Lately, I have been working on my companies overall development schedules. This exercise is to get ready for our upcoming funding round, which we hope to close May 15 th. Trying to fit all of the pieces together is turning out to be a chore. A lot depends on how much money we end up raising as well as some critical assumptions about product performance and staffing levels.
When thinking about schedules, I always keep in mind the project trinity of Features, Schedule and Budget. All three play effect each other and they need to be reconciled or you will end up having products that don’t meet your needs, are too long and/or over budget.
In sorting through the trinity, it is important to establish the main objective of your effort or minimum features required to acheive your next milestone. This minimum feature set anchors your efforts and allows you to set a baseline in which to always come back to when expectations get out of hand. The importance of the minimum feature set cannot be stressed enough. Without the minimum features completed, you really don’t have anything worth showing. Your level of funding and time allocated should always be enough to get the basics done.
Once the feature baseline is established, then you need to figure out the time lines. This is where application of resources (or budget) can shorten your overall project time. Before trying to reduce your schedule time, it is important to establish a baseline schedule to complete the required features. Don’t try and shorten any schedule until the minimum feature set schedule is established with the given budget/resources. That way, you have a sense of what can get done, give a known budget.
Once your minimum feature set schedule is completed, you should have a good idea of the budget to get it done. There is some art to this because at this point, you are making some budget assumptions. Typically, it is best to assign the resources (budget) that you directly control first and then to span out for additional resources. This approach gives you the best shot at an accurate first pass.
As you go through this process, you have made several assumptions about what resources can do what type of task, the number of tasks and the minimum feature set. It is important to get those assumptions validated in order to ensure that you are meeting expectations. Once validated, you can then go back and tweak features, schedules and budget to refine your project, given the new assumptions or goals. It is important to always keep the baseline features, schedule and budget for a frame of reference since that will always be a sanity check.