Sketch 1

If you build software for a living, you surely have eaten these words at least once. My last major utterance was about two years ago when I said to Jason and Bruce, “How hard can it be to build a project management tool that doesn’t suck?”.

I said it about the time we had just finished sending the top 80 people in Expedia’s technology group through estimation training at Construx. The training was based on work by Steve McConnell and later published in his book, Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art. If you are a software professional, this book is required reading. Go buy it now, then come back here.

Sketch 3What we discovered is that almost any team, from buttoned-down waterfallers to die hard Scrum fans, can improve their game significantly by doing just one thing: they need to stop using single point estimates (eg. 10 days) and start using ranged estimates (eg. 5-15 days).

Ranged estimates rock because they acknowledge and capture the uncertainty that exists in our projects. If you don’t capture uncertainty, it will lurk like a silent killer in your projects; as we like to say around here, you can’t manage what you can’t see.

Sketch 2This idea of estimating in ranges caught on quickly at Expedia, and you can probably guess what happened next. Teams ran to Excel, because “how hard could it be to build a task list that uses ranged estimates?” It unfolded the way building project management tools in a spreadsheet always goes – a happy start that turns into a slow agonizing death as some poor soul gets stuck trying to maintain a beast of a spreadsheet for the whole organization. You get a tool that does not scale, is hard to use, and nobody trusts. It also turns out that you need something a wee bit more powerful than Excel to do probabilistic scheduling in real time.

So, how hard can it be to build a radically new scheduling engine and drop it into a breakthrough interface that treats project management as a social application? Uhmm… pretty hard. It took us 14 months from concept to V1.

Please enjoy LiquidPlanner for free during our public beta and let us know what you think. We love feedback and if you happen to find a problem, we’d be happy to fix it in 5-10 days (give or take).

Charles.

p.s. My deepest and sincere thanks go to the LP team for making V1 happen: Adam, Asha, Barney, Bill, Brett, Bruce, Bryan, Christa, David, Jake, Krishnaveni, Liz, Marisa, Melinda, Murat, Rob, the team at Cypress Consulting, and of course my co-founder Jason.

How hard can it be? was last modified: January 12th, 2008 by Charles Seybold