• Predictive Analytics for Improved Cost Management



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Original Post Date: Friday, July 9, 2010  While sitting in the operatory chair yesterday, my dentist said something that made me stop. He was complaining about an increasing rate of incompetence and apathy he observes in those delivering services to him. And while I do agree with him in principal, he and I are of the age where some folks label us as grumpy old men. So, it may not be as bad as we think. Regardless, the statement he said he made to the an unfortunate poor-quality service provider was, “If you don’t have the time to do it ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 About 75 aerospace & defense (A&D) sector leaders met at an executive summit in Annapolis, MD several weeks ago. Among the topics was a warning about growth in the amount of overruns in the A&D sector. Deloitte produced an analysis of the overrun of major defense acquisition programs relative to their baseline price which showed an unappealing straight-line growth – 26% (growth over baseline) in 2008, projected to be 46% by 2018. A conclusion being tossed about was that the country cannot afford a future like this. Didn’t Norm Augustine come to a ...
Original Post Date: Monday, October 18, 2010 Some of us remember taking the Iowa tests during our early school days. The Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) are standardized tests provided as a service to schools by the College of Education of The University of Iowa. The tests, administered to students in grades K-8, became a national standard for measuring scholastic aptitude – I was educated in Pennsylvania. Now out of Iowa comes another test of sorts, something called an Integrity Index Score based upon a proprietary algorithm of an organization called Iowa Live. Iowa Live calls itself, “a ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 From my perspective as a cost researcher, the calibration tool is one of the most powerful analysis capabilities built into the TruePlanning cost management software . One way I can use this tool is to go back to an old estimate for a project that is now completed, and analyze the correctness of the previously entered input values. With this analysis, I can find ways to improve our methods of soliciting input values from the user to ensure the best values are entered the next time. This way, the TruePlanning models keep getting “smarter” as new information ...
Original Post Date: Friday, June 4, 2010 One of the great features of the TruePlanning cost management software is the fact that it makes it easy to handle complications of inflation and estimating projects performed in different countries and currencies. The costs associated with doing work in different countries, and the relative value of different currencies is constantly changing. To address this, the cost research team at PRICE does an annual economic update performed by the cost research team, and this blog will introduce some of basic concepts and research that goes into maintaining this feature every year. The price of goods and ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, June 24, 2010 "And me boss. And me boss. And me boss!" Just like Bugs Bunny tricking the mob boss into an unfair share of the loot, who doesn’t want a piece of the action. In this case the “action” is the estimate you have just finished in TruePlanning and would like to share with your coworkers. No problem, just share your project. Project sharing is a feature that is available to users who are using the Client/Server version of TruePlanning and it allows users to access projects that have been created on the centralized database by other users. If ...
Original Post Date: Monday, April 26, 2010  With so many acquisition programs over budget and behind schedule, the term “Cost Realism” is suddenly very popular. In my experience as an estimator on many major acquisition programs, two things have remained certain over years (besides death and taxes). First, the probability of the program ever achieving the original cost estimate is exactly zero and second, the more information that is known about a program, the more it will exceed its original cost estimate.    With that said, the move to Cost Realism is so important because it recognizes these two fundamental ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 I had expected to present my webinar,  “Best Practices for Cost Effectiveness Studies using TruePlanning” in early August. As you might know, I was planning to show a real world example from a recent engagement with a government customer. Unfortunately, since the Source Selection has not concluded with a downselect, I was not able to obtain the public release in time. However, for this month’s blog I will continue share some of the highlights of the webinar.   In last month’s blog we explored the uses of TruePlanning during Source Selection from the Supplier’s (or ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 When I glanced at the Washington Post on Sunday, the following headline screamed out: Defense cuts could slow D.C. economy for years The article basically covers how Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is calling for reducing spending on "support contractors" by 10 percent each of the next three years as the Defense budget shrinks. As Washington DC is a hub for these types of companies, the impact is expected to be significant. According to the article, more than a quarter of national defense spending contains of outlays for service contracts. Among the largest companies ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 Parametric modeling is excellent for all aspects of early-concept cost estimation, including go/no-go decisions downstream. So, in the spirit of bringing a transparency to (ethical) financial engineering… why not apply our craft to pricing “real-options”? The latter are essentially strategic opportunities for engaging resources (cost/schedule) into projects, ventures, investments, or even abandonments. The opportunity choice has value itself!  Unlike static project Net Present Value (often, but not exclusively, approximated with Discounted Cash Flow) assuming pre-defined decisions, real-options reflect the merit of flexibility. If an R&D or proof-of-concept presents viability/ marketability learning, the option has positive value, above ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, October 7, 2010 Ahhhh, the 80s… a challenging (but often confusing) time in an evolving computing world.  Working in 1985 as a software estimator as well as SQA engineer in a quality assurance department that “audited” real-time projects using new concepts like OOD & OOP… well, you get the picture.  It was a great time to get immersed into great work.  And the good news:  that company’s process as well as its developers were bullish on a young estimation/ quality types asking plenty of questions… as long as they were of the Yes-No variety.  And ...
