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Bruce F. Webster: Heuristics

By Bruce F. Webster  |  Posted 2008-06-18 Print this article Print

Instead of deciding ahead of time which metrics are likely relevant, you first want simply to gather as many metrics, or characteristics, of your IT project as you can, then process them

Now that you have all this information, you start to work with it to develop heuristics (from the Greek heurisko, to find or discover–think eureka). Your goal is to find which combination of characteristics best predicts the current state, level of progress and ultimate completion of the IT project. Applying Henderson’s Maxim─“Start out stupid and work up from there”─you want to try this first with a small project, gathering all the information about that project while monitoring the actual progress of that project, including problems and successes.

Use your best human and numerical analysis to figure out which combination of characteristics appears to predict most accurately the project’s progress and completion. Note that when we started the radar project at General Dynamics, we didn’t travel to Europe and collect radar signals from Soviet tanks and trucks, assuming we could even tell them apart; we went out to Camp Pendleton in San Diego and collected radar signals from known tanks and trucks. Likewise, you want to start out with a project where you clearly know the progress and results, independent of the information you’re gathering.

Having done this initial calibration, repeat this process with several small and midsized projects, adjusting your heuristics, if necessary, based on your observations. Finally, you can start applying your instrumentation and heuristics to your large-scale projects. By this point, you should not only have a set of heuristics for tracking the status of your project, you should also be able to drill down and figure out where the problems and bottlenecks actually are.

OK, so much for metrics; come back next week when we’ll tackle a new topic. 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

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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