The Art of Planning

For most of us the summer is about holidays, sea sides, sight-seeing, sunshine and chocolate skin. Ok, and cold beer too. It`s all about nice places, relaxing programs, spending quality time with friends and families and we are always looking forward to escape from the office to recharge our batteries.

But there is a thin layer of society for who the summer holiday periods require magical skills, a lot of B plans and the art of communication. Usually this is not visible from the outside especially when we set that “invisible” filter towards customers to avoid showing how difficult might be to get things done and meet the clients` expectation when half of the team is on holiday. There are strategical decisions which need to be made when scheduling work for the summer. The capacity planning must rely on some basic things like daily maintenance vs new initiatives performed on the same project, daily productivity of 6 hours instead of 8 hours, technical expertise of developers who are backing up their colleagues from vacation, deadlines indicated by the client and possible risks factors.


Autofactor Team`s load status from February, 2016


As a team leader or project manager you are part of that thin layer of society which I mentioned earlier. When you sign up for a job like this you must be aware that everything which goes out and comes in basically is your responsibility. Meeting deadlines, completing the scope items, providing good quality, technical support and consultancy are golden rules to be a successful service provider along with your team.

So here are some tips which we take into account when planning a project:

– Two senior developers never go to holidays in the same time, before booking their holidays we get aligned on dates when they are leaving and coming back.

– Daily productivity on a project is calculated with 6 hours, although the normal working program is 8 hours per day in practice this must cover other type of work too like daily maintenance, estimation, research, consultancy, etc. so these go under the remained 2 hours. And of course a developer needs to drink coffee, chit chat with his colleagues, go to toilette…activities which are part of daily routine and affects the 8 hours of productivity. You would never thought but we take into account all these aspects. This is called reality 🙂

– If there are other ongoing initiatives or features which might have a significant impact on the new project we need to finish those first or postponed them till the current project is done. Convincing the client that no changes will be done on his project in the next 2-3 weeks that`s almost mission impossible. Active clients constantly have new ideas how to improve their businesses. As a manager you need to learn “how to push back”.

– If multiple resources can work in the same time on the project this might speed up things and help a lot from planning point of view. If this is not possible, we need to convince the client that 9 women won`t be able to deliver a child in a month even if he is willing to pay double price.

– When is the client leaving on holiday as this means that the daily maintenance request is decreasing and we have more time for the new initiatives.

– If there are any external events, 3rd party cooperation which might influence the project. If multiple teams/companies are needed on the same project, be aware of when the other teams are going on holidays.

– How “difficult” the client is (yes, you are reading this correctly, there are aspects based on which we categorize our clients), how flexible he is, how opened mind he is, how eager he is to have up to date features on his product, how easy is to convince him to investigate more money for a better solution, how ambitious he is of having newer ideas during the development as if he changes his mind that might blow up planning, structure and of course the mood of developers. We do not classify our clients, we just work differently with them based on their needs hence the aspects well defined when saying “difficult” client.

– Technology in which the projects is or needs to be developed as this indicates who can be involved and how many resources are available. The complexity of project is a pretty good indicator too when deciding in which technology a project is built.

– What other projects are running and how the team load status is looking like according to the MoSCoW method (must, should, could, won`t do this month). We track our team load status as per the MoSCow method taking into account bank holidays, vacation days, estimated projects, contracted projects, deadlines indicated by customer. As manager you need to be aware that the MUST never should be more than 60% of the overall contracted hours otherwise the pressure gets too high on the team and that seriously affects the efficiency.

We definitely don`t want to look like some hypocrites, planning projects based on these aspects does not mean that we never fail a quality check (thank God we do internal testing before sending the product to client so a lot of bugs are discovered by the team), that we never miss a deadline or simply get stock with ongoing projects. We do fail, we do miss deadlines and spend significant time on quality control. But our goal is to get better and better with every project we do, get motivated by innovative stuff and new projects, take the planning to a level where we can function like a Swiss clock. The theory of planning assures a lot of strong points on which we can rely and turn into reality. We started using estimation templates, Gantt chart project planning, involve external testing company so other improvements are yet to come.

(Photo of top lemonade:

Over Zsuzsa

Zsuzsa has joined Autofactor in the beginning of 2015 and we have been benefiting from her skills ever since. She’s taking care of planning in all of it’s aspects and makes sure that project managers, developers and customers deliver as promised. Her ‘gentle reminders’ also frequently go out to Hans, by the way.

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