Software consultants, vendors and project managers are already seeing software project failures and slowdowns resulting from the new recession.
That finding and the advice for software developers and project managers offered in this post comes from interviews I’ve recently conducted with 13 software industry experts and the blogosphere.
“Companies are panicking due to the economy. They’re compressing projects and schedules. As a result, key projects are failing,” Lawrence Oliva — senior consultant/program manager with CH2M HILL, an Englewood, Colo.-based engineering and program management firm –- told me in a recent conversation. “In part, this is the result of trying to get things done faster with less resources.”
Consultants are seeing reductions in software testing being used to cut costs. That tactic is a recipe for project failure, said consultant Karen Johnson in my recent post about why software project fail.)
My sources also spoke of seeing several large, current software projects in crisis mode because senior developers were laid off and the remaining, less-experienced developers didn’t have the know-how needed. Unfortunately, many development groups have been running lean for a long time and running leaner pretty much means stopping development.
“Lean computing is nothing new,” Oliva said. “Companies have been operating at skeletal levels since the economic downturn of 2000, when that downturn caused intense development staffing cuts. It really is sad to think about having to be even leaner.”
That’s the situation, but it isn’t hopeless. Gleaned from my interviews, here are some tips for maintaining software quality and project success during this recession:
Analysts and others advise development teams that lean computing and the agile model can help them do more with less.
Some companies have already made this move and feel ready for tough times. For example, Des Moines, Iowa-based Principal Financial Group –- which provides software products for the financial industry — uses the agile model and has standardized project management, testing and quality assurance processes and tools used by all its development groups.
“Standardizing has reduced redundancies in tools, processes, documentation and more, running as lean as possible,” Principal’s senior IT system analyst Mark Ford told me. Principal uses HP Quality Center to manage development.
Project managers whose companies have not already made cuts to development staffing or budgets need to advise decision-making executives about the business benefits of their projects, industry insiders advised. Also, when cutbacks have taken place or are proposed, PMs need to explain the business impact and guide where the cuts will be made. IBM’s director of Rational offerings, David Locke, offers this advice:
“Always talk in the context of how the project will help the business. If I take this 10% off, I will have the least impact on the business. Give real information, not data. Remind managers that the company creates software to make our businesses more streamlined, more competitive and to deliver better ROI. Your company may need immediate cost savings, but eliminating software that could give the business the most cost-effective competitive edge is probably not the way to go. Talk about business impact, always.”
This is certainly an appropriate time for PMs to push for investments in software testing automation tools, like automated code checkers, experts told me. However, Oliva added:
“Don’t trust in those automated systems absolutely. You could get the wrong results from the use of automated systems.At some point human beings have to be involved. Delivering quality software is not a machine-to-machine process. Not having quality monitored and managed by humans is dangerous.”
Another suggested labor- and cost-saving move is adopting streamlined models of programming, like Extreme Programming or Structured Programming.
The most important strategy for weathering the recession is becoming more realistic about software needs and reducing complexity of software. “If companies do this, it could be the one good thing that comes from the recession,” Oliva said.
Continue the conversation: Please tell me what adjustments you and your development team are making to deal with the tight economy. You can respond by commenting below or writing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some resources for more advice and information:
- Find out what this software developer did when his project’s staffing went south in Survivor’s lessons in test management.
- There are many links to articles on the recession’s impact on software projects in this blog post which offers advice on succeeding during a recession or anytime.
- Ryan Martens writes about how to make good staff reduction decisions.
- In this article on project management, Lawrence Oliva discusses
the economy’s impact on software projects and strategies for PMs.