Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Delivering Software Solutions On-Time and On-Budget

According to the Standish Group, only 16% of all software development projects are delivered on-time and on-budget. A staggering 31% of projects are cancelled before they ever get completed.

In recent newsletters, we introduced the Iterative Software Lifecycle and explained how it can help you consistently deliver software solutions on-time and on-budget. The phases of this lifecycle are:

  • Planning (Analysis) Phase
  • Design Phase
  • Iterative Code/Test/Release Phases
  • Production Phase

Last month, we focused on the Planning (Analysis) Phase. This month, we will focus on the Design Phase, the second phase of the Iterative Software Lifecycle. Since the design phase has many deliverables, we will focus this month on the detailed design deliverables. In the coming months, we will explain the other deliverables of the Design Phase as well as the remaining phases of the Iterative Software Lifecycle and provide you with step-by-step instructions on implementing it. To see newsletters from prior months, click here.

This newsletter is sponsored by Software Planner (http://www.SoftwarePlanner.com).

Design Phase
The Design Phase is used to determine the technical solution and to provide preliminary estimates for delivering the solution. For the project manager to provide correct estimates, the development team must spend time architecting a technical solution that meet the demands of the functional specification. Additionally, the testing team must develop a Master Test Plan as to allow them to estimate their effort.

Upon completion of this phase, a project plan may be developed which details the costs, effort and timeframes in which the solution may be delivered. As a final step, the client may decide to add, omit or delay functionality to fit within their timeframe and budget.

Below are the deliverables for the Planning Phase:

  • Detailed Design

  • Test Design

  • Object Model

  • Data Model

  • Project Plan

  • Budget

  • Customer, Development, Testing Signoff

This month, we will discuss the Detailed Design. In coming months, we will explain the other deliverables in detail.

Detailed Design Document
Once all the functional specification items have been defined, it is imperative to understand the effort needed to deliver each functional specification item. The most reliable way to do this is to create a "Detailed Design".

The detailed design document allows your development team to thoroughly think through the development approach, and to determine the effort involved in delivering each functional specification item. The detailed design document should contain the following sections (you may consider skipping some of these sections for smaller projects):

  • Architectural Design - In our experience, the most re-usable design is a 3 tier solution:

    1. Presentation Layer
    – User interface, such as a Windows User interface or Web Browser interface. No business rules appear in this layer.

    2. Business Layer
    – Business rules that are called from the presentation layer. These are normally compiled into DLL(s) that encapsulate all the business rules.

    3. Database Layer
    – Layer to talk to the database. Putting this in it's own DLL allows you to easily change it later if you need to support different database formats.

  • Hardware Requirements - It should list the hardware requirements, both for client machines as well as servers. This will allow the project manager to budget the purchase of hardware.

  • Software Requirements - List all software used to develop the system (Visual Basic, C++, Java, Visual Interdev, SQL Server, Oracle, etc) along with any software necessary for the system to function (MS Excel, Third Party Controls and Java Applets, Internet Explorer, etc).

  • Presentation Layer - This section describes all the screens and reports needed to deliver all the functional requirements. Include screen descriptions, screen shots, report descriptions and report shots. The client should understand that the final product may not be exactly as listed here but the functionality will stay the same. During coding, you may merge or separate screens to achieve a nicer user interface and to promote reusability of components.

  • Business Layer - Define all of the objects necessary to support the presentation layer. You may consider displaying the objects in a hierarchy, showing state diagrams, and/or other object related information.

  • Database Layer - Define all of the tables/columns/views/stored procedures necessary to support the business layer along with an Entity-To-Relationship diagram.

  • Other Design Considerations - Each project may have one or more of these special design considerations that must be described:

    1. Conversion Modules - Describe any programs that are used to import, convert or munge data.

    2. Archive and Purge Modules - Describe any programs that are used to perform special functions like purging and archiving.

    3. Backup and Recovery Design - Describe the process for backing up and recovering lost data.

    4. Security Architecture - Describe how security will be enforced and at what level (or groups). If using NT, address the NT security model, IIS security, Secure Socket Layers, etc. if applicable.

    5. System Interfaces - Describe how you will feed or receive feeds from other systems. This may be via replication, XML, EDI, BCP, SQL Loader, etc. Describe the data that will flow between the systems, how often it will be updated, and who the system owners for each system are.

    6. Batch Jobs - Describe any jobs that will run regularly to perform batch based commands.

    7. Performance and Response Time Considerations - Explain how you will design for quickest response time. This includes the use of Stored Procedures, de-normalized data (if applicable), server configuration (size, memory, etc), programming techniques, and the use of database tools such as Oracle’s Explain Plan or SQL Server’s Show Plan.

    8. Platform Dependence and Installation - Explain the installation (or setup) process in which the client must use to get the system up and running along with our plan for ensuring it will run on all the platforms requested by the client (Windows 95, 98, NT 4, 2000, XP, etc).

    9. Localization Considerations - Explain your design for handling issues specific to localization (European date and postal code format, language, etc.), if any.

  • Detailed Design to Functional Specifications Cross Reference Matrix - You will show how each detailed design item ties back to a functional specification item. That way you can ensure that you are getting great design coverage for your functional specifications.

Once you have defined the items above, the development team must estimate each item so that you can get an idea of the cost of development. Next month, we will discuss the formulation of the test plan. Once that is done, you can estimate the testing effort. Upon completion of the detailed design and test plan, your project manager can estimate the other project related activities so that you have a fully estimated project.


During the Design Phase, the project manager works with the development team to create detailed designs. Detailed Designs explain the technical approach and estimated effort for delivering each functional specification item. Once this is done, the project manager works with the testing team to create the Test Plan. The Test Plan details the testing approach and estimated effort. Once this is done, the project manager can fully estimate the entire project.

Free Templates

Click the link below for some free templates to get you started with the Iterative Software Lifecycle. These templates cover all areas of the lifecycle, from the planning to production phases. You will also find the detailed design template at that site.

Templates for the Iterative Software Lifecycle

Software Planner

Software Planner is a web-based software lifecycle management tool that fully supports the Iterative Software Lifecycle. It allows you to store detailed design documents in a central location for your entire team to review. To learn more about Software Planner, click the link below.

Software Planner

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