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Original Post Date: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 This week I am attending the Systems and Software Technology Conference 2011 in Salt Lake City.  I've been a regular at this conference for the last 20 years.  While attendance has declined, the conference continues to deliver quality content for developers and acquirers of software and software intensive systems.  The keynote was delivered by this year’s recipients of the prestigious Wayne Stevens Award.  Barry Boehm, one of the recipients was well known to everyone in the room and the software community.  He gave a great presentation reviewing his technology predictions from a paper presented in 2006 and offered predictions for 2011 ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 Happy Easter!  What is the weight of the world's largest jellybean?  Submit your answer in the comments section!
Original Post Date: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 What is the aircraft speed record, in mph or km/h, for an unmanned jet airplane?  Submit your estimate in the comments section!
Original Post Date: Thursday, April 7, 2011 The following is a collection of some of the more common installation issues.  If you have additional questions, concerns, or issues with any upgrade or installation, please call our Technical Support line anytime at:  1-800-43-PRICE. Default Password Override TP’s default password may not be strong enough based on your security policy.  Please review your specific requirements for passwords and follow the directions below to change the default:  When you get to the screen, uncheck the “Use Default Password” and enter a valid password based upon your specific security settings.  Then click next and continue the ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, April 5, 2011  In 1961 at the MIT Centennial, John McCarthy opined “if computers of the kind I have advocated become the computers of the future, then computing may someday be organized as a public utility just as the telephone system is a public utility…. the computer utility could become the basis of a new and important industry”  [1].  In 2006, Amazon Web Services was launched providing computing on a utility basis.  Since that time the notion of cloud computing has been emerging and evolving. Cloud computing is a paradigm that makes the notion of utility ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 In mph or km/h, what is the average cruising speed of a Boeing 737 jet?  Submit your estimate in the comments section!
Original Post Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 Competition seems like a sensible practice on the path to best value.  However, is it possible to create a truly competitive environment? “It is a tradition that we don’t trust our business partners, people don’t have a clear understanding of how sharing information would result in better performance.  The lack of understanding induces fear and skepticism.” Hau Lee, Graduate School of Business at Stanford University There are two behaviors that debunk competition in regards to complex systems wrought with uncertainty: over-optimism and deception.  Government buyers share the dual burden of seeking advanced technologies to meet future ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 “I think we have an obligation to work with industry to ensure that our suppliers do not just remain world class in defence, but aspire to be world-class manufactures that can withstand comparison to other industries.” Chief of Defence Procurement, Sir Robert Walmsley Is this a practical proposition or is it a pipe dream?  The following excerpt from Dale Shermon’s Systems Cost Engineering attempts to make the case that this type of comparison is possible. Many of the statements in proposals and marketing literature stating the superiority of a company are anecdotal or at best qualitative ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 MCR and PRICE Systems are proud to sponsor the upcoming Estimating & Analysis Best Practice Workshop at the Marriott Manhattan Beach on April 27th from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm. This FREE workshop features government and industry speakers discussing how the current fiscal environment impacts the day-to-day estimating challenges faced by government program offices and their commercial counterparts.  These events seek to bring leaders together to share ideas and experiences about their most pressing issues. We are looking to professionals, such as you to contribute ideas and best practices.  For more information or to ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2011  How many windows are there in the U.S. Pentagon?  Submit your estimate in the comments section!
Original Post Date: Monday, March 28, 2011  So how did your basketball picks go this season?  My bracket is officially closed since absolutely no one picked any of the final four teams!   I am happy to report that I came in second with a whopping 36 correct picks - picks that most would judge to be pretty bad.  So where did we go wrong? Since I don’t really follow college basketball closely during the year I make my picks somewhat randomly – loosely based on the teams' standing but occasionally predicting an upset.  Naturally, the upsets I predicted were not ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 On average, how many times does a jogger's heel strike the ground per mile?  Submit your estimate in the comments section!
Original Post Date: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 Happy St. Patricks Day!  The average American eats 4.4 lbs (2.0 kg) of baked beans annually;  what is it for Ireland?