Original Post Date: Monday, December 6, 2010  In his August blog-entry here, Zach Jasnoff outlined typical client perspectives for the different types of analyses that TruePlanning can accommodate. Working on a large project, we’ve experienced situations that, realistically, can happen where the initial intent and model structuring later have the boundaries of model appropriateness stretched. An Analysis of Alternatives (AoA), for example, is meant to measure deltas between baseline and its alternatives. If common costs “wash” then they can be excluded… which becomes an issue when treated as a Rough Order Magnitude for customer budgeting.  Likewise, if a ROM or Independent Cost Estimate ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, August 12, 2010 The late Norm Crosby’s “Quality is Free” taught us that an investment into quality is more than offset by prevention of defects based upon understanding of requirements. Only with the latter can lack of conformance (and subsequent costs) be captured and hence quality quantified. So how then is Parametrics relevant?  Parametric estimating is more than cost modeling. Our craft represents an initial consulting function into the accuracy and completeness of program planning concepts. Our customers trust us to know when to ask and when to supplement. Yes, we are mathematical and financial modelers too. But I’d suggest that “Parametrics is ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, August 24, 2010 Over the past several weeks several users have inquired about the best way to estimate costs associated with porting existing software to a new hardware environment. Normally for this situation some of the existing software will require some amount of adaptation to operate on a new server. However, a large portion of the existing software will only require integration into the new environment.   Estimating software costs associated with the above will require the use of several cost objects: - Systems cost object if program management, Quality Assurance, configuration, and    documentation costs are to be included in ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, July 15, 2010  “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” This is a famous quote by author and US. State Department spokesman Robert McCloskey (September 15, 1914 – June 30 2003) and was attributed to him by Marvin Kalb, a CBS reporter, in TV Guide 31 March 1984. This quote was in reference to a press briefing during the Vietnam War. What it really addresses is the ease to which the communication of the meaning / understanding ...
Original Post Date: Monday, November 8, 2010  Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in 1878 in her book Molly Bawn coined the phrase …”Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This concept of the “value of beauty” has been expressed by others such as:    Benjamin Frankin in Poor Richards Almanack 1741 when he wrote;                 “Beauty, like supreme dominion                 Is but supported by opinion” David Hume in Moral and Political 1742 “Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”   So what does this have to do with Cost Benefit? Well Merriam-Webster dictionary defines benefit as something that provides useful aid. Inherent in the term “useful” is ...
Original Post Date: Monday, August 18, 2014 I had the distinct pleasure last week of attending the 2014 NASA Cost Symposium.  While to the uninitiated this might sound like a bit of a snoozer – it was actually quite interesting and proved to be the source of a ton of valuable information.  The event took place at Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA – near Williamsburg, Newport News, and not too far from Virginia Beach.  My participation was somewhat self-serving in that I was there to talk about PRICE’s new Space Missions Cost Models for TruePlanning®.  This model – discussed ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, July 17, 2014 Introduction Parametric cost estimates provide high quality, defendable estimates early in a project’s life cycle. This makes them ideal when producing bid and proposals. The nature of parametric cost estimates, however, requires the results of the estimate to be framed in terms of specific CERs and Activities and Resources. It is common for an organization to have a more granular set of Resources than the ones used to support the CERs. One approach to resolving this issue would be to use the TrueMapper application from PRICE Systems to map TruePlanning Resources to a more ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 Introduction TruePlanning provides a powerful and highly customizable reporting environment. Project data can be viewed from many different perspectives and those perspectives can be saved and reused across all projects. Results can be exported to Excel and Word as custom reports. There are, however, some instances where there is a need to get beyond the two axes used in TruePlanning’s reporting engine. This need is sometimes expressed by users preparing TruePlanning cost estimating project data for use in a bid or proposal. Perhaps the data needs to be split by phase and labor/non-labor over ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 Whether you’re doing a software cost estimate to support a Bid and Proposal effort, a software valuation, should cost analysis, or to develop a detailed project plan, it is vitally important to understand the ‘size’ of the software you are estimating.  The problem with software size is that it tends to fall into the intangible realm of reality.  If you tell me you are building a widget that weighs 13 pounds, I can really start to get my head around the task at hand.  If I’m chatting about this with my European colleagues, ...
