11 August 2015

Capture Requirements with Use Cases

The Use Case Principle

The main idea behind use cases for requirements capture is that all useful system functions have an impact at the interface between the system and the outside world. If no one will ever notice whether a function is present or missing, there's no need to implement it.

Every component, every circuit, every line of code must be able to justify its existence by serving some aspect of at least one interaction with the outside world; that is, it must help to realize a use case.

A use case model treats the system as a "black box"; it's completely described by its externally evident behaviour. Whether the product is a rail line or a spreadsheet, a clear understanding of the use cases tells you what needs to be achieved.

27 July 2015

The Value of Project Manager Certification

A question I've put to a number of PMI and Prince2 people has gone unanswered.
Is there any quantitative evidence that using a certified PM improves the likelihood that a project's actual performance will meet or beat the original plan?

28 August 2013

SIP math and Monte Carlo Simulation

Thinking about the contrast between SIP math and MCS.

SIPmath has its roots in Monte Carlo Simulation, but the implementation, application architecture, and data architecture are different. MCS munges generation, data, and use together. SIPmath extracts the data part and puts it in a SIP where, being pure data, it can be cataloged, and passed around as easily as you attach a picture to an email. How it's generated and how it's used are separate concerns.

Under ideal conditions, where there's lots of data, each value in a SIP is valid because it has actually happened, and the frequencies in the SIP are the same as the reality. That is, a well-formed SIP is correct by construction. Since the rest is simple arithmetic, avoiding implementation errors and independent validation are both fairly simple.

MCS stratified sampling and SIPmath are the same except for where in the workflow the samples are taken.

On the other hand, MCS generating random values from a curve that approximates the data, is approximate by construction.  We can only hope to get close to the fidelity that comes effortlessly in a SIP composed from history.

08 June 2013

The Flaw of Expected Values

No matter how well-managed they are, projects tend to finish late and over budget. We keep doing things to correct this problem, but project failure rates have remained constant for decades.

It turns out that one of the reasons, perhaps the principal reason, is that the math we use for estimating project cost and duration is fatally flawed; it gives us consistently optimistic estimates.

The fatal flaw is the Flaw of Averages, eloquently described in Sam Savage's book of the same name.

In project planning and estimating terms, that's the Flaw of Expected Values.

09 March 2013

The Expected Finish Isn't

Conventional planning tools produce one or more expected values -- expected finish, expected cost.

"Expected value" is also known as the average or mean. But, an average over what? An average assumes a bunch of things whose values can be added up. Average time or average cost implies a large number of activities whose cost and duration can be averaged.

It also implies that the activities that finish early and below budget will provide the savings to underwrite the activities that finish late and over budget.

More generally, if the calculation of expected value is a valid calculation, the sum of the actual costs of a large number of activities should be close to the sum of their expected costs. Is this what happens in the real world?

Silly question -- it doesn't. Relative to expected values, task and project finishes range from a little early to a lot late, slightly under-budget to major overrun. The sum of the actuals is inevitably greater than the sum of the averages.

A sure sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

24 November 2012

Calculating Uncertainty

It took me a lot longer than I thought it would to write this paper. I wanted a gentle introduction to simulation with SIPs and it turned out that gentle is not easy. So it's 20 pages with lots of examples and charts and two Excel workbooks to go along with the text. The workbooks aren't necessary but they help.
In many ways, the essence of Probability Management is how to do probabilities by counting stuff – and having a computer do the counting. This monograph focuses on that.

Now available as a paperback and as a Kindle e-book.

Pdf format and Excel workbooks:

20 November 2012

Risk = PxI is wrong

You're estimating a project.

Let’s say you have a risk element and the event has a 25% chance of happening. If it does, it will add $100,000 to the cost of a particular task. You’ll resist the temptation to just add $25,000 to the task cost, because that’s not what happens in the real world. It’s one project, not a million transactions, so the average is invalid. In each possible future, it’s $100,000 or nothing.

It’s possible that downstream events would be triggered by the $100,000 while $25,000 would fly under the radar. Also, looking at the range of possible project costs, the high numbers would be $75,000 low, and the low numbers would be $25,000 high.

So don’t use Probability x Impact. Ever.

08 November 2012

The Art of the SIP

Sam Savage has put another brick in the wall with Distribution Processing and the Arithmetic of Uncertainty, an article in the ORMS Analytics Magazine (2012 Nov-Dec).

The article expands on the concept of SIPs (Stochastic Information Packets) as packaged uncertainty. It shows how to use SIP math and raw Excel to do Monte Carlo Simulation "without the Monte Carlo."

