent Infochimps Big Data survey that revealed 55% of big data projects don’t get completed and that many others fall short of their objectives. The top reason for failed Big Data projects was “inaccurate scope”:

I don’t disagree with the need to define “success” and anticipated ROI before the project starts.

But if it makes you feel any better, a 45% rate of success isn’t all that bad, considering the average experience: Facts and Figures, a summary of project failure data.

A summary of nine (9) studies, 2005 until 2011.

One of the worst comments being:

A truly stunning 78% of respondents reported that the “Business is usually or always out of sync with project requirements”

Semantic technologies are not well served by projects that get funded but produce no tangible benefits.

Project officers may like that sort of thing but the average consumer and business leaders know better.

Promoting semantic technologies in general and topic maps in particular mean successful results in the eyes of users, not ours.

### Collaborative Systems: Easy To Miss The Mark

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Collaborative Systems: Easy To Miss The Mark by Jocob Morgan.

From the post:

Map out use cases defining who you want collaborating and what results you want them to achieve. Skip this step in the beginning, and you’ll regret it in the end.

One of the things that organizations really need to consider when evaluating collaborative solutions is their use cases. Not only that, but also understanding the outcomes of those use cases and how they can map to a desired feature requirement. Use cases really help put things into perspective for companies who are seeking to understand the “why” before they figure out the “how.”

That’s what a use case is: the distilled essence of a role within your organization, how it will interact with some system, and the expected or desired result. Developing use cases makes your plans, requirements, and specifications less abstract because it forces you to come up with specific examples.

This is why we created a framework (inspired by Gil Yehuda) to address this. It breaks down as follows:

• – Identify the overall business problem you are looking to solve (typically there are several).
• – Narrow down the problem into specific use cases; each problem has several use cases.
• – Describe the situation that needs to be present for that use case to be applicable.
• – Clarify the desired action.
• – State the desired result.

For topic maps I would write:

Map out use cases defining what data you want to identify and/or integrate and what results you expect from that identification or integration. Skip this step in the beginning, and you’ll regret it in the end.

If you don’t have an expectation of a measurable result (in businesses a profitable one), your efforts at semantic integration are premature.

How will you know when you have reached the end of a particular effort?

### People and Process > Prescription and Technology

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Factors that affect software systems development project outcomes: A survey of research by Laurie McLeod and Stephen G. MacDonell. ACM Computing Surveys (CSUR) Surveys Volume 43 Issue 4, October 2011 Article No. 24, DOI: 10.1145/1978802.1978803.

Abstract:

Determining the factors that have an influence on software systems development and deployment project outcomes has been the focus of extensive and ongoing research for more than 30 years. We provide here a survey of the research literature that has addressed this topic in the period 1996–2006, with a particular focus on empirical analyses. On the basis of this survey we present a new classification framework that represents an abstracted and synthesized view of the types of factors that have been asserted as influencing project outcomes.

As with most survey work, particularly ones that summarize 177 papers, this is a long article, some fifty-six pages.

Let me try to tempt you into reading it by quoting from Angelica de Antonio’s review of it (in Computing Reviews, Oct. 2012):

An interesting discussion about the very concept of project outcome precedes the survey of factors, and an even more interesting discussion follows it. The authors stress the importance of institutional context in which the development project takes place (an aspect almost neglected in early research) and the increasing evidence that people and process have a greater effect on project outcomes than technology. A final reflection on what projects still continue to fail—even if we seem to know the factors that lead to success—raises a question on the utility of prescriptive factor-based research and leads to considerations that could inspire future research. (emphasis added)

Before you run off to the library or download a copy of the survey, two thoughts to keep in mind:

First, if “people and process” are more important than technology, where should we place the emphasis in projects involving semantics?

Second, if “prescription” can’t cure project failure, what are its chances with semantic diversity?

Thoughts?

### Requirements Engineering (3rd ed.)

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Requirements Engineering (3rd ed.) by Hull, Elizabeth, Jackson, Ken, Dick, Jeremy. Springer, 3rd ed., 2011, XVIII, 207 p. 131 illus., ISBN 978-1-84996-404-3.