Original Post Date: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 True Planning results have many options, including viewing Costs by Activity. While simple, this view can be quite powerful, especially when exported for re-organization manipulation.  In a recent exercise, the WBS mapping of common objects, estimated by separate multiple scenarios, presented a non-trivial chore in Excel. “Transposition” features work fine for matrices, as do pivot tables. But how does one map object by activity grids into activity lists, similar to MIL-STD 881a, with singular “roll up” instances of all nonzero object costs?  The secret is in how True Planning appends each activity output with the [object] tag. Once exported ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 ...wear the worst shoes. The cobbler was a master at his craft; he was just too tired to practice it when he got home from the shop.  Sound familiar? A disciplined approach to understanding (functional) requirements as well as analogous projects (with actuals) is our not-so-secret sauce. Why run the risk of creeping back up our career learning curve? There’s already enough scope creep to keep us busy. Plus, for you management types charged with prospecting, a consistent approach towards estimation is a great way to connect with people who've felt the pain of being the cobbler's kids. I recently reconnected ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 In Parametrics is Free, I acknowledged receiving (too late) “you should’ve known to ask that” over the years. Quality control after-the-fact is fine; but it’s better and cheaper to take a systematic approach to quality assurance as part of your estimating process. The sheer volume of what we model can often keep us so close to the details that we are unable to step back and put on our QA hat on for a sanity check. Enter Quality! On a very large project, our team has introduced a few regular cross-checks, notwithstanding typical math check-sums.   A round table peer ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 I’m not a golfer. But we’ve all heard one say “that’s why I play” after hitting a shot and feeling like it all came together. What “it” is, in terms of mechanics and timing, I’m not really sure.  In our own world of parametrics, it’s the feeling of adding value in that golden moment of facilitating decisions and forward momentum. We wear many hats: estimating, consulting, systems engineering...even cost accounting.  Building an AoA, ICE or ROM is where rubber-meets-the-road in regards to configurations and assumptions.  Not too long ago I was in a discussion with a number of Subject Matter Experts ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 In my blog last week on Work Breakdown Structures, we reviewed the subtleties of using the [object] tag to your advantage in creating different sorts and roll up subtotals. As a followup, I’d like to drill down a bit on the initial step of using the “copy grid” exports. Each row number is unique, thus creating an identifying key for the vlookup function in Excel. Since all object X activity instances are allocated 100% to one of the three phases (with very rare exception), these row keys allow you to sort and re-group outputs while maintaining ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, March 10, 2011 My previous blog discussed a “Should Cost” methodology used by PRICE Systems to complete an analysis. In the article I included a chart depicting calibration results for manufacturing complexities for each weapon system (X-Axis). Manufacturing complexities are a major cost driver within the model. This parameter can be derived from model knowledge tables, generators or from calibration. Many times the calibrated results are simply averaged and used for predicting cost for the new system. This assumes that the new system is very similar in technology and performance as the systems used for calibration. In general this is not the ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 How many passengers does the world's largest jetliner, the Airbus A380, hold?  Submit your estimate in the comments section!
Original Post Date: Monday, March 7, 2011 Based on your experience, does winning an opportunity in the DoD come down to how well the proposal is written? Or, are there other contributors like the content of the proposal?  The type of analysis described in the proposal?  The estimation methodology?  How well the cost realism is justified? Any insight you have would be great.
Original Post Date: Friday, March 4, 2011 I consistently run into this idea of data driven estimating.  Yet, there is no clear explanation of this concept.  I am not trying to provide one here, however, I am interested in is what is at the root of this growing movement.  My take is that it is an attempt to scratch an itch.  But what’s the itch? I believe it is related to my early post (Accuracy is Risky Business).  In the struggle to answer the accuracy question people have decided that understanding the data used in the estimating process is key ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 The concept of the fuel cell was first published in 1938 by Christian Friedrich Schonbein.  Based on this publication Sir William Grove invented the precursor of the fuel cell in 1839. The Grove Cell created current by applying two acids to zinc and platinum electrodes separated by a porous ceramic pot.  In 1842 Grove developed the first actual fuel cell which produced electricity with hydrogen and oxygen, much like many fuel cells in use today. Fuel cells remained an intellectual curiosity until the 1960’s when the US space program identified a requirement for ...