Original Post Date: Friday, June 20, 2014 Proposal estimates based on grassroots engineering judgment are necessary to achieve company buy-in, but often are not convincing or not in sync with the price-to-win.  This contention can be resolved through by comparing the grassroots estimate to an estimate developed using data driven parametric techniques.  Parametric estimates apply statistical relationships to project data to determine likely costs for a project.  Of course, for a parametric model to properly support this cross check of the grassroots estimate, the proper data must be fed into the model.  This most likely requires the estimator to reach ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 Introduction Parametric estimates provide reliable, reproducible, and flexible views into cost and effort so it’s only natural to want to include this data in a bid and proposal workflow. With TruePlanning 2014 big steps have been taken to make such integration seamless and easily reproducible.  New tools in the TruePlanning suite of products, as well as, integrations with some of the major bid and proposal software applications are at the heart of this new feature set. You can learn more about TruePlanning 2014 and the PRICE cost estimation models at our website, but let's ...
Original Post Date: Monday, December 30, 2013 Unless you live under a rock, you are aware of the healthcare.gov rollout disaster.  While similar IT failures are regularly in the news, the high profile of healthcare.gov has really mainstreamed awareness of the fragility of many IT projects.  Check out this article entitled ‘The Worst IT project disasters of 2013’.  It details IT project failures such as:  IBM’s failure to deliver on a payroll system project that could potentially cost taxpayers up to $1.1 Billion dollars US.    SAP’s failure to deliver satisfactorily on requirements for ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 Agile development practices have enabled software development organizations to deliver quality software that optimizes the customer’s satisfaction with the value they receive for their money.  That being said, agile development may not be the best approach for every software development project.  Alistair Cockburn, agile development specialist and one of the initiators of the agile software development movement, acknowledges that “agile is not for every project”.  Further elucidating this point, Cockburn opines:  “small projects, web projects, exploratory projects, agile is fabulous; it beats the pants off of everything else, but for NASA, no”. .  ...
Original Post Date: Friday, October 4, 2013 The late Norm Crosby’s “Quality is Free” taught us that an investment into quality is more than offset by prevention of defects based upon understanding of requirements. Only with the latter can lack of conformance (and subsequent costs) be captured and hence quantified towards quality. So how then is Parametrics relevant? Parametric estimating is more than cost modeling. Our craft represents an initial consulting function into the accuracy and completeness of program planning concepts. Our customers trust us to know when to ask and when to supplement. Yes, we are mathematical and financial modelers ...
Original Post Date: Friday, October 4, 2013 In his August 2010 blog-entry, Zac Jasnoff outlined typical client perspectives for the different types of analyses that True Planning can accommodate.  Working on a large project, we’ve experienced situations that, realistically, can happen where the initial intent... and model structuring… later has the boundaries of model appropriateness stretched.  An AoA, for example, is meant to measure deltas between baseline and its alternatives.  If common costs “wash” then they can be excluded… which becomes an issue when treated as a Rough Order Magnitude for customer budgeting. Likewise, if a ROM or ICE of ...
Original Post Date: Friday, October 4, 2013 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 ...
Original Post Date: Friday, October 4, 2013 Parametric modeling is excellent for all aspects of early-concept cost estimation, including go/no-go decisions downstream. So, in the spirit of bringing a transparency to (ethical) financial engineering… why not apply our craft to pricing “real-options”? The latter are essentially strategic opportunities for engaging resources (cost/schedule) into projects, ventures, investments, or even abandonments. The opportunity choice has value itself! Unlike static project Net Present Value (often, but not exclusively, approximated with Discounted Cash Flow) assuming pre-defined decisions, real-options reflect the merit of flexibility. If an R&D or proof-of-concept presents viability/marketability learning, the option has positive ...
Original Post Date: Friday, October 4, 2013 Ahhhh, the 80s… a challenging (but often confusing) time in an evolving computing world. Working in 1985 as a software estimator as well as SQA engineer in a quality assurance department that “audited” real-time projects using new concepts like OOD & OOP… well, you get the picture. It was a great time to get immersed into great work. And the good news: that company’s process as well as its developers were bullish on a young estimation/ quality type asking plenty of questions… as long as they were of the Yes-No variety. And ask ...
