The First Mile

Software Project Set-up
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A critical component to the success of a software development project is the ability of the business to communicate its expectations in enough detail to reduce the risk of misunderstanding the requirement. This article identifies the best practice approach to define the project and explains the benefits of this structured approach to enable you to sell this approach to the sponsor.

I'm training to run the New York Marathon in November (having rested my muscles for the last 25 years). I run over 35 miles a week and have been training for 4 months–and do you know what? The first mile is always the most difficult!

In my experience the same is true starting a new software project.

I work as a consultant for investment banks in the City of London. My job is to work with clients to define strategic projects in enough detail to enable excellent communications between the business and their supplier (frequently located in another time zone) which removes assumptions and reduces the risk of failure.

We apply a proven approach based on industry best practice methodology–irrespective of project size. The level of detail required is determined by the size of project. The approach reduces the risk of failure but this investment pays dividends on projects over $100,000 or 6 months duration.

The project I am going to describe had 3rd party development quotes ranging from $800,000 to $3 million. As a result of the process we were confidently able to predict that the organisation which quoted $900,000 would be able to deliver because we were able to verify their pricing model at a granular level (by function) and they ticked the other boxes (such as CMMI quality and onshore maintenance presence). This saved the client up to $2 million.

For organisations which don’t have experience of outsourcing software development projects the additional process and cost can seem prohibitive. They need to be convinced of the benefits of the tasks performed in the ‘first mile’ add value. This article attempts to provide the justification.

Global valuations project
I recently worked for an investment bank that wanted to redevelop their B2B web site to improve its usability and extend the coverage from European to global stock valuations–a strategic differentiator from the competition. Most of their systems were commercial off the shelf (COTS) packages. Requests were for small enhancements which were handled locally (by a very competent onsite development team) and didn’t warrant detailed definition.

  • They wanted to complete the project in time for end of financial year reporting and felt spending time scoping and defining the requirements in detail would only delay the implementation.
  • The company didn’t have experience in scoping large bespoke developments and didn’t know where to start.

These are common mistakes. Projects rarely progress as quickly as the business would like. Internal IT professionals always have a backlog and operational responsibilities. Outsource suppliers need more information before committing to a fixed price contract (which we recommend, to remove the financial risk to the client).

The business was getting frustrated by the internal I.T. department’s lack of progress.

In fact the starting point has nothing to do with technology. The primary objective should be to generate a set of clearly defined requirements for a 3rd party to quote and deliver against (and the business to test and sign off against). Taking time to define the job will save time later on and you need the right skills and process to do this.

Having the right sponsor is critical to the projects success. In this case the Front Office Director was the sponsor. Extremely successful, smart and well respected, his appointment was important because whilst he didn’t have experience of software development, he was able to make logical decisions based on the information presented to him.

In this instance, he took advice from the IT Manager that they didn’t have the skills to deliver the project without assistance and appointed my company (I told you he


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