Neil Johnson and Catherine Louis
“Failing to plan is planning to fail” is a quote attributed to both Alan Lakein, the writer of several self-help books on time management in the 1970s, and before that to Winston Churchill. The quote hints of the fortunes of teams who embrace the importance of planning, by countering with an ominous prediction for teams that don’t. Hardware teams understand the importance of planning, but does the act of project planning guarantee success to the same degree that avoiding project planning guarantees failure? According to 110 engineers surveyed in the spring of 2012, it does not.
From a survey group comprised of embedded software, system integration and ASIC/FPGA engineers, we found that confidence in project planning is tragically low. Not surprisingly, a majority of respondents admitted that recent projects finish behind schedule. When it comes to hardware project planning, it appears teams plan for failure much more frequently than they plan for success. Are hardware developers confident in their approach to project planning?
The motivation behind conducting this survey was to test our hypothesis that hardware developers lack confidence in their project planning practices and to find a correlation between a lack in confidence and low overall success rates. The survey posed a series of questions related to project planning to which respondents were asked to ‘strongly agree’, ‘agree’, ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’. Questions in the survey were worded positively as to avoid biasing responses in support of our hypothesis.
We found the survey data support our hypothesis. Confidence in project planning practices is decidedly mixed with roughly half of respondents admitting low confidence in their approach to project planning. An overwhelming 87% suggested their projects finish behind schedule.Causes of lack of confidence and schedule overrun
We find the data suggest some very clear factors when it comes to confidence and schedule overrun.
Of those surveyed, an overwhelming 84% do work that is not represented on a project schedule. Further, 75% disagreed with the idea an initial project plan accurately identifies the amount of work required. When it comes to individual items on a project plan the results were not much better with a total of 67% asserting time estimates for those items were inaccurate.
The data suggest that when it comes to initially planning and estimating, hardware development teams are using methods that are severely inadequate and they know it. From the very beginning, teams are setting expectations with their estimates that are completely out of touch with reality.