Original Post Date: Monday, February 28, 2011 Don't reinvent the wheel.  It's a waste of time and effort.  All too often I see organizations establishing measurement programs or new software estimation intiatives and they want to build everything from the ground up.  Mistake, mistake, mistake... People have gone before you.  Learn from them.  Take their ideas and go forward from there.  In the past year, I have architected the implemention of our software cost estimation tools at two large federal agencies and two DoD programs.  Teaching people how to estimate is easy.  Teaching them how to find the data to develop estimates is ...
Original Post Date: Monday, February 28, 2011 PRICE Systems recently accepted an assignment to complete a "Should Cost" estimate for a U.S. ally on a weapon system. The estimate included not only analysis on production costs, but also should cost on various operations and support costs. The only information provided by the client was quantity and time frame for production. A major ground rule for the estimate was that all data specific to the weapon system must come from publicly available information.  For example, mass, manufacturing process, and learning curve information must come from the public domain.  After reviewing the scope for the estimate, we decided to also ...
Original Post Date: Monday, February 28, 2011 I recently attended the Wharton Aerospace Conference and Federal Networks 2011.  Amid the obligatory discussions about the economic climate and federal budget deficit, an interesting topic bubbled up.  There  was a certain preoccupation with an idea called ‘consumerism.’  According to Webster, consumerism means "...the promotion of the consumer's interests; the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; a preoccupation with and an inclination towards the buying of consumer goods." As is often the case, there is a difference between definition and connotation. The intended meaning of consumerism at these events was the ...
Original Post Date: Monday, February 28, 2011 What follows is PRICE's interpretation of the DOD-HDBK-343, which addresses design, construction and testing requirements for a type of space equipment. Within the document are specified several levels of Class Definitions for space programs, space vehicles and space experiments. The classes are briefly described below. Class A - High Priority, Minimum Risk Class B - Risk with Cost Compromises Economically Re-flyable or Repeatable Minimum Acquisition Cost HDBK-343, originally published in 1986, was reviewed and found to be still valid in 1992.  We can't due ...
Original Post Date: Friday, February 25, 2011 PRICE Systems is currently developing a COM interface for TruePlanning. I know, I know…  What’s COM you say? COM stands for (Component Object Model) and it's a programmable interface which exposes the TruePlanning estimating brains for integration and analysis!  I know it sounds boring but it’s really cool because it allows anyone, including our users, to build “apps” for TruePlanning similar to the way “apps” are built for the iPhone.  Let me give you some examples of some apps that you can build:  Excel solution, sensitivity analysis,  project comparison, risk simulation, total cost of ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 In the world of estimating, accuracy is the first question out of people’s mouths.  Above all else they want to know the accuracy of an estimate.  How accurate is that approximate judgment?  Craziness! True accuracy can only be determined after the project or effort has been completed and a post-audit analysis reconciles what was expected to happen with what did happen.  This is a very expensive, time consuming process that many preach about but few actually attempt.  In my experience, when people ask about accuracy what they are really interested in is ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 In the February 2011 issue of National Defense, I was struck by the article “Uncertain Path Ahead for Military Truck Fleet”[1]. This article centered on the best strategies for modernization of the aging fleet of Humvees. The recapitalization of 150,000 Army and 25,000 Marine Corps Humvees is creating a “fix or buy new” dilemna for decision makers. According to the article, GAO analyst Michael J. Sullivan should include a “cost-benefit analysis that would minimize the collective acquisition and support costs of the various truck programs, and reduce the risk of overlap or ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, February 17, 2011 My June blog entry suggested the use of parametrics in real-options valuation. This month, I’d like to offer the generalized use of our type of modeling in valuing tangible assets.  Typically, fundamental analysis evaluates the intrinsic value of securities. I won’t attempt to compete with Warren Buffet here. But it is certainly the case that a company, or portfolio of securities reflecting many companies, is based in part on the market value of its product assets and their potential for future earnings, as well as other objective and subjective considerations. In parametric estimation, we take a top-down ...
