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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

You always pass failure on your way to success.
—Mickey Rooney, 1920

There are too many people involved in projects today who are decision makers, and have absolutely no clue about the consequences of their decisions. They will continue to make the same decisions until they begin to learn from their mistakes. In order to truly have an aptitude for developing successful J2EE projects, it is important to, at a minimum, recognize and learn from the characteristic traits of failing software development projects.

Recognizing Mission Impossible Projects

BEA WebLogic Server and J2EE projects are by their very nature not low-priced at all. Most of these projects, including the purchase of the technology tools, application server licenses, training, and the allocation of sufficient skilled resources, can cost a quarter of a million dollars just to get started.

With so much money at stake in a project, there are two options: Either deliver the J2EE solution in a usable fashion that will have a positive impact on the bottom line of the business, or terminate it as soon as the light at the end of the tunnel becomes fuzzy. The early detection of a failing project and its subsequent termination is a success of its own. Most money holders within the business community are aligning themselves to take the same perspective, since the implementation of a technical business solution with very poor foundations will typically cost the same as if it was done right from day one. However, at that time the definition of "right" is not known, only just that it does not exist.

The root causes for failed J2EE projects share the same symptoms as most failures in the general IT industry. The following is a comprehensive list and description of the most prominent reasons why J2EE projects fail, in no particular order of severity.

Lack of Executive Sponsorship

The executive sponsor, who could be one person or several senior-level people, is responsible for supporting the value and return on investment (ROI) the J2EE solution brings to the organization; half-baked ideas are easily recognized and sieved out by executive sponsors. Without human intervention from an executive sponsor, there is a guarantee that if problems arise with your project that warrant senior-level management involvement, it may face the guillotine block. Too many projects face this dilemma and hence can see their end prematurely.

The executive sponsor may also carry budgetary and funding responsibility; therefore, it is important for them not to lose sight of any growing costs—the costs should never exceed the business benefits or ROI.

Lack of User Involvement in the Project

A lack of involvement from users can affect a J2EE project in the following four ways:

  1. Business needs may be met, but the user's needs may not be met.

  2. Users may be resistant to providing any feedback on developing the J2EE solution.

  3. Users will not appreciate any change in their normal working practices.

  4. Any usability concerns for the J2EE solution will not be properly addressed, causing the solution to behave and appear in a very unnatural way to the end users.

The ramifications for not including the end users to the degree that they feel they are a valuable part of the project can be huge, both technically and operationally for the J2EE solution.

The Initial Project Objectives Are Wrong

If there is one way you do not want to start a J2EE project, this is it. Understanding what the project is going to deliver in complete clarity is essential. You do not want the project objectives to lend themselves to misinterpretation, as this will cause confusion among the project members as to what they should align their decisions and efforts toward accomplishing.

NOTE

An initial project objective aligns everyone involved to the same mission.

Not knowing exactly what the project is going to deliver will cause political problems in the project camp, since no one will really know whether what they are delivering is right or wrong. Frustration and low morale are the typical end results if this is not caught early, ideally before the project actually begins. After a project begins, completely re-vamping or skewing its initial mission can be a very expensive or even a vain effort.

Changing Project Requirements and Specifications—"Scope Creep"

If your J2EE project does not have a clearly defined, flexible, formal process for managing any form of change to its underlying requirements, changes will wreak havoc on the deadline and the overall budget of the project. Unless you set the expectation for each change request, you can be sure that both the project delivery date and costs will be exceeded.

Typically, sponsors, managers, and marketing groups involved in championing a J2EE project will want to please as many end users as possible. They will immediately say "yes" to end users, without considering whether their decision can have an adverse effect on the successful delivery of the J2EE solution.

TIP

When technology or business needs evolve beyond your project's scope, you should seriously re-think the objective of the project.

For example, the U.S. Air Force has a rule that by the time 15 percent of the project time and/or budget is consumed, success or failure of the project can be predicted. If the project has maintained scope, is on time, and is within budget, there is a high confidence level the project will be a success. Otherwise, the project will be marked as not successful and immediately cancelled for re-evaluation. Only once the kinks have been worked out, will the project be reconsidered for a fresh restart.

Lack of or Excessive Planning

When project managers are assigned to a project where they are not familiar with the technical terrain or complexity of the solution, they may try to apply a cookie-cutter approach to manage the project without requesting advice.

