Bruce F. Webster: Instrumentation and Heuristics

By Bruce F. Webster Print this article Print

Waking up to find that the metrics used in a project are not measuring up to the needs--and satisfaction--of being completed.

This list also doesn’t directly address such common problems as scope creep, conflicting requirements, changes in business or market needs, budget constraints, or internal politics. Still, the items in the list above could themselves be considered useful metrics; that is, if you could measure this information, you would have a very good sense of where the project stands.

These items would certainly be informative and even predictive—but it remains unclear how to make them “objective,” much less “automated.” In effect, we’re back to the “70 percent done” question and answer, though perhaps in more detail.

Now, I have known organizations that are quite skilled at predicting how long a project will take and how much it will cost. But these are organizations that confine themselves to niche markets and, in effect, implement the same application over and over again, using a rigorous and standardized methodology, usually with extensive up-front analysis and specification (particularly in user interface and functionality).

Even then there are no guarantees; look at the number of troubled and failed enterprise resource planning installations that appear in the news on a regular basis. And, of course, this is of little use for organizations that are creating one-off applications, either custom or commercial.

One solution, I believe, lies in a combination of two approaches: instrumentation and heuristics. By “instrumentation,” I mean creating a system whereby you can automatically track and monitor as many aspects and activities as possible of the entire software development or infrastructure project lifecycle. And by “heuristics,” I mean analyzing the information gathered via instrumentation to discover which characteristics best predict ongoing performance and completion of the project.

And we’ll talk about this in more detail next week. Until then, I’ll see you on the bitstream.

Bruce F. Webster is an international IT consultant. You can reach him at bwebster@bfwa.com or via his websites at brucefwebster.com and bfwa.com.

© 2008 Bruce F. Webster

This article was originally published on 2008-06-13
Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates LLC. He works with organizations to help them evaluate troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects, or to assess IT systems and products for possible investment/acquisition. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan.
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