Setting priorities in software projects

Setting priorities in software projects 12.04.2018 - Jürgen Lampe works as a consultant in the IT department of Agon Solutions GmbH in Frankfurt and has more than 15 years of experience in implementing software solutions in banks. His article "Correctly prioritizing in software projects" on the website deals with priorities in software projects and describes the dilemma of selecting the most urgent project and making objective decisions in everyday project work.

Make decisions
Jürgen Lampe describes the situation known to all project managers to prioritize under time pressure. Often not all the data and facts are available that would actually be necessary to make a well-founded decision - but time is running out and an important decision must be made immediately. Sometimes waiting for decisions accounts for a large part of the entire project duration. The term Decision Fatigue, which has not yet been translated into German and which, according to Lampe, has received little attention in the German-speaking world, describes the phenomenon that those responsible can only make a certain number of well-founded decisions per day before this decisiveness "tires". This gives rise to the principle that it is best to make decisions in the morning. Decisions should also be delegated at the same time to the authority which has all the information relevant for taking the decision. Decisions are not made easier if they are passed on to the next higher body for lack of information.

Don't lose sight of your goals
Lampe points out that many decision-making procedures lack clear objectives. In contrast to mass production, software management does not only have to consider the costs of production. When making decisions, the cost of a delayed or non-decided decision must always be taken into account. This cost is called delay costs. When it comes to launching innovations on the market, almost every minute counts, because in our fast-moving times the competition never sleeps. The time a product is launched often determines its success or failure - and every decision-maker must always bear in mind the costs that arise or the money that is lost if a decision is not made as quickly as possible. In order to determine these delay costs, it is of course necessary to estimate and speculate a little because, as always with forecasts, no real figures can be recorded. The focus must therefore not be on the figures themselves, but rather on the probability and the potential correctness of the assumptions. A cost-benefit analysis is an appropriate means of recording delay costs. It is essential to note that the first one on the market, especially in the software industry, always enjoys an enormous market advantage and can achieve higher margins.

Dealing with estimates
Even someone who has a lot of experience with estimates can make a thorough guess. That is simply in the nature of things. Estimates of all kinds, including delay costs, must therefore be continuously analysed and revised. Lampe is of the opinion that estimates should not be omitted due to missing data and that as many points of view as possible should be included in the estimate. Finally, Lampe addresses the question of whether the estimation of delay costs within IT projects can also be applied to lower levels. In this way, small tasks could also be quantified and employees motivated. Often, however, it is very difficult to transfer and break down the data. Too many interdependencies and dependencies often make clear separation between subtasks impossible in IT. The project duration is also best taken into account so that larger projects are not generally given preferential treatment over smaller projects. Short projects that can quickly achieve small successes can be just as important as large projects that only show success after a long time. Lampe also mentions the CD3 method for estimating delay costs. It is not only useful for managers in the software industry to deal with this topic, because delayed decisions and the associated consequences and risks occur in every area of the economy and management.

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