From the webpage:

Using the latest research and driven by practical experience from industry, the third edition of this popular book provides useful information to practitioners on how to write and structure requirements. • Explains the importance of Systems Engineering and the creation of effective solutions to problems • Describes the underlying representations used in system modelling and introduces the UML2 • Considers the relationship between requirements and modelling • Covers a generic multi-layer requirements process • Discusses the key elements of effective requirements management • Explains the important concept of rich traceability In this third edition the authors have updated the overview of DOORS to include the changes featured in version 9.2. An expanded description of Product Family Management and a more explicit definition of Requirements Engineering are also included. Requirements Engineering is written for those who want to develop their knowledge of requirements engineering, whether practitioners or students.

I saw a review of this work on the October 2012 issue of Computing Reviews, where Diego Merani remarks:

The philosopher Seneca once said: “There is no fair wind for one who knows not whither he is bound.” This sentence encapsulates the essence of the book: the most common reasons projects fail involve incomplete requirements, poor planning, and the incorrect estimation of resources, risks, and challenges.

Requirements and the consequences of their absence rings true across software and other projects, including the authoring of topic maps.

Requirements: Don’t leave home without them!

### Broken Telephone Game of Defining Software and UI Requirements [And Semantics]

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Martin is writing in a UI context but the lesson he teaches is equally applicable to any part of software/project management. (Even U.S. federal government big data projects.)

His counsel is not one of dispair, he outlines solutions that can lessen the impact of the broken telephone game.

But it is up to you to recognize the game that is afoot and to react accordingly.

From the post:

The broken telephone game is played all over the world. In it, according to Wikipedia, “one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first.”

This game is also played inadvertently by a large number of organizations seeking to define software and UI requirements, using information passed from customers, to business analysts, to UI/UX designers, to developers and testers.

Here’s a typical example:

• The BA or product owner elicits requirements from a customer and writes them down, often as a feature list and use cases.
• The use cases are interpreted by the UI/UX team to develop UI mockups and storyboards.
• Testing interprets the storyboards, mockups, and use cases to develop test cases,
• Also, the developers will try to interpret the use cases, mockups, and storyboards to actually write the code.

As with broken telephone, at each handoff of information the original content is altered. The resulting approach includes a lot of re-work and escalating project costs due to combinations of the following:

• Use cases don’t properly represent customer requirements.
• UI/UX design is not consistent with the use cases.
• Incorrect test cases create false bugs.
• Missed test cases result in undiscovered bugs.
• Developers build features that don’t meet customer needs.

The further down the broken telephone line the original requirements get, the more distorted they become. For this reason, UI storyboards, test cases, and code typically require a lot of reworking as requirements are misunderstood or improperly translated by the time they get to the UI and testing teams.

### Designing Open Projects

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Designing Open Projects: Lessons From Internet Pioneers (PDF) by David Witzel.

From the foreword:

A key insight underpinning Witzel’s tips is that this is not a precise methodology to be followed. Instead, an open project approach should be viewed as a mindset. Leaders have to discern whether the challenges they are facing can best be solved using a closed or open approach, defined as follows:

• A closed project has a defined staff, budget, and outcome; and uses hierarchy and logic models to direct activities. It is particularly appropriate for problems with known solutions and stable environments, such as the development of a major highway project.
• An open project is useful to address challenges where the end may not be clear, the environment is rapidly changing, and/or the coordinating entity doesn’t have the authority or resources to directly create needed change. In these open projects, new stakeholders can join at will, roles are often informal, resources are shared, and actions and decisions are distributed throughout the system.

Witzel’s report provides guideposts on how to use an open project approach on appropriate large-scale efforts. We hope this report serves as an inspiration and practical guide to federal managers as they address the increasingly complex challenges facing our country that reach across federal agency—and often state, local, nonprofit, and private sector—boundaries.

I can think of examples of semantic integration projects that would work better with either model.

