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Delivering a Project on Time, but With Flexibility

Software developers fist bumping each other over laptops and mobile devices

If you’re part of the software development world, you’ve probably heard numerous tips on how to make your development process more efficient. Phrases like “identify project milestones” and “manage project risks” are commonplace in the articles you’ve read on the topic. However, not many pinpoint a specific tool in accomplishing it. So here I’d like to offer the solution that my UX design and development team, Singlemind, uses to create efficiency and transparent communication between our team and clients.

In the software development world, clients can feel frustrated if project timelines and budgets don’t align with original estimates. Developers often do their best to deliver on-time, on-budget products – but the reality is that unforeseen difficulties can arise and project scope can expand as a result. The question is: how do you manage original expectations while still having the flexibility to adjust for unforeseen obstacles?

At Singlemind, we’ve coined a process to address this question: we call it the 50% Rule. The basic premise? Estimate time and track against it. Our team members check progress at the halfway point, they then confirm whether they’ll need more or less time than originally estimated to complete the task. That way, there are no surprises. It seems simple, yet lack of transparent communication is often one of the most frequently missed steps by project managers.

Using the 50% Rule allows for an amicable conversation between the Project Manager and Developer to check in midway through a project. Although requirements and scope are always discussed at the beginning of a project, the 50% Rule gives each party a chance to reassess these two key criteria as the project evolves:

  1. Requirements – Do we have all the requirements we need to complete the task? Have we identified any gaps in the requirements? Are we experiencing scope creep due to unclear needs from the Product Owner?
  2. Scope – Is the scope accurately defined? Have we allotted enough resources and budgeted to complete the task within the expected timeline?

When implemented, the 50% Rule can provide greater transparency, strengthen relationships with customers, and can even boost productivity. That’s why we’ve incorporated this system into every project we manage at Singlemind.

Putting the 50% Rule into Practice

The process behind the 50% Rule is straightforward: our team estimates how long each task will take, then tracks progress against that estimate. For example, when our team is through 50% of the estimated timeline, we check in to find out if they have also completed 50% of the project work. This results in one of two workflow paths:Here are some good questions to ask if you encounter a specialty or niche firm:

Timeline and work are aligned

If the estimated timeline is in alignment with our actual progress, we move forward as planned. To further leverage the 50% Rule – we then check-in at 50% of the remaining timeline (or 75% of the overall timeline). This allows us one more opportunity to ensure we meet our client’s expectations.Some possible reasons for lack of transparency:

Timeline and work are not aligned

If the timeline and remaining work are out of sync at this checkpoint, we act quickly to revise the original time estimate and reach out to our client to get sign-off on the additional time needed. In this workflow, we still include the second 50% check-in based on the revised timeline.

Implementing the 50% Rule is simple to do, but it does take discipline and diligent record-keeping to pull it off successfully. At Singlemind, we employ these key tips that help us stay accountable to the rule:

  1. Use Systems We make use of JIRA as our task management system and have modified the JIRA fields to use both estimates and % complete, making the spot-check at 50% very easy to employ.
  2. Reserve time on your calendar By setting aside chunks of time in advance to check your schedules and talk to your team, you won’t have to adjust your schedule last-minute to account for these tasks.
  3. Incorporate the 50% Rule in with project tasks – Consider the 50% Rule as a requirement to completing your project successfully – and prioritize this step like you would any other task.

Tracking progress pays off

Utilizing the 50% Rule not only helps us to track project progress – it also provides us with a tool to forecast more accurate estimates on future projects of a similar nature.  Plus, since our team can confidently feel on-track with timelines and budget, we can focus on what matters most to the end user: the quality of our product.

Perhaps most importantly, implementing the 50% Rule helps us to strengthen relationships with our customers. With this rule in practice, the potential for miscommunication is significantly reduced, so there’s no sticker shock when the invoice arrives or if the timeline varies.

50% Rule = 100% beneficial

Our team and customers benefit from the 50% rule simply because it’s the most responsible and straightforward way to manage project budgets and customer expectations. Instead of finding ourselves in difficult situations around timeline or budget discrepancies, we enjoy greater clarity and empowerment to make decisions at critical junctions.

Wishing you continued success in 2020!

Cort Buchholz