He also introduces SIPmath – an Excel add-in to simplify building models that use SIP math. Once the model is built the add-in is no longer needed and the simulation can run without it.

Probability Management is on a roll. Read the article and then go to sipmath.com to learn more.

10 September 2012

The Underestimation Double-Whammy

The main thing we're trying to fix with Probability Management for projects is that conventional tools and techniques give us wrong estimates, and the errors are all one-sided; they consistently underestimate project cost and duration.

Underestimating resources makes it more likely that a project will be approved, and makes it more likely that it will fail. That's a double-whammy that results in more failed projects.

04 September 2012

Just Fix The Math

You see, there's this mystery: Spend a few minutes with Google and you can get a long list of the things that cause projects to fail; we know what they are and how to deal with them. To that easily accessed tradecraft, add the fact that institutions like PMI are certifying over 50,000 project managers a year. Project failure rates should be plummeting. But, for any given industry, failure rates have remained unchanged for decades. This leaves one thing to fix - the math.

Sam Savage has shown us what the problem is, and pointed us at the solution. The Art of the Plan includes my attempt at fixing the problem in project planning.

31 August 2012

The Only Good Risk Register Is An Empty Risk Register

By Mark Powell

Have you ever seen a risk register with 500 or more risks on it? It seems that these days a lot of projects have huge risk registers. How does this happen?

Most people believe that this is natural for a large and complex project.

A good friend recently described a proposal for the California High Speed Train that would go from San Diego to San Francisco and Sacramento. His pre-project draft risk register covered everything from track, signals, routes, station interchanges, software, train sets, health and safety, Environment, etc., and it was huge. Well, that, of course, is no surprise; it is one big, complex, project!

18 August 2012

The Book is Done

It's taken way longer than I thought it would, but I've finally got The Art of the Plan written and published. The e-book version is available from Smashwords in all the useful formats.

The printed version is still in process. I'm guessing early September for release.

The book covers most of the topics I've been writing about in The Art of the Plan blog – from identifying crystal-clear objectives and requirements through to modeling and simulation using Probability Management techniques to produce realistic project plans. There's an Excel workbook loaded with examples to go with it and, of course, it uses SDXL.

13 July 2012

Benefits Realization

Benefits realization – building on (un) safe foundations or planning for success?

Here's a really good article on closing the gap between project predictions and realization. Jenner covers the well-known sources of error and misrepresentation. Unlike other writers on this topic, he doesn't just wring his hands but responds with well-thought-out prescriptions.

His prescriptions include effective planning (start with benefits and requirements, design the solution later), Science (seek disconfirming evidence), Reference Class Analysis, Probability Management (distributions rather than point forecasts).

In short, this is an article I wish I had written.

28 June 2012

More Evidence for More Graphics

An article in the Harvard Business Review adds more evidence that presenting analytic results as charts instead of numbers improves the interpretation of the data.

Economists Are Overconfident. So Are You reports on a study that makes a good case for just charts and no numbers – charts and numbers produced worse interpretations.

It's a good read

11 June 2012

Sample Distributions for Excel - SDXL Ver.0.4.0

SDXL is a free, open-source Excel Add-in I developed to bring Probability Management techniques and strong array handling to Excel. Most of the functions manipulate and calculate with sample distributions represented as arrays. The arrays passed into functions as arguments can be of several types that the functions detect and handle automatically. The types are:

  • a VBA array
  • an XML string.
  • a CSV (Comma Separated Values) string
  • A cell range

There are functions for converting one format to another and for reading and writing XML files containing sample distributions. There are also simple functions to present sample distributions graphically with histograms, scattercharts and percentile charts (cumulative probability).

The math functions include all the usual arithmentic, boolean and comparison functions. It's also possible to mix array and scalar arguments.

The code to multiply two sample distributions and return the result as a CSV string in a cell is:

= toCSV( sdMul( arrayA, arrayB))

The arguments arrayA and arrayB could be just about anything that can be interpreted as a sample distribution.

There are also a lot of functions that assume the arrays are sample distributions and do statistical stuff. There's a complete set of sampling, sorting and permuting functions dedicated to manipulating the array elements – in particular, their order.

And, of course, there are a bunch of random number generators using both VBA's built-in generator and an efficient Mersenne Twister implementation.

I think everything needed to develop fairly interesting simulations and models is there. There are two things that are conspicuous by their absence: Coherent sets of distributions and distribution time-series. I like to have real use cases to drive a design and since I've been concentrating on project planning and estimating, I haven't seen any of these – yet.

To get SDXL, go to smpro.ca/SDXL .

There's also a Google+ Community at +SDXL Users