This Month’s Pattern *

59 Shipping On-Time, Every Time

The team always ships its releases on-time.

Now and then, you will hear a software manager boast,“My team always ships on-time.” That’s a pretty impressive statement. Assuming that the team has shipped multiple times and that the software it builds is nontrivial, shipping on the baselined, planned date, 100 percent of the time, is quite an accomplishment. 

However, teams that always ship on-time sooner or later have to lower the quality bar in order to hit the ship date. We’re not saying that they do so on every release. But a team that never compromises its ship quality criteria will eventually miss a ship date. 

Navigating a development cycle requires constant rebalancing of priorities and reallocation of resources. In general, organizations have five main “levers” with which to steer the project: 

  1. People: Who is assigned to the project? 
  2. Technology: What processes, methods, and tools are available to your team?
  3. Scope: What features are you building? What platforms are you supporting them on?
  4. Calendar time: When do you intend to ship? 
  5. Ship quality criteria: What degrees of completeness, correctness, and robustness must the product exhibit before you ship it? 

If you have formulated a rational plan, you have balanced these factors at the outset of the project. As you proceed, however, some things change, and you discover that other things were not what you thought they were. So, you adjust some combination of the five levers to keep your project on track to a successful outcome. 

As we saw in Pattern 28, “Time Removes Cards from Your Hand,” the closer you get to the ship date, the less useful some of your levers become. For example,

  • “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”[1] Adding people consumes both the project’s calendar time and the effort of people already on the project. Adding people late in the game is rarely going to help you hit a ship date. If anything, it may contribute to slippage. 
  • Changing methods or tools entails retraining, and it is unlikely to accelerate the first project on which the new processes or tools are used. The learning curve consumes time.
  • De-scoping only really helps if the features being de-scoped have not yet been developed. There typically comes a time in the release cycle when the product is essentially feature-complete: Most of the feature code has been written and is now being stabilized. You may save some time by cutting a complete feature, thus saving QA time, but de-scoping loses its value toward the end of the cycle. 

When you encounter problems late in the release cycle, you often find yourself with only two operable levers: calendar time and ship quality criteria. If you have managed well, the problems you find late in the project are not going to be mammoth ones, but they may still require course correction. 

If you really are committed to shipping exactly on-time, every single time, you are left with only one correction available: relaxing your ship quality criteria.


  1. Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975), p. 25.


* Each month we plan to publish here one of the patterns from our Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies — Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior. (Watch this space for a mere 86 months and you'll have read the whole thing.) The book is published by Dorset House Publishing, in the US and Hanser Verlag in Germany. It is available at Amazon and also as a Kindle book.

events

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
15-Sep-2015 to 17-Sep-2015

Mastering the Requirements Process with Suzanne Robertson. Contact Den Norske Dataforeignen for details. 

Brussels, Mastering the Requirements Process
15-Sep-2015 to 17-Sep-2015

James Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact I.T.Works for details.  

London, BA Conference Europe
21-Sep-2015 to 23-Sep-2015

Business Analysis Conference Europe. Details and registration a Details and registration at Business Analysis Conference Europe 2015.

Stockholm, Mastering the Requirements Process
29-Sep-2015 to 1-Oct-2015

Hilversum, Mastering Business Analysis
5-Oct-2015 to 6-Oct-2015

James Robertson teaches the popular Mastering Business Analysis. Details from Adept Events in English or Dutch.

Brussels, MRP part 2
7-Oct-2015 to 8-Oct-2015

Brussels, Mastering Business Analysis
07-Oct-2015 to 08-Oct-2015

James Robertson teaches Mastering Business Analysis. Contact IT Works for details of this course.  

Rome, Mastering the Requirements Process
19-Oct-2015 to 21-Oct-2015

Rome, Mastering Business Analysis
22-Oct-2015 to 23-Oct-2015

James Robertson teaches Mastering Business Analysis. Contact Technology Transfer for details of this course.  

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process part 2
2-Nov-2015 to 3-Nov-2015

Suzanne Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process part 2. Details for this advanced class at Den Norske Dataforeningen.

Hilversum, Mastering the Requirements Process
3-Nov-2015 to 5-Nov-2015

James Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details please contact Adept Events. Dutch description, or in English.

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
4-Nov-2015 to 6-Nov-2015

Mastering the Requirements Process with Suzanne Robertson. Contact Den Norske Dataforeignen for details. 

London, Mastering the Requirements Process
11-Nov-2015 to 13-Nov-2015

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details and registration, please contact IRM UK.

Wellington, Mastering the Requirements Process
17-Nov-2015 to 19-Nov-2015

The ever popular Mastering the Requirements Process. For details please contact Software Education.  

Melbourne, Mastering the Requirements Process
23-Nov-2015 to 25-Nov-2015

Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact Software Education  for details and registration. 

Sydney, Mastering the Requirements Process
23-Nov-2015 to 25-Nov-2015

James Robertson teaches the popular Mastering the Requirements Process sponsored by Software Education.

in depth

Take a look at Tom DeMarco's Risk Management for Dummies article, published in CrossTalk.



Als auf der Welt das Licht Ausging, the German edition of Tom DeMarco's science fiction epic, Andronescu's Paradox, has now been published by Hanser Verlag in Munich.  Translation by Andreas Brandhorst.



James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Writing the Right Agile Stories on YouTube. Download the webinar slides.


Suzanne and James Robertson’s article The Requirements Food Chain explores how the originators and consumers of requirements interact with each other as the requirement matures.


Read Tom DeMarco's article from the July/August edition of IEEE Software: Sigil, BlueGriffon, and the Evolving Software Market.



Suzanne Robertson is one of the Agile Experts who discuss the subject of Scrum versus Kanban. The report is published by the Cutter Consortium and they have kindly made it available to readers of our web site. The lead author, Johanna Rothman, sets forth her argument that one is not necessarily better than the other; they are just different and it's up to the organization to figure out which method is best under which circumstance. In response, seven of Cutter's Agile experts discuss their views on Crossing the Agile Divide.


Complete Systems Analysis - the Workbook, the Textbook, the Answers by Suzanne Robertson and James Robertson is now in e-book format. It is available as a Kindle book, from InformIT, or you can download a sample chapter.


Tim Lister was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk.
Lister, Keynote at Agile 2013Tim Lister was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk
was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk - See more at: http://podcasts.bigvisible.com/?p=255#sthash.G1hS2edS.dp
was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk - See more at: http://podcasts.bigvisible.com/?p=255#sthash.G1hS2edS.dpuf
Tim Lister, Keynote at Agile 2013


Announcing the publication of the third edition of Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister's iconic text, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.  The book is available now from Amazon or directly from Addison Wesley. See press release on Business Wire.



Tom DeMarco's speculative novel, Andronescu's Paradox is now available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  

"This war isn't going to blow anything up, only turn everything off."



Mastering the Requirements Process, third edition Getting Requirements Right is now available as a Kindle Book, Nook Book, or in traditional paper.



The Guild's Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies is now available in a Kindle edition.


Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister's perennially popular book Peopleware is now available in a Kindle Edition.


Tom DeMarco provides a video commentary about the Adrenaline Junkies book project. Learn how this Jolt Award-winning book came about.