21 January 2008

Prince Lite > Let the Dog Wag its Own Tail

A guest post from Dr Peter Merrick of Princelite.co.uk;

It is not news that a lot of money is wasted in IT projects. What is surprising is how senior managers take a complacent attitude to IT project failure; that is until the project is 9 months late and consuming money hand over fist, with little evidence that it is ever going to be finished.

In my experience the problem is not with technology. Let me dispel a myth; the user requirements will not become clear as the project goes along. If you are a business stakeholder who needs IT to stay competitive, it is no use delegating the details to your supplier. You have a part to play, and if you do not play that part then the project will fail. Depending on the amount of money involved, this will cost someone their job.

Let me be controversial. It is in the interests of the supplier NOT to work from a clear simple unambiguous statement of requirements, because where there is no specification, there is no definition of success or failure so how are you going to judge it? By the time you run out of patience, the bill will have soared.

Sure, databases and OO modelling is a specialist subject, but anybody can understand use case models, activity models and screen mockups and that is all business people need to understand to play their part because UML (the Unified Modelling Language) takes care of the rest. Technies know how to transform these ‘business oriented artifacts’ into code. The other great thing about this approach is the user acceptance tests are described upfront. Progress can be measured. Success is defined.

The technical community puts a lot of store in project management frameworks, like Prince2 or RUP, but these approaches are flawed because it is not project ‘management’ that is of interest, rather it is project ‘delivery’. The fact a project is well managed and that it ticked all the boxes, does not mean it will deliver a working system.

What is needed is a delivery framework that priorities the business community stakeholders; the senior management, the middle management, the project management and the users. That means producing artifacts that the business community can fully understand and own intellectually by making the fullest use of pictures and ensuring words are kept to a minimum and that the documents overall are short.

If they are not short, they will not be read, defeating the purpose. Furthermore, the gap between the business stakeholders and the technical stakeholders must be bridged by the business requirements specification which must provide a completely unambiguous statement of requirements.

My response to the problem of bloated frameworks is to define PrinceLite; a process designed to let the dog wag its own tail, by which I mean really put the customer back in the IT project driving seat.

The main points of this new framework is it explicitly recognises the needs of all management stakeholders, it defines artifacts that are easy to understand, yet is based on UML so they can be transformed into solutions, and it comes with downloads of worked examples www.princelite.co.uk.

Dr Peter Merrick holds a Ph.D from UEA in Software Engineering and has published on the subject of UML. He has worked for the Health and Safety Executive, HMRC, Great Hotel, University of Cambridge Examinations Syndicate and the European Patent Office. He currently holds a senior contract position with central government and is available to discuss any of the points he makes here or on the PrinceLite site.

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