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Systems Alliance Blog

Opinion, advice and commentary on IT and business issues from SAI
Keyword: design

I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for befores-and-afters. From weight loss stories to renovated kitchens on HGTV, watching something ordinary be made over into something compelling is just one of life's little thrills. I'm convinced our clients are the same way. They nod politely when you present the specifics of a plan to reinvent their web presence, but when you show them a wireframe, or a rewritten web page or a new design, that's when you hear gasps and see lots of excitement. For that reason - because we often need to see it to get it -- we'll be publishing a series of blogs in upcoming weeks about giving your web content a makeover. Stay tuned while we explore content from various perspectives....Read More

Q: What are the benefits of a one-page scrolling layout?Jessica Hensley

A: The greatest advantage of a one-page layout is that we can guide a user through an experience rather than requiring them to make decisions about where to go next through clicks and hoping they will land where we want them to. A one-page layout allows us to determine what kind of story we want to tell and provide this to a user in the order that we want them to see it. Many users come to a site not knowing exactly where they want to go or what they want to see. ...Read More

I was surprised to see a reference to Fred Brooks’ 1975 classic, The Mythical Man Month(1), in a recent blog post(2); it was suggested as required reading for those involved with fixing the problems with healthcare.gov. The blog focused on the idea that throwing additional staff at a floundering project is likely to make things worse.

For those unfamiliar with Brooks’ classic work, it presents lessons learned from his time as manager of the OS/360 development effort. I’m probably telling more about myself than I should, but I have a dog-eared copy in my personal library and think it should be a must read for all IT project and program managers. The book covers a host of risk management topics, most of which are as relevant today as they were almost 40 years ago.

Estimation: Consistent application of an estimating discipline that considers performance on prior projects is key if the risk of delivering projects over budget and behind schedule is to be avoided. Brooks highlighted the importance of considering the amount of time likely to be spent on administrative and other non-technical tasks rather than focusing exclusively on technical activities. He also argued that testing involves a greater percentage of project effort than managers and developers typically estimate at the outset. While estimating discipline doesn’t change the level of effort or time required to deliver results, it does provide a more reasoned view of what you can expect.

Progress tracking: Actively tracking and reporting project progress not only provides a primary source of data for future project estimates but also reduces the risk of major project delays and overruns. Defining interim milestones and monitoring progress against them is critical to success.  To paraphrase Brooks, “major project delays don’t happen at once, they happen one day at a time”.

Communication: While software development methodologies have evolved significantly since Brooks’ days, the need for stakeholders to have a common understanding of project objectives, core requirements, deliverables to be produced and key roles and responsibilities has not. Minimizing project delivery risks requires communication and documentation. Yes, documentation, the bane of most IT staffers, has an important role to play in successful project delivery.

Staff skills and experience: One of the healthcare.gov development challenges that has been widely discussed in the press is the lack of a cohesive design; one that could accommodate the high number of users expected and enable delivery of a positive user experience. Some have suggested that the government would have done better by seeking assistance from top tier technology firms rather than relying on their traditional service providers. In The Mythical Man Month, Brooks cites the importance of conceptual integrity (i.e. design integrity) and the use of expert resources to lead both the overall design effort and the development of critical components.

Change management: On large projects where requirements changes are inevitable and design changes are a distinct possibility, a formal change management process is a critical requirement. On time, on budget delivery of a quality solution is jeopardized when the potential for change is not acknowledged and the process for handling changes is not clearly defined. Effectively planning for and managing change are themes that run throughout Brooks’ classic work.

While advancements in technology have enabled the delivery of many products and services that were unthinkable 30+ years ago, advances in project and program management discipline have lagged far behind. It seems that some of the lessons documented in The Mythical Man Month have yet to be learned.

Do you have any lessons learned from IT projects that aren’t listed here? Tell us about it in the comment section below. And as always, if you’re having difficulty with an IT project, we’re here to help. Get in touch.

References

(1)Brooks, Jr, F. P. (1975). The Mythical Man Month, Essays on Software Engineering. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley.

(2)Yglesias, M. (2013). Obamacare's "Man Month" Problem. 

case study imageThis post is for all you web developers and designers out there wondering "How can I benefit from using structured content?" Well my friends, it brings all of our dreams that much closer to reality by allowing more creative freedom in visual and architectural design.  Structured content ensures that the design and architecture are followed every time. That's right, there's no chance that a bullet could accidentally be backspaced or a <div> accidentally deleted, throwing the entire presentation off....Read More

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