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Managing Software Projects: The Infosys Model

Software project management is perhaps the most important factor in the outcome of a project. Without proper project management, a project will almost certainly fail. In this introduction from his book, Software Project Management in Practice, Pankaj Jalote explains the basis for effective project management, based on the model at Infosys.
This chapter is from the book

Worldwide, some half a million project managers execute about a million software projects each year, producing software worth $600 billion. Many of these projects fail to fulfill customers' quality expectations or fail to deliver the software within budget and on schedule. One analysis suggests that about one-third of projects have cost and schedule overruns of more than 125%.1

Why do so many software projects fail? Although there are many reasons, one of the most important is improper management of the project. For example, the major reasons for runaways (projects that are out of control) are unclear objectives, bad planning, new technology, a lack of a project management methodology, and insufficient staff.2 At least three of these five reasons clearly relate to project management. The other two—insufficient staff and new technology—can be considered as risks whose management is also a part of project management.

Clearly, by using effective project management techniques a project manager can improve the chances of success. But what are these effective techniques?

Let's consider an analogy. Suppose you want to develop a muscular, toned body. To reach your goal, you start looking at exercise routines described in magazines. One article describes how to develop arm strength, giving a set of 10 exercises to be done—not too many by any standard. But then another article, this one on developing thigh strength, also gives 10 exercises, and the evangelist for flat stomachs also feels that doing 10 exercises is not too much. If you want to develop your body overall by following each of these isolated exercise programs, you would find that you have a set of 50 to 100 exercises to do—a clear impossibility for most people, let alone a busy project manager. To achieve your objective, you need a comprehensive training program that is practical and effective.

Similarly, you'll find an abundance of suggestions for performing the various aspects of project management, including effort estimation, risk management, project monitoring, configuration management, and so on. Although each proposed technique solves the problem it is designed to solve, it is not clear how to combine these techniques into a practical and workable process. For effective project management, the need of the hour is a practical, manageable "exercise routine" that will deliver the result. In other words, what is needed is a balanced process that covers the management of the entire project from inception to completion. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of published approaches illustrating how to integrate techniques in this way.

This book fills this gap by describing the set of processes used in a world-class organization to effectively and efficiently manage software projects. The company is Infosys, a software development company that has an enviable track record of project execution; in 2000 alone, Infosys project managers used the processes described here to successfully execute about 500 projects for customers. This book discusses all aspects of Infosys project management—planning, execution, and closure. You'll learn how Infosys project managers estimate, plan for managing risks, collect metrics data, set quality goals, use measurements for monitoring a project, and so on. An interesting aspect of these processes, one that will appeal to busy project managers, is that they are neither complex nor cumbersome, and they use simple metrics.

Infosys has been assessed at level 5 (the highest level) of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM). By extracting project management processes from the set of processes at Infosys, this book also illustrates how projects are managed in a high-maturity organization. Through this illustration, I hope to bring the benefits of the CMM to project managers who have not studied it because of lack of time, because they regard it as being for "process folks" or because they have found it difficult to relate the CMM to project management practices.

This chapter introduces the two topics that form the background for the book: the CMM and Infosys. Because the focus of the book is project management and not the CMM, I restrict the discussion to the project management aspects of the CMM. This chapter also provides an overview of the project management process and the main case study; details of these are discussed in the remainder of the book. First, then, let's briefly discuss the role of processes in project management.

1.1 Processes and Project Management

A software project has two main activity dimensions: engineering and project management. The engineering dimension deals with building the system and focuses on issues such as how to design, test, code, and so on. The project management dimension deals with properly planning and controlling the engineering activities to meet project goals for cost, schedule, and quality.

If a project is small (say, a team of one or two working for a few weeks), it can be executed somewhat informally. The project plan may be an e-mail specifying the delivery date and perhaps a few intermediate milestones. Requirements might be communicated in a note or even verbally, and intermediate work products, such as design documents, might be scribbles on personal note pads.

These informal techniques, however, do not scale up for larger projects in which many people may work for many months—the situation for most commercial software projects. In such projects, each engineering task must be done carefully by following well-tried methodologies, and the work products must be properly documented so that others can review them. The tasks in the project must be carefully planned and allocated to project personnel and then tracked as the project executes. In other words, to successfully execute larger projects, formality and rigor along these two dimensions must increase.

Formality requires that well-defined processes be used for performing the various tasks so that the outcome becomes more dependent on the capability of the processes. Formality is further enhanced if quantitative approaches are employed in the processes through the use of suitable metrics.

What is a process? Technically, a process for a task comprises a sequence of steps that should be followed to execute the task. For an organization, however, the processes it recommends for use by its engineers and project managers are much more than a sequence of steps; they encapsulate what the engineers and project managers have learned about successfully executing projects. Through the processes, the benefits of experience are conferred to everyone, including newcomers in the organization. These processes help managers and engineers emulate past successes and avoid the pitfalls that lead to failures.

For a project, the engineering processes generally specify how to perform engineering activities such as requirement specification, design, testing, and so on. The project management processes, on the other hand, specify how to set milestones, organize personnel, manage risks, monitor progress, and so on. This book focuses on the project management process.

When you consider project management processes, you must ask the question whether project managers will use them. I have often heard process designers complain that project managers don't follow the process and that they resist changes. My experience with project managers at Infosys and other organizations is that they actually want to use processes but only if they're reasonable and will help the project managers execute their projects better. Project managers do, however, resent processes that seem to be unnecessarily bureaucratic and add little value to their work. The trick, then, is to have lightweight processes—those that help project managers plan and control their projects better and that give them the flexibility to handle various situations.

In response to the question "Why should project managers follow processes?" S.D. Shibulal—founder, director, and the current head of customer delivery at Infosys—sums it up nicely in a few key points:

  • Processes represent collective knowledge. Using them increases your chances of success.

  • A process may have some extra steps, but you will not always know beforehand which ones are not needed, and hence you will increase your risks by taking shortcuts.

  • Without processes, you cannot predict much about the outcome of your project.

  • You and the organization cannot learn effectively without having defined processes. And learning and improvement are imperative in today's knowledge-based world.

  • Processes lower your anxiety level. The checklists inevitably cover 80 percent of what needs to be done. Hence, your task reduces to working out the remaining 20 percent.

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