The project may then swing into a mode where there is not enough project planning and articulated decisions, causing

  • Poorly managed project changes

  • Unrealistic deadlines

  • One monolithic project effort, as opposed to smaller, more manageable work streams

  • Best practices and technical standards to be potentially ignored

It can also swing into the mode where every aspect of the project is micro-managed, causing progress to become very staggered and frustrating. Since the project manager may not be qualified to manage the project, the project manager will possibly make an effort to learn on the job.

TIP

The delegation of project management-type duties, such as leaving resource allocations and budgeting to technical staff, could be an early detection of a lazy, overwhelmed, or unqualified project manager.

Lack of IT Management and Technical Direction

Technical accountability has become a major concern in most organizations. Recently there have been signs that IT management will get involved in J2EE projects, but if they do not understand the technology, they will not be able to support the project. Instead, they will opt to step aside and watch.

It is the responsibility of IT management to institute standards and best practices throughout the organization. However, none will be created or sponsored if the IT management adopts a "watch and see" attitude. Hence, large organizations will not learn from their J2EE project failures or successes; no guidance will be provided to J2EE projects. The technical decisions and success of a J2EE project in this scenario depends heavily on the skills of the technical regiment in the project.

Object-Oriented Analysis, Design, and Development Illiteracy

Too many J2EE projects are initiated without a skills analysis of the technical team. All J2EE projects require people who are at least well versed with the Object Modeling and Object-Oriented programming techniques, but sometimes that requirement is not met. This can lead to severe impacts at each level of the project team; for example

  • Project leaders may have no experience with developing object-oriented solutions, and therefore have no comprehension of the processes that need to occur to even deliver a J2EE solution. They typically learn on the job after struggling in a round-robin style. In the meantime, their project schedules will be skewed to reflect a traditional approach to delivering a software project—the Waterfall Method.

  • Business analysts capture the project requirements using the traditional methods of data and process modeling, hoping that everything will come together to form an object at some point in the project.

  • Technical architects try to develop high-level views of the desired J2EE solution, leaving many technical voids to be filled in later as they learn the technology.

  • Development programmers try to program in Java, working 24/7 to learn the language, and even after the training, they still might deliver a procedural system.

Ideally, it is important to have people who are Java and J2EE literate on the project. However, if the project members do not have the direct skill, they can gain it very easily through training if they possess a firm understanding of object-oriented concepts. You can also augment your project team with experienced consultants to gain a kick-start to the technical efforts.

As projects become more complex and warrant quick time-to-market solutions, a new breed of developer will need to emerge who will posses the following skills:

  • Intense business knowledge

  • Team communication instincts

  • Internet savvy

  • Distributed team management

  • Project management savvy

  • Application Infrastructure product knowledge and skills

  • Quality orientation

  • The ability to manage massive change

The Warning Signs of a Failing J2EE Project

While you are immersed in a project, it can be sometimes quite difficult to see or feel that your project is headed for failure. You will probably know the reason for your project's failure or termination when it is too late, at which time it will seem obvious.

However, there are some signs you can look for that will provide a gauge as to how well the project is performing. If you do notice them, you can quickly address them and prevent any potential problems from settling in too long to make themselves at home.

Missed Milestones

Regardless of the duration of a J2EE project, there has to be a metric to measure the progress of the project. This comes in the form of a set of agreed-upon milestones. If the milestones are not met in a consistent manner, this does not build a high confidence level that the project delivery date or budget will be met.

Miscommunication

Communication builds synergy and aligns the team members to converse on the same frequency. In addition, it synchronizes everyone's knowledge on the state and flow of the project.

However, there may be times when a team member, for whatever reason, becomes discordant with the project. This is the true test of how well the communication mechanism has been implemented within a project. If the project member cannot find a natural or straightforward way to realign the project, a gap is created between the project team's forward momentum and the static state of that team member. Such a gap can be easily detected when

  • Multiple team members are conversing about the same thing and not recognizing they are.

  • A common objective is perceived differently among the team members.

  • A team member does not understand what the state of the project is.

  • A team member does not understand the reasons for certain decisions.

  • A team member loses focus on the actual needs of the customer.

Too Many Decision Makers

If a decision must be made which requires a meeting and a consensus among several people, you have a bottleneck in the decision-making process within your project. This approach is typically taken when people want to feel involved or in control within a project. They may not necessarily have the skills to articulate an educated decision, but just being part of the decision process is a comfortable feeling and provides recognition of their involvement.

Problems like this exist in projects where

  • There is a lack of team spirit, and one or more people want to ensure they are individually credited for their efforts.

  • There is a lack of trust within the actual decision makers.

TIP

Within the context of a software project, decisions should be made by people who are actively, and not passively, involved in the outcome of the decision.

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