Original Post Date: Friday, October 4, 201 My "Real Options Valuation" blog suggested the use of parametrics in real options valuation. 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, ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 The “Systems Folder” cost object which is found at the start of every TruePlanning Project is most often confused with the “Folder” icon. These two however should not be confused. The “Folder” icon does not have an input sheet at all. It is not a cost object and contains no cost estimating logic or relationships.  It is provided as a collection point so that cost objects can be grouped in ways for clarity like to separate out phases of the acquisition lifecycle or to divide costs between subcontractors, etc.  Whereas, the “System Folder” contains all ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 We may all agree that risk analysis is a necessary, vital part of any valid/defensible cost estimate.  We may not agree as much on the best approach to take to quantify risk in an estimate.  All estimates contain risk.  In the words of a wise cost estimator I know, “That’s why they’re called estimates, and not exactimates!”  We must quantify and manage levels of risk.  Why?  One vital part of a successful program is the ability to build a budget based on reliable cost projections.  Reliability increases when we can analyze inherent risk, ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 A lot of clients have been expressing interest in modeling ASICs, FPGAs, and various other electronic modules inside TruePlanning® (TP). In the release of TruePlanning® 2014 there will now be the capability to model all these products inside our framework. Not only will you be able to model these products but you will of course be able to model the integration cost of these electronic components with Hardware and Software components. In addition you would be able to add and estimate the program management of your total project through our integrated framework. TruePlanning Microcircuits ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 In Government contracting all contracts are made up of a network of suppliers. The Prime contractor who won the overall bid usually has a supply chain of vendors from whom they receive their products and services. In addition they have Subcontractors who provide services under a contracted agreement of work. These vendors and subcontractors most likely have their own network of suppliers which allows for a cost-effective supply chain that extends across America and to other nations. Vendors sell identical or similar products to different customers as part of their regular operations. These ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 “Integration Factors – What Makes TruePlanning™ Stand Out in the Crowd” In today’s world, system integration is becoming more and more important. The government has started asking for designs that have additional capabilities, which allow connectivity both with systems under construction and systems already in use and deployed. The reason systems integration is important is because it adds value to the system by adding abilities that are now possible because of new interactions between subsystems. In a recently posted article on “The True Costs of Integration” the writer defined the costs of a typical integration ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 These days bidding can be a game, and contractor leadership is constantly making decisions on whether to take on risk in order to stay competitive or to bid conservatively for the safety of not overrunning.  You may complete a cost model for a program, and spend time analyzing the uncertainties behind each input and in the end find that your estimate lands at the 30% confidence level.  After some strategic analysis, the bid leadership team decides, we would like to bid at the 80% Confidence level, “please present your estimate to support that total”.  ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 As promised in my last blog (“System and Assembly Objects in the context of Hardware AoAs”), the integration of Software COTS is a subtly different challenge.  Customers are typically presented with two scenarios:  integration within a single system and integration within a system of systems (“SoS”).  Both cases are handled well by TruePlanning™ with specific parameter choices that control multiple activities relevant to software integration.  As I’ve come to appreciate PRICE’s competitive advantage with our Framework’s approach to the latter SoS case, I thought describing these two scenarios would help allow you to ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 During a recent Analysis of Alternatives (“AoA”) consulting project, our customer asked that we provide more insight into TruePlanning’s System and Assembly objects, which in our AoA context we termed Systems Engineering/ Program Management (SE/PM) and Alternative Integration/ Test, respectively. The customer’s challenge was understanding our parametric model’s treatment of principally hardware-COTS objects, combined with other cost, purchased service and training objects.Our Chief Scientist, Arlene Minkiewicz, provided us with insights that I’d like to share with you, as well as my views on how we at PRICE systems have consistently used these parent ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 It is impossible to find a news website or magazine that is not full of articles on the effects of Sequestration.  As a cost estimator, I find the topic very interesting (and troublesome).  The immediate effects of Sequestration are widely discussed.  However, I do not see quite as much news coverage on the second and third order effects of this extremely complex policy decision. The Department of Defense (DoD) has a specific target that must be removed from the budget over the next 10 years.  Some analysts claim a doomsday scenario.  Others claim it ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 In a recent National Public Radio (NPR) interview, Winslow Wheeler (Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, D.C.), spoke on the recent problems with the Joint Strike Fighter acquisition process.  “Wheeler explained that Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the jet, uses a pricing vocabulary that masks costs. ‘Flyaway costs, non-recurring and recurring costs, and lots of gobbledygook, and they’ll say that comes to a number like $60-$70 million dollars. And, it’s complete baloney,’ said Wheeler.” (pogo.org)    The F-35 has the distinction of being the most ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 Last November I hosted a webinar that discussed the use of the companion applications Live! This session helped to further explain how to use them in congruence with TP, the history, & why we created them, etc. During the presentation I showcased the success’s I have encountered with using them both in the recent AOA I described in part 2 and this blog part 3. You can find the recorded webinar on our site. In addition I described as I am going to do here the differences between the large project engine and the excel ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 Every day we use tools like TruePlanning to build up detailed parametric cost estimates.  We could spend weeks collecting data and design information, and weeks honing details on risks and uncertainties.  When we finally get to reasonable point estimate, or even a distribution of probable estimates, there are always more questions.  Of course the range of queries depends on the purpose of the estimate, and who your consumer is.  If you are preparing an estimate for a competitive proposal, a company executive may be your consumer.  They may want to know, “What is the ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 We have been blogging a lot lately about finding the right manufacturing complexities for your hardware  projects using TrueFindings, and the many ways you can determine the most appropriate Manufacturing complexities: taking averages from related projects, finding a correlation to another descriptive parameter (like horsepower for engines), or even looking into multi-variate regression to determine the best value.  If you are a TruePlanning user, you know that Manufacturing Complexities (for structure or electronics) are the most common parameter to use in calibration, and that the manufacturing complexity drives both Production and development ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 We all pull data and research from various sources when creating a project estimate.  You may pull together public CERS, internal research, subscription based data or commercial models.  In the end you want your entire estimate in one format.  If you use TruePlanning, you may have used the “Other Direct Cost Object” in the past to include costs estimated in another model.  You may have utilized the “Equation Cost Object” to include a CER with up to 5 variables, which would allow you to account for the size and complexity of an ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 While TruePlanning by PRICE Systems is the world leading parametric cost estimation tool, the reality is that not all members in an organization are going to have TruePlanning installed on their desktops, but that doesn’t mean those people can’t get a view into the power of TruePlanning. The TruePlanning Viewer is a tool under development that allows users to view the PBS and data contained in a TruePlanning project without having TruePlanning on their desktops. Figure 1 TruePlanning Viewer TruePlanning users will be able to create special “tpview” files that non-TruePlanning users can use with ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 The preliminary results are in for our electronics complexity study!   For those that are unfamiliar with TruePlanning® lingo, Manufacturing Complexity for Electronics is our scale for measuring the differences in technology, producibility (component make-up, packaging density, test and reliability requirements, etc.) and yield of the electronics being estimated.  As the complexity number gets bigger, it means the electronics are more complex, and more costly (per unit weight) to develop and manufacture.   At first glance, the general trend from lowest complexity to highest complexity seems about right.  The lower complexity items are found on ...
Original Post Date: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 One of the biggest challenges estimators face is defending their estimates.  You may trust in your estimate, but how do you get others on board who might be unfamiliar with parametric estimating?  Showing comparisons of your project to similar completed projects is one of the best methods of defending your choice of inputs and your final results.  It’s also a method that nearly everyone understands.  Unfortunately, relevant, high quality data to compare with isn’t always available. There are 2 important trends related to this problem.  First, high quality data is being protected more so than ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, November 29, 2012 With Customize View, TruePlanning™ offers great flexibility in editing favorites as row by column grids.  Typical examples are Object by Activity, Object by Resource and Activity by Resource.  But what if you wanted to view any of these grids also by year?  In other words, how can we add a third dimension?  Last October, in my “Work Breakdown Structures are Workable!” blog, we discussed the use of Excel’s Data-Sort and Data-Group options to build up a WBS, for a MIL-STD 881 style view of Activity by Object as a linear list.  Results were singular ...
Original Post Date: Thursday, November 1, 2012  Changing organization culture is often cited as necessary for surviving the grim financial realities we face today. Everywhere you look, no one seems to have enough money to buy what they need, but somehow, the need must be fulfilled. If we can just change organization culture, a smart new idea will emerge to save the day; maybe so. How, then, do we change the culture? Practically every B-school and business periodical has written on the subject. One thing they all agree is that achieving organization change is one of, if not the ...
Original Post Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 PRICE was recently tasked by a client to provide an Analysis of Alternatives (AOA). As we assembled a team to complete this, I was tasked with modeling all the alternatives inside TruePlanning.  After the initial data call, we realized that this project would be cumbersome due to the large amount of data. While developing the project plan, I had to think of a crafty way to get data in and out of TruePlanning efficiently. It was interesting to note how much capability I could utilize from the TruePlanning Companion Applications to effectively support ...