Controlling Software Development Costs

How to contain software development costs? Often the heart of the matter is the original estimate.

The “bible” on estimating is Estimating Software Costs   by T Capers Jones.  He has been writing on this subject for years.

Jones’ main premise is that large, complex projects require automated estimation tools. They tend to be more accurate than manual estimation methods and more conservative when inaccurate. Manual estimation methods tend to be less accurate and too optimistic. He backs this up with real world data.

My own experience has shown that manual methods can be used on small projects (say less than 5000 lines of code) when you break up the project into phases with short development durations. I believe that this is the underlying power of agile and timebox methods. As the number of lines of code increases, the functional complexity increases exponentially. Manual estimation methods usually assume more linearity, so as the lines of code increase, the difference between the linear projection and the exponential project rapidly increases.

When you are working with an original manual cost estimate and encounter real world complications the result can be massive cost overruns.

So what can you do if plopped into the middle of an on-going project experiencing cost overruns?

There are several major options: increase the budget, cut the scope (even to zero thus killing the project) or break the project up into multiple phases or even multiple projects.

Before deciding on which path to pursue, take stock of these issues:

  1. Endeavor to get a more accurate estimate of the remaining work. Truth really matters a lot at this point.  If you can’t get access to an automated tool, at least have all team members give realistic bottom up estimates of all remaining tasks.
  2. Assess the remaining technical risk. Did the project fall behind because of underestimated complexity? Is the original toolset still a viable solution?
  3. Have new requirements surfaced that  significantly change the scope or duration of the project?
  4. Assess the political support for the project. Has the team credibility been so damaged that faith in achieving the objectives has been lost? Do some team members need to be augmented or even replaced?
  5. Has missing an important deadline or failure to meet a key objective now changed the business value of the results of the project?

Change is now the name of the game. Knowing which levers of change to pull, now becomes the manager’s critical job.


Battlestar Galactica “Skinjobs” are One Step Closer

Fans of the second incarnation of science fiction TV series Battlestar Galactica certainly remember the humanoid cylons, sometimes referred to as “skinjobs” because they (unlike their metal predecessors) have actual skin.

Real robots can now take one step closer to this ideal. Soft muscles have been developed by researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). They have developed a dielectric elastomer with a broad range of motion that requires relatively low voltage and no rigid components.

This means robots can have soft materials as outside skin and muscles closer to living creatures. Number Six will be happy about that!

Be Still My Heart – Two of Technology Favorites Combined: Robots & Pizza

Anyone who has participated on a software development team knows the reverence held for pizza in Geekdom. And anyone who knows anything about sci-fi knows how much techies love robots. From Robbie the Robot to Will Robinson’s sidekick to R2D2, BB-8, C3PO and  BSG’s “skin jobs”  robots have a special place in any Geek’s heart.

Congratulations to Domino’s for combining the two in creating the world’s first pizza delivery robot!

Danger, Will Robinson!  The cheese is too hot!

Fleeing from the Cylon Tyranny, the last battlestar Galactica leads a ragtag fugitve fleet on a lonely quest: the perfect pan pizza.

This truly is the 21st century!


Electric Cars and the Nationwide Charging Network

They call it range anxiety. You are driving an electric car and the charge starts dropping towards zero. What do you do?

So the smart thing to do is always carry your 120 volt plug in charger with you so you won’t be completely stranded. there are 120 volt outlets everywhere. A $2 donation to your charging host will more than pay for an entire night’s charge.

However, at a the 120 volt charging rate of 3-4 miles per charging hour, you may be waiting a while for your return trip. Given that you have a quick-charge option on your electric car, you should look into the following charging networks. I’m in Atlanta, GA so the info is based on this area, but still useful nationwide:

1. Chargepoint

– lots of charging stations,
– some are free to charge (mostly cars dealers)
– their charge card is free
– phone app – but only shows their locations

2. EVGo

– more hi-speed charging stations
– fewer stations overall, but in key places like shopping malls
– all cost money to charge
– $5.00 setup fee for the pay as you go plan & $5.00 per session plus charge fees – usually 20 cents per minute for hi-speed charge (30 minutes for 80% LEAF charge)

I recommend getting both cards for the best nationwide charging access. You need the cards for best use of the stations, though you can call Chargepoint without a card and they’ll activate a station over the phone for you the first time.

