Classifying Applications - Why bother??

Every project I do..

"how much time/days to package our applications"

If ever there was a 'piece of string question' that's got to be it.
I work on a day rate, I dont have enough people or mental resolve to handle the scheming that goes on with the 'fixed price' approach. Oh, actually I did do a fixed cost project. I had to do 5 versions of Sage and one similar product, to install on Win 2000, WinXP and Vista. Best 3 days of my life (at the time,I think it was Dec 2006 or 2007)

But, back to this topic, conversation drifts to, 'well you must be able to estimate, you know some hard apps but most are easy..'.

We have arrived at 'classifying appsville'.
My method (day rate) is based on doing one application a day, if you have 100 applications you will need 100 days of packaging effort. Generally a bit less, but I would rather have PO for 100 days, get it done in 92 days, then the client has 8 days surplus. If I say 90 and it takes 92, I have to swallow two days, or ask for another PO for 2 days. Simple is best.

Then the discussion around easy and hard apps becomes heated, (before I phase out) I try and explain, as much as I like the binary approach of most things in IT, apps dont follow that. They aren't 1's or 0's.
So then, (this is boring in meetings, its even more boring to write about, but bear with me readers...)

Punchline is something like this (2 hours later)
We have 100 applications, we reckon the hard ones, about 15 will take 3 days each. Most are really easy, say 40, they should take 0.5 days, leaving about 44 'normal apps' not really hard or easy, they should take 1.5 days.

Did anyone do the maths??
hard 45
easy 20
normal 66
total  125

Ok, so you think its going to take 125 days, but my estimate, in 40 seconds, I can do it in 100 days.

This is getting WAY too commercial and boring, way too boring.

But lets say the you end up finding out there is actually 20 hard apps, and only 30 easy apps that skews your figures in a very bad way. (total 75 days PLUS the remaining 'normal apps', you only need a few extra hard ones to make it ugly)

The usual result, this involves project managers, to make sure we know what we really have, lets spend a big wedge of money on a tool that will rate the applications for us.
Seriously, people will pay €40k on a tool to analyse the apps (yes cheaper options are available, so are more expensive ones), by the time they get the report done, I could have had their core application set packaged and probably a department or seven. Normally I get called back, "yeh, we have some greens, some reds, and a whole heap of ambers, now what do we do???"
        Answer, "What you should have done 2 months ago, start packaging."

A quick note on assessment tools, they work very well when you have something to assess (if you are in a mature environment with nice tidy packages). Normally we get 4 network shares (or more), numerous scripts (bat, vbs, vbs calling a cmd, ps1 calling a vbs that launches a bat etc.). The simplest thing, here is some free common sense advice, please, just make a reasonable effort to get newer versions of the software that is actually supported or known to work on your intended platform and try not to have more than one version of an application, yep, that would be called rationalisation. Spend that €40k on a nice big party for everyone, especially the IT heroes.

What has been achieved??
It doesnt really matter if its easy, hard, really easy, so hard its nearly impossible. Its an app that your users need in the environment, just get it done!! This is getting close to a previous blog packaging vs manual installs, where you just choose a number of required installs and use that as a baseline.
Now I understand why a project manager wants a fixed cost, if you go in and say 'Well its more of an art than a science, applications are so intricate, they can have over 40,000 files!! It normally takes between a day, but they are rare, it normally takes 5 days to completely package an application, even more in some cases.'

Budget wise for 100 apps, the PM has to ask for somewhere between 100 and 500 days budget (maybe even more) so I am mildly sympathetic to their plight. Very mildly. So we start going through the projects that we have done...
I would put some numbers in here, but they need to be explained, I am not sure if anyone has read this far...

But EVERY PM and IT Director wants to assure me, there place is or project is 'special' there is no way I could possibly get an app a day done. Every project I have done they all say that, so far I have yet to say anybody who is actually the worst.

Here's something to remember.
     Its not the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog that matters.


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