Empirical Project Tracking

September 22, 2005 CollabNet VersionOne

Michael James and I recently had the opportunity to present a talk on using “empirical metrics” to track software project progress to a collection of approximately 100 Washington state agency IT executives. Our message: stop trying to track project progress by analyzing task level detail (estimated vs. actuals) and instead adopt agile, track velocity, and use empirical measure to predict completion dates.

While Agile development and project management techniques were introduced to the group, our main intent was to present an alternative to traditional granular task-based project tracking (Gantt, etc.) by estimating and measuring rate of completion at the “story” level. We’ve found that management reporting is often a sore point on Agile projects. We therefore offered an approach to empirical project tracking and estimation based on a modified burndown chart made popular by Mike Cohn which proves that task-level tracking is not necessary. (Plug: ScrumWorks currently automates this report)

Burndown Chart with Intersection

We were asked how this would fit into today’s Washington state RFP mechanism which requires detailed up-front task plans. I asked the audience at large if this task-based approach currently yields successful results. Judging my the silence and the shaking of heads, I’d say the Washington state government is ready for real change. I suggested they hire vendors that make short-term iterative commitments, pay those vendors based on delivery of the short-term commitments and fire those that do not.

Later in the conference, my colleague reported that a powerful Washington state IT executive announced willingness to explore iterative approaches to project management since current methods clearly weren’t working. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Download the PDF version: Empirical Project Tracking blog

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