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13 June 2007

Comparing Software Development to Auto-mechanics part 1

My car is with a Mechanic this month. It’s on old car from the 60’s and I like it a lot, but it’s worn out and needs a comprehensive overhaul. My mechanic has quoted me a worst case $4047. Ouch. At least I get to keep driving it.

Let me tell you about how he is running the fix Craig’s car project. I thought it might make for an intersting comparison with software type projects.

I will describe what he is doing under the SLDC stage headings. I am mainly interested in the estimating and cost management aspects of this work and how it is different to how many software projects are managed. I wonder if there are things that can be learned.

Scope and Initial estimates, the business case

What I do
Choose the right service provider. I use the Yellow Pages, Google and referrals. I check with the MG Car club and eventually I find a guy who has a background dealing with old MGs.

What he does
Takes a short look at the car – maybe 20 minutes. He then calls me back with a high level estimate; “It’ll be a big job” and discussed some of the obvious issues. He then tells me that he’ll need to spend two hours on assessing the car and coming up with a full quote. He also takes the time to talk about how he is an expert in this sort of car and he knows what he is doing.

How he charges
He isn’t charging me for the initial feasibility and estimating work, but is time-boxing his efforts and reporting on the degree of uncertainty.

Similarities and differences to Software Development Processes
At this stage they appear very high. It’s all about discovering what you don’t know, picking a strategy and being able to put a scale on the work to be done.