Thursday, May 31, 2007

The ripple effects of moving in a release date

When a project is behind schedule several options are typically considered. The schedule is adjusted, the number of people working on the project is increased, or the scope is reduced.

A few days ago I met Susan, an old friend of mine. She is working for a very small software company, and she told me about a project that she used to work on until a few months ago. The project was an online reservation system for hotels, and as the hotel owner decided to go into business sooner than originally planned the schedule for the project had to be shortened by a few weeks as well.

This decision caused a number of ripple effects, mostly undesired side effects.

First it turned out that the staffing level wasn't high enough to achieve a sufficient velocity for the shortened time line. Additional engineers were required. As the company is only a very small outfit, they had reassign engineers from a different team to this project team thus sacrificing valueable work in the other team.

This in turn not only reduced the velocity of the other team. As a consequence the scope for the other team's deliveries had to be reduced.

Also, it turned out that in order to make the shortened deadline the project team had to take a number of short cuts, e.g. by using a less elegant design in some places or by not refactoring code to the degree it deserved.

There were many more impacts, but so far we have:
  1. Need to increase staffing level in the project team: additional project cost
  2. Need to reassign engineers from the other team: cost in the form of delayed deliveries in the other team
  3. Need to clean up the "short cuts" caused rework after the release

Bottom line: Moving in a release date had not only the immediate impact but also cause a number of side effects, each of them causing a number of additional problems and/or cost.

The software has been released a few months ago, and the project team is onto a new project. My friend reckons that it probably will take a few more months until the effects of the changes have been resolved.

On the positive side, Susan's team delivered on time and with functionality and quality as specified. In addition the customer is very happy with her company's ability to adapt to the changed plans. Susan and her colleagues are, however, very aware of the price they had to pay.

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