Original Post Date: Friday, February 11, 2011 The DoD Cost Analysis Symposium (DODCAS 2011) is next week, Feb 15-18.  I’ll be there along with several of my colleagues at PRICE Systems.  This conference consistently provides an excellent source of information and shared experiences for the acquisition community and I am anxious to attend again this year.  Last year the conference occurred shortly after Congress passed the Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 (WSARA) - and the majority of the sessions were focused on discussions about how the services, contractors and the government leadership planned on dealing with this new law.  From ...
Original Post Date: Monday, January 17, 2011 While I don’t like to admit to visiting a website entitled geekArticles.com, I did stumble across a reprint of an essay by Grant Rule “Bees and the Art of Estimating”  that some of you may find interesting and instructive.  The author participates in his own form of “Estimation Trivia” by posing the following challenge “Take paper and pencil and write your estimate for the number of insects in the average hive of English honeybees.”  Of the approximately 1100 software measurement and process improvement professionals he has challenged thusly,  only about 10 have ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, January 13, 2011 In pounds, what is the heaviest recorded weight lifted by a man using his beard?  Submit your estimate in the comments section!
Original Post Date: Wednesday, January 12, 2011  TruePlanning 2010 SR1 estimation software is now available as an upgrade for existing PRICE customers. The most significant update to this version of TruePlanning is the capability to use both parametric estimating models as well as analogous data to produce estimates. This capability validates and increases the defensibility of estimates. TruePlanning provides a framework that allows content driven parametric models to be estimated in one system. Most notably, hardware, software, IT and Systems of Systems (SoS). No other commercially available estimating tool can make that claim. However, whereas in previous versions estimates relied on ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 Last week I gave a webinar which detailed the PRICE perspective on Should Cost & Will Cost Management. The responses I have received have been very positive and also informing. For those of you who could not attend you can view the recorded version of that webinar here. Below is a brief summation of that presentation and some key takeaways. The Under Secretary of Defense issued a memo late last year. The thrust of the memo was the current need for greater efficiency and productivity in defense spending. His guidance contained 23 principal actions for improving the ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, January 6, 2011 Today, PRICE Systems, Senior Research Analyst, Bob Koury, will be presenting on Will Cost/Should Cost management. The presentation will focus on two main requirements mandated in the Ash Carter memo (mentioned here several times): Developing Should Cost/Will Cost targets and establishing Affordability as a requirement.  An example will be provided of how parametric estimating models were used to establish “Should Cost” targets and how they can be used by a budget authority (government or Industry) to be an informed consumer of contractor or sub-contractor bids. The demonstration portion of this webinar will focus on ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, January 5, 2011  What percent of our solar systems' total mass does the sun represent?  Leave your estimate in the comments!
Original Post Date: Thursday, December 23, 2010 A current research interest of mine is fuel cells – where they are being used and what it costs to manufacture fuel cell systems.  I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned to date. A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell which converts some fuel, usually hydrogen, into electric current.  It does this through a reaction between the fuel and an oxidant in the presence of an electrolyte.  The waste product of this chemical process is water and heat.  Fuel cells, unlike conventional batteries, consume reactant from an external source ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 Winter Rule of Thumb:  How many centimeters of snow are the equivalent of 1 centimeter of rain? 
Original Post Date: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 With the New Year approaching we thought we would try something different on the blog. Every week will ask a question with a quantitative answer. Your job is simply to give the best estimate you can (you're on the honor system, no googling allowed). You can be above or below, winner is whoever is closest. Each week we will post the previous week's answer and the winner along with a new question. Good luck! Q: Of the top 1000 most popular U.S. baby boy names in 2007, what position did Elvis rank?  Leave your answer and your name in ...
