Software development projects have a long history of running over schedule and budget. Recent research by Evans Data estimates that 49% of such projects run over schedule; an IBM survey of CIOs puts the percentage at 62%.
Companies have tried various mitigation strategies over the years--adding more developers to each project, inflating the timeline, and including a substantial buffer to handle cost overruns. While softening the target delivery date and estimated cost are prudent for any project, doing that only masks the underlying problem.
Given the recurrence of these negative research findings for the past couple of decades, something more fundamental needs to be done. Without an understanding of the root causes of runaway software development projects, and a well-defined strategy to deal with those causes, companies will make little real progress.
Research by IBM suggests that two of the root causes are poor communications among developers, especially when they're geographically distributed, and an unclear understanding of the business domain they're contributing toward. Through its Rational suite of products and the Jazz.net community, IBM is trying to help developers resolve those issues.
Rational Team Concert provides a toolkit for collaborative software development. It creates a shared space for documenting possible features to address particular business scenarios, and for clarifying which developers are working on which capabilities.
All developers work off the plan in Rational Team Concert instead of a mish-mash of Excel spreadsheets and Word documents that reinforce conflicting positions. The complementary Jazz.net community offers training resources to convey both the mindset of a Rational developer and how to use the tools effectively. It provides a discussion area where newcomers can ask questions of seasoned practitioners as well as the Rational product team.
In a recent test of distributed, collaborative software development, students from three universities developed an educational application for use by young school children in Africa on mobile phones. Coordinating their work using Rational Team Concert and Jazz.net, they delivered the application in nine weeks.
What's the software development record at your organization? Do your developers have a reputation for collaborating and overcoming the challenges of distance, or are they mired in an outdated paradigm that hasn't kept pace with the times?
Michael Sampson is a collaboration strategist and author. You can reach him at email@example.com or +64 3 317 9484 (New Zealand).
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