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I run a small - 2 Full time employee - web development company, with me being programmer and developer at the same time. We service a small number of clients (< 10), of which there is usually 1-2 new ones and the others are ongoing maintenance and upgrades for existing clients. Our billing model is purely time based, but a significant percentage of projects are fixed price based on a certain amount of scope.

We have a pipeline of booked work of ca 900h, this includes: - marketing overhead (small and automated) - administrative overhead (small, automated and outsourced)

Ca 180h of these are not "closed sales" however from experience I know that there will be an equal amount of unknown emergency work that will pop up to close the gap.

There is also ca 80h of "technology debt" that we are committed to working off.

We had this (pre-)load of work for about 1 year now.

In terms of project management: - we create written scope documents at the beginning of each project, most of our technology debt has been caused by a lack of scope formalisation - we track time very accurately (www.workflowmax.com - we track bugs and scope changes, but only internally and informally by email with clients (www.mantisbt.com) - we have just started to use www.liquidplanner.com, which has actually made visible how much work we have on.

Specifically on Liquidplanner, I only irregularly load new work on and review progress on existing work every 1-2 weeks.

My main concern is to create very predictable deadlines for our open work, so that we - manage client expectations and even longer booked out work pipelines - hire at the right time - predict cashflow better

What area of project management would you recommend to focus on to improve on predictability of when work gets done?

  • More accurate capturing and estimation?
  • more frequent/ more formalised progress tracking?
  • more formal change management?
  • else?
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Given you're trying to get better at predicting when work (a task) will be finished, I'd also through in Lessons Learned. It sounds like you've actually got a good handle on the management side of things, so I'd go back and look at past work to see how things were done (and how long they took), where missteps were made, and where improvements could be made.

Your historical performance is going to be your biggest factor in projection and estimating.

  • Thanks, you are right, I don't review past experiences systematically – jdog Jul 28 '11 at 21:48
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Scope, Cost and Schedule, and Risk Management. Within scope, cost, and schedule are estimating and planning. All of these tie together and are the processes that control where you establish your milestones and deadlines and your ability to get there with the highest probability (risk management). Based on your write-up, I would choose these as my next focus area to study and learn.

  • Thanks, I've ordered some books, but would also appreciate any of your personal specific recommendations for read up. – jdog Jul 28 '11 at 21:47
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You might want to take a look at Scrum.

Scrum is actually created to give transaparancy and clear view on the work executed, work to be done, and issues you are dealing with.

Don't try to implement it correctly (you cannot do that with 2 people) but the iterations, daily meetings, etc.. will definitly bring added value to your projects.

for estimation I recommend you take a look at planning poker that I mentioned in this answer: Discerning estimate validity

As your main concern are the deadlines, Scrum will definitly bring you more transparancy on that point.

A second option might be Kanban.

Kanban, pronounced /ˈkɑnˈbɑn/, is a method for developing products with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the developers. It emphasizes that developers pull work from a queue, and the process, from definition of a task to its delivery to the customer, is displayed for participants to see.

Take a look at both of them.

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