What factors would you consider before putting your next semantic integration project into one category or the other?

I first saw this at: Four short links: 15 August 2012 by Nat Torkington

### FBI’s Sentinel Project: 5 Lessons Learned[?]

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

FBI’s Sentinel Project: 5 Lessons Learned [?] by John Foley.

John writes of lessons learned from the Sentinel Project, which replaces the $170 million disaster, Virtual Case File system. Lessons you need to avoid applying to your information management projects, whether you use topic maps or no. 2. Agile development gets things done. The next big shift in strategy was Fulgham’s decision in September 2010 to wrest control of the project from prime contractor Lockheed Martin and use agile development to accelerate software deliverables. The thinking was that a hands-on, incremental approach would be faster because functionality would be developed, and adjustments made, in two-week “sprints.” The FBI missed its target date for finishing that work–September 2011–but it credits the agile methodology with ultimately getting the job done. Missing a start date by ten (10) months does not count as a success for most projects. Moreover, note how they define “success:” this week’s announcement that Sentinel, as of July 1, became available to all FBI employees is a major achievement. Available to all FBI employees? I would think using it by all FBI employees would be the measure of success. Yes? Can you think a success measure other than use by employees? 3. Commercial software plays an important role. Sentinel is based in part on commercial software, a fact that’s often overlooked because of all the custom coding and systems integration involved. Under the hood are EMC’s Documentum document management software, Oracle databases, IBM’s WebSphere middleware, Microsoft’s SharePoint, and Entrust’s PKI technology. Critics who say that Sentinel would have gone more smoothly if only it had been based on off-the-shelf software seem unaware that, in fact, it is. Commercial software? Sounds like a software Frankenstein to me. I wonder if they simply bought software based on the political clout of the vendors and then wired it together? What it sounds like. Do you have access to the system documentation? That could prove to be an interesting read. I can imagine legacy systems wired together with these components but if you are building a clean system, why the cut-n-paste from different vendors? 4. Agile development is cheaper, too. Sentinel came in under its$451 million budget. The caveat is that the FBI’s original cost estimate for Sentinel was \$425 million, but that was before Fulgham and Johnson took over, and they stayed within the budget they were given. The Inspector General might quibble with how the FBI accounts for the total project cost, having pointed out in the past that its tally didn’t reflect the agency’s staff costs. But the FBI wasn’t forced to go to Congress with its hand out. Agile development wasn’t only faster, but also cheaper.

Right, let’s simply lie to the prospective client about the true cost of development for a project. Their staff, who already have full time duties, can just tough it out and give us the review/feedback that we need to build a working system. Right.

This is true for IT projects in general but topic map projects in particular. Clients will have to resource the project properly from the beginning, not just with your time but the time of its staff and subject matter experts.

A good topic map, read a useful topic map, is going to reflect contributions from the client’s staff. You need to make the case to decision makers that the staff contributions are just as important as their present day to day tasks.

BTW, if agile development oh so useful, people would be using it. Like C, Java, C++.

Do you see marketing pieces for C, Java, C++?

Successful approaches/languages are used, not advertised.

### Who’s accountable for IT failure? (Parts 1 & 2)

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Michael Krigsman has an excellent two part series IT failure:

Who’s accountable for IT failure? (Part One)

Who’s accountable for IT failure? (Part Two)

Michael goes through the horror stories and stats about IT failures (about 70%) in some detail.

But think about just the failure rate for a minute: 70%?

Would you drive a car with a 70% chance of failure?

Would you fly in a plane with a 70% chance of failure?

Would you trade securities with 70% chance your information is wrong?

Would you use a bank account where the balance has a 70% inaccuracy rate?

But, the government is about to embark on IT projects to make government more transparent and accountable.

Based on past experience, how many of those IT projects are going to fail?

If you said 70%, your right!

The senior management responsible for those IT projects needs a pointer to the posts by Michael Krigsman.

For that matter, I would like to see Michael post a PDF version that can be emailed to senior management and project participants at the start of each project.