3. Plugshare

– great site for mapping Chargepoint, NRGEVgo and independent locations
– virtual community that shares whether or not stations are available and working
– free – just sign up
– nice phone app but it takes lots of memory – I use the website with my tablet instead

Armed with these charging resources, you have a powerful antidote to range anxiety.

Electric Car Case for ROI

I recently purchased a Nissan LEAF. I’ve always wanted an electric car. I remember seeing long gas lines when I was a kid during the seventies. I’ve been following electric car progress ever since.

I n my opinion, two things now make them a very viable transportation choice:

1. Range: LEAF get 80 to 100 miles per overnight 120 V charge. Tesla’s get a lot more but they violate my #2.

2. Price: Brand new $30,000 plus LEAF are still pricey, but barely used LEAFs coming off-lease are going for only $13,000! Higher mileage LEAFs go for even less. I’ve seen some 40K mileage ones for $8,995. With really low interest rates available you can begin to get amazing ROI’s.

Many Americans are commuting 50 miles per day and spending $300 or more per month in gas.  A $13K purchase plus tax, tag, title, etc will run about $275 per month for 60 months. Yes, I think a low mileage LEAF (and its battery) will last at least that long. Add $25 to $40 a month to charge it each night and you have a vehicle that earns its keep in gas savings. If it last more than 60 months, it makes you money!

I’m sure I haven’t accounted for all the costs involved. There are probably a few more, but even at the national average of 12 cents per kwh, the LEAF yielding 4.6 miles per kwh makes it a very cost effective alternative to the average gas powered car.

One final tip: Make sure you get an electric vehicle with the quick-charge option. This help combat “range anxiety”. More about this in my next post.

Learning Highlights

This is the third year in a row I have worked “Tech Central” at Elliott Masie’s Learning conference. I count on this conference to keep abreast of important trends in the learning and management fields. This year proved no exception.  It was three solid days of stimulating presentations and dialogue.

Elliott has created a “curated content” site where you can enjoy some of the highlights of his interviews and presentations.   I have curated the curated and have added some of my own links as well to give you my personal favorites:

Nigel Paine

The Power of Search / Global Learning

Donald Taylor

Changing Competancies in Learning / Importance of Networks 

Sir Ken Robinson

Technology Impact on Memorization

Dave Hopla

Muscle Memory and Visualization  (This is one of Dave’s youtube’s )

Anne Hermann-Nehdi

The Importance of Context

Claire O’Connell

Crowdsourcing Cognitive Research

Paul LeBlanc

College for America – A new model for higher education


Ed Behan was found walking around the conference with a small HD video camera perched on his head.  Turns out he was broadcasting realtime HD video to the cybersphere with their new Fieldcaster unit.

Sir Ken Robinson (again)

Sir Ken also shared this wonderfully uplifting video on the Landfill Harmonic showing us how ingenuity triumphs adversity.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Malware and Virus Threats Raise the Stakes

The recent spate of high profile commercial website hacks have shown that hackers have raised the stakes for the average business and consumer user. When normally trusted sites are compromised, users are left unprotected.

For example, you receive an email from your favorite bank, home improvement or craft store site.  You click on their coupon or special and are forwarded to their trusted site. Your email virus scanner will check the site and your browser scanner will check the page content for malware.  The next time you access that email, most scanners will not re-check.

This is no longer sufficient!  Because trusted sites are being hacked to redirect your browser to a malware site, you need virus and malware scanners that check on every click.

With state-sponsored hackers and criminal gangs funding hacker teams,  computer security threats are at an all time high.

There are three things you can do to afford yourself basic protection:

1. Make sure your operating system is up to date.  Turn on automatic updates. That means Windows XP is a no-no. Upgrade or better yet do yourself a bigger favor and get a new computer with Windows 7 or higher.

2. Enable the automatic backup feature in your operating system.

3. Use a quality virus scanner that offers click time scanning.

I think that the new level of computer security threats are so great that I will be hosting an additional blog on the topic and will be announcing it on this blog soon!