The truth kills me: Half of the features will never be used

The budgeting syndrome is usually connected with the line manager day-to-day life, but PMs seem to have their own unique mutation of it. How the PM budgets the project usually(of course, we all have t&m projects with no fixed cost, but the budget is always there)? You have a great team  that estimated everything, but the person who presents the budget is a PM. Here is the point where many of us come to the dark side…

…especially, when sales people are breathing you in the back. What the PM starts thinking of? Not to plan too much and not to underestimate. He puts in as much buffer as he can reasonably hope to explain, he makes sure that all the budget is spent in the end (One time I had an issue with spending 50% of the budget – I was asked, why our estimation was not accurate? I had the unpleasant minutes explaining why we were so fast. I definitely don’t want to have this talk again. So I make sure, that we are close to the budget 🙂

What are you thinking and doing when doing a budget? You are not thinking about minimum or actual needs. Your client is not thinking about the actual needs too. You are thinking about the budget only 🙂 How to manage it? How to do all that scope?

How the scope is formed on the other side

PM’s usually think of the client’s side as the “wonderland” with unicorns living in the corridors and all that stuff. It is very hard for us to understand how they work on the other side and how these crazy thoughts come to their heads.

In the beginning of the process we usually ask future users/customer – give us the requirements, please. The client is usually very disciplined – he generates tons or requirements. They start asking for all they can think of. They are used to the fact that they are asked to state their needs only once – in the beginning, when we are creating this “requirements specification”.

2013-07-17 15.03.16So, users ask for the maximum they can think of. Not what they really need. And they do that, because they really know these IT guys – they never deliver all what they are asked for. This is the additional reason to ask for more.

The same effect can be noticed when we start discussing “version 1” with the users – hey ask the majority of features in phase 1. Everyone knows, that when a cut is to be made the scope is usually the first thing that is cut.

As the result, when the requirements are created no one is thinking about the actual needs and the minimal list of the most critical features, priorities. They are trying to ask as much as they can as early as they can get it n hope they will get something “ok”.

80-20 rule

Sooo, we got the big list of the feature from the customer.

You have likely experienced this in your life: 80% of the effect, comes from 20% of the cause. The same is for the software. Just try remember, how many features of the ms word you are using). A study by the Standish Group showed that more than a half of application features and functions are never used (Honestly, I haven’t found a link to the study, but I saw a lot of mentions in different articles online. Hope this study really exist.)

2013-07-17 15.03.21

With all this huge input list and the budget pressure that exists for PM it is really hard to focus on the valuable 20% of the features. PM in mobile development usually becomes that guy, who makes everything happen, but tries to drive away the disturbing thoughts like “why we are doing that?”.

Aaaand guess what? Taa-daa! I am going to talk about agile again.

All I wrote above was for those people who are not going to through away their long-term detailed plans and build the software the same way they did before. Focus on what is really needed and you will be able even save you money! Yes, we all like protecting our ass and add buffers, create detailed plans, but we buy all that stability – additional budgets are wasted. Just imaging, if everyone in the long chain from the user, who is providing requirements to the developer is protecting their ass in the frames of the strict planning and budget. Teams start thinking of how to manage to do the feature in time and budget instead of thinking if it is really needed.

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The processes proposed by the agile development frameworks are focused on minimizing this waste – only the most important for the users features will be done. When the budget is over – we will be sure, that we did the best – users will receive the working application with the most critical functions.

Finally

That is really time to think about the users, dear PMs. Stop protecting your ass!

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