Original Post Date: Friday, December 3, 2010 Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking at the New England SCEA Chapter December. The attendees were a great mix of experienced, seasoned cost estimators and young, new talent, eager to learn techniques to apply on the job.  My topic was the program management value of combining estimating Rules of Thumb with more rigorous cost estimating models and databases [link to presentation .pdf].  Rule of Thumb estimating is used every day by program managers to help guide their projects.  Oversight authorities rarely have the resources to perform detailed program estimates, so they ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, December 1, 2010  PRICE Chief Scientist, Arlene Minkiewicz, co-authored this article which looks at some of the challenges faced by the Department of Defense in attempting to inject SOA initiatives in acquisition processes. The article appears in the Nov/Dec 2010 edition of CrossTalk, The Journal of Defense Software Engineering Turn to page 32 of the online flip book to read the entire article. Read Article.  
Original Post Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 Unfortunately this is a true story. I decided to have a couple of gold fish in a nice glass bowl, having done my sums I estimated the cost should be: Bowl £20.00 Gravel £5.00 Two gold fish £8.00 Food £4.00 Making a total of £37.00, ok I can afford this, off I go to the pet shop. The pet shop advised “fish don’t like bowls”, plus “it’s cruel to keep them in one”, but as a child I often won fish at the ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 Recently a cost research project on missiles was completed. The research resulted in performance based equations for air-to-ground and surface-to-air missiles were developed. The performance based equations can be used for early concept estimation  on missile development and production costs. The question though is “What is the process for developing this type of estimating relationship?” This will be the first of a series of BLOGs on this topic.  The first task is to define what is a “Performance Based Equation?” Bruce Fad covered this definition in a previous “Data Driven BLOG” so please review his post for the details. The second step ...
Original Post Date: Monday, November 15, 2010 Last week I attended the 25th International Forum on COCOMO and Systems/Software Cost Modeling.  I attended for several reasons.  First of all, I was invited to participate on a panel whose topic was “25 years of Software Estimation: Lessons Learned, Challenges and Opportunities”.  Secondly, I have attended in the past and while it’s generally a small group, as such conferences go, I always come away impressed by the fact that so many smart people end up in one room and this year was no different.   But I digress; I really wanted to share ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, November 2, 2010  After some recent meetings with clients I am sensing some confusion on how to estimate software reuse. I think part of the problem is in the definition of reuse, so let's start with a definition and then address the estimating issue. Software reuse is defined as “the use of existing software, or software knowledge, to build new software.” This definition came from Wikipedia. From a estimating software costs perspective the above definition is part of the problem. The definition should read: "Use of existing software with no changes for operation in the new software program.”  If the existing software is going to be changed, ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 Here’s a cool project.  The Bloodhound Project  is focused on building a land vehicle capable of breaking the 1000mph speed barrier.  The mission of the project is twofold.  The first is to “overcome the impossible using science, technology, engineering and mathematics”.  But the second is more interesting – this project is intended as motivation for the upcoming generation to embrace technology related fields.  Britain doesn’t have enough students interested in such fields and they are worried about their ability to compete in technological forays going forward. But how much should something like this ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, September 23, 2010 You need 3 things for your software estimates to be successful. And I will add a fourth one in after I talk about the first 3. 1. You need qualified and experienced people to generate the estimates. They have to know how to estimate and they have to understand what the problem is that the project is going to solve…..at least well enough to estimate it. This can be one person or many depending on the difficulty of the business area. The harder it is, the better having more brains look at the problem. But not to the point ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 National Boss Day is quickly approaching! While October 16th is the actual day this year it will be observed on Oct 15th since the 16th falls on a Saturday and what boss wants to hear from his or her employees on a day off even to be showered with cards, flowers and accolades.  According to Barry Wood, Boss Day was started in 1958 when Patricia Bays Haroski of Deerfield Ill registered it as a special date with the US Chamber of Congress to honor her boss (who